My eulogy for my father, Stephen Joseph Lasky December 3, 1941-September 3, 2017 at the Memorial for Stephen and Ronnie Lasky, December 3, 2017.
Every little boy needs a man to model what being a man is. Some have this model in their father, others do not.
I was very lucky.
Tyler and Madeline—
I want you both to know you had the coolest grandfather anyone could ask for. You never really got to see what he was for most of his life.
Growing up, he was truly the funnest dad around. All my friends were magnetically drawn to his playful, lighthearted and constantly teasing nature.
My best friend in grade school, Roger, recently wrote me that he didnt know they made dad’s as cool as mine.
Many friends will even recall a shared first—the Lasky house was where they saw their first Playboy. He’d always politely leave a pile of recent issues out in the open as bathroom reading for his guests.
He was the most popular teacher in school. Every school has one, and my dad held that crown for more then 40 years at Dewey.
He made everyone around him smile and his office was a magnet for student activity, energy and enthusiasm.
Year after year, prom after prom, yearbook after yearbook, he’d have a direct, personal impact on thousands of students. No one touches more hearts and spirits then teachers in society. He was the shaper of minds and destinies in those students’ most formative years.
As an art teacher, he gave even the least talented students confidence to try and draw what they see.
Never did I realize the sheer impact and effect he had on so many in that aspect of his life, then after his passing and the outpouring of love and remembrance for his lasting legacy in the memories and hearts of so many Dewey students.
I think my father knew all this and got strength and confidence from it. He may have never risen to any great financial prominence or success in the business world—but he taught generations of students that grew up to be pulitzer prize winning playwrights, executive leaders of ad agencies, feature film directors and thousands of others who can trace their own paths back to drawing in Mr. Lasky’s class. Or to the wisdom of his counsel in the Senior Advisor’s office during those terrifying months in a teenager’s life that’s about to graduate high school.
I found an email recently where he wrote to a Pratt classmate: “I spent over forty-five years teaching in the NYC school system….and feel these were the best years of my life….In retrospect the best years of my life were about my teaching…and I loved so much of it because of the impact I MIGHT have had on my students.”
Dad, you had a massive impact.
He taught me perspective—in all meanings of the word.
He’d often brag that as a young kid I was able to draw 2 point perspective better then his high school students…
As a kid, I used to tag along on many drawing field trips he’d take his classes to. There were trips to the bronx zoo, botanical gardens, and museums. On one particular outing, we went to Central Park to draw the Alice in Wonderland statue. I think I was 7 or 8 and I drew the mad hatter and alice. I guess I must’ve impressed him, because he framed the drawings and for years would tell everyone that his son did these at such an early age.
About 2 years ago, I tried to repeat history and brought Tyler to Central Park to draw with his pop.
Sadly, this was after his eyesight had deteriorated so much that he could barely sketch out a drawing.
From the corner of my eye I saw that he tried, but quickly gave up in frustration almost as soon as he started.
He sat on a bench, some distance away from the statue that Tyler was sitting on, focused on impressing pop that he too was a Lasky that could draw.
Pop just put the pad down, drank his coffee and watched us for the rest of the time.
What can be crueler then for an artist to lose his sight?
The only thing I can think of, is a lifelong teacher losing his ability to speak.
And tragically, my father went through both.
You 2 don’t fully realize it yet, but you’re very lucky to have been able to paint and draw with him by your side.
Anyone who had that honor would agree.
I have so many videos and photos of the two of you drawing with him, that you will come to treasure.
It was always a magical experience to watch him sketch…
His right arm would begin by circling the page with wide, loose gestures to form concentric circles, activating the entire surface area.
Forms and shapes would start to come into sharper focus, as he continued to work the lines more and more…
He would gradually add more pressure to the strokes, making quick decisions and choices where to lay down darker, more rendered contours. Eventually a hidden image would be revealed that was always there, as his linework would bring everything fully into focus.
It was always astonishing, when that moment of recognition happened for anyone who witnessed this…at first wondering “what is he drawing? where is this going?…and then all of a sudden “OH!! I see it now!”
IT was revelatory!
It was the best and only magic trick he ever did for me.
And to any of his students who have sat frustrated trying unsuccessfully to draw a particular subject—his ability to sit down next to you, take over the drawing for a few minutes and show you how to translate the scene onto the page was an up close and personal demonstration of his raw, preternatural talent.
He made it look so easy.
Painting was his happy place. In the years leading up to and following his retirement he rediscovered his passion, love and furious talent for painting. Not just any painting of course, but one of the most difficult techniques to master–the art and control of water colors.
The volume of paintings completed during those years are staggering.
The love and pride he took in rediscovering this passion he blamed or perhaps credited to me on many occasions…
“It’s your fault,” he’d tell me, for pressuring him for years—”when are you gonna start painting again? you went to college for that right? you havent painted in decades dad!”
Well, he certainly showed me.
But, the most magical subject he ever painted was a perfect watercolor rendering of his grandson—a year before we even knew we were having a baby. True, it really happened.
For four years of high school, he would drop me off each morning at 7am at the train station in Coney Island, where this 14-year old’s epic daily commute originated. I remember those short rides as daily catch-ups we’d have on the day ahead—Id’ ramble on: “I have this test today, and this report due, and tomorrow is a big presentation…”
He’d always do his best to reassure my incessant anxieties and fears.
I’d get out of the car every single morning with a high-five, with him wishing me luck for whatever test I was panicked about on that particular day.
I knew he never had any real concern though, indeed he always had more confidence in me than I did in myself.
I recently found a recommendation letter from a high school english teacher that I needed for my college applications. In it, he describes speaking to my father on open school night.
My father told him that he never worries about me, that I do enough worrying for the entire family.
In my biggest moments of self-doubt, he’d constantly tell me “Jeremy I’m your biggest fan.”
In those days, there were no cell phones of course, and my transportation home always relied on mom or dad to drop me off and pick me up at the train.
I’d either arrange the time to come get me before I got on the train in the city from a pay phone—calculating the exact number of minutes before I would be at the train station in coney island, or I’d call him once I got there and waited for him, usually on cold winter nights for him to pull up. More often then not, he was late.
But despite that, I ALWAYS had this secure feeling that my father would be there to get me—any time, any place. Always.
It’s a feeling I carried through my entire life, even until recent years.
In my 20s, when I lived in Manhattan, he’d often come by to pick me up and take me to Sea Gate for the weekend.
When I got married, he’d drive me and Christina all the way home to Hoboken or to a Path station in Manhattan.
It was an unexplainable, visceral feeling of security that I carried with me all the way to the end and I could feel it rapidly slipping away, as he was fading in the months leading up to the hospital.
He taught me the game of tennis and paddle tennis.
I probably began that journey with kadima in the backyard or on the beach, which eventually evolved into getting on the sea gate paddle tennis courts to face him in battle.
In my teenage years, we traveled up and down the east coast as partners playing in tournaments in South Carolina and Florida, and many local ones in New York City. For decades, paddle tennis was my father’s weekend passion–playing every weekend, rain or shine, in brutal summer heat or frigid winter cold. Didnt matter. He’d wake up early every weekend morning and ‘shoot into the city’ to ‘kill the ball’ and let off some steam. He was a true weekend warrior for these games and this was the perfect outlet for the inner competitor inside him.
More often then not, he’d come home in the afternoon, wring out his sweat bands into a puddle, throw an ice pack across his swollen knees, and proceed to tell me ‘I played GREAT today…’
He always wanted me to join him, and though I did make the rare cameo appearance, I wish I had the chance to have played with him more then I did in those later years.
What’s still incredible to me, is that I never once beat him in a set of paddle tennis or tennis.
We talked about that shortly before he went into the hospital.
He chuckled reflecting on it.
He’d always say before a match “NO MERCY.”
His stamina was on another level.
The man would never get tired, and never quit. I couldn’t come close to matching his drive on the courts–I’d always run out of gas and he’d often tease me for my lack of endurance.
In the seagate pools, his lung capacity was the stuff of legend. I still tell my kids tales of Pop swimming 2 full laps in an olympic pool on a single breath.
He taught me how to ride a bike at a pretty young age and we took bike rides together for years. Mainly back and forth on the boardwalk, but occasionally we’d venture further, all the way to the verrazano bridge and back along the water. I’d always struggle to keep up with him, and marveled at his relentless will to keep going, never slowing down.
He’d bike back and forth to Dewey, all around sea gate, up and down ocean parkway, manhattan beach, everywhere. I can vividly picture him bike riding to the paddle tennis courts in sea gate, coasting down atlantic avenue, hopping off his bike as he takes the turn up the ramp to the courts to play, as I sat on the wall awaiting his arrival for our court date.
The only time in his life that he was ever short of breath was when he laughed really, really hard, and boy was his laugh infectious.
I sat in the hospital most of August thinking about the sad, tragic irony of the man who was NEVER out of breath, was now fighting for every.. single.. breath, struggling through every inhale.
Working so hard just to breathe.
I grew up with his strong ethical and moral model and I have always worn an invisible but powerful bracelet with the letters: WWDD.
What Would Dad Do?
In any situation—personal, business, work or play.
With all different types I might be dealing with, how to handle people differently at all levels of the social scale.
I’d always think to myself “What Would Dad Do?”
He taught me—by example— to raise my voice and write letters when things didn’t quite work out they way they should have.
He was a relentless fighter in this regard.
He’d urge me to always go over someone’s head to get things done.
And write those damn letters!!
And always cc your congressman….
And the district attorney’s office….
And state senator….and on and on.
His beard had mythic qualities.
Like the dos equis man, his organ donor card could’ve included his beard.
As a kid I always asked him why he never shaved it off.
I think he once told me that, like Samson his beard was the source of his strength and power and that’s why he could never shave it off. I believed him.
The day he voluntarily took it off in the hospital the little boy inside me cried knowing this was as symbolic as it was medical, and his life force was gone.
He may have known it too.
One random day sitting in the hospital with him, I looked up the word “BEARD” in the dictionary and didn’t know it was also a verb: meaning to confront and oppose with boldness, and resolution.
And as soon as his beard came off, to the day, everything went to hell.
In the last few years of his life, he told me how much he was haunted by his own mortality on a nightly basis, not sleeping because of it.
It was if he saw something coming.
He’d describe looking in the mirror and wondering who the old guy looking back at him was.
Today would’ve been my father’s 76th Birthday.
Happy Birthday Dad, I know right now you are painting in heaven.