At my father's funeral my brother, Mel, said that my dad was his hero. Those words, interspersed with my brother's tears, touched my soul. At that moment I realized my brother and I had different relationships with my father. My dad wasn't so much my hero but my best buddy.

Growing up on Manhattan's Lower East Side, dad had no time or patience for school and said goodbye to the New York school system after the eighth grade. Stories leaked down to us sounded as if my grandmother went to school more often than my father because he was always in trouble.

Instead of finishing his education, my father became a sign painter. I doubt he had formal training on how to make signs - perhaps he had a short apprenticeship with a local sign painter. He had a natural talent for being able to see something in his mind and then create it.

What I remember most about my childhood is going to my dad's sign-painting store. I'd watch him make large paper signs for the local retailers. Instead of doing a draft, he had the amazing ability to create the signs by visualizing the layout in his mind.

One of the products he used for lettering office doors was gold leaf that came in small packets. If my brother and I were alone at the store when he was on a delivery, we would find the gold leaf and play with it. When he saw the gold leaf in our hair, he reminded us that the gold leaf was expensive, but he never yelled at us.

The smell of sawdust, paint and turpentine often brings tears of nostalgia to my eyes.

As I watched him work while he stood at his long counter, he and I would talk about school or life or whatever I had on my mind. He always made me believe what I had to say was important.

When I expressed a new idea, he was quick to say, "Think big. Don't be afraid to take a chance in life. You always have me and your mother backing you up."

As the years went by and my life became wildly different from what other women my age were doing, I wondered if my dad regretted his advice. If he did, he never criticized me.

Sometimes I'd show up when he was about to make a delivery to a women's clothing store. Laughing, he'd say, "How do you know I have to make a delivery?"

"I have a crystal ball," I would say, smiling.

Gathering up the signs, he'd say, "C'mon, let's go."

We'd walk into the store and he'd tell the owner, "Don't pay me for the signs. Let my daughter take what she wants." I'd model for him and we'd choose an outfit. "Don't tell your mom," he'd say.

Of course, she knew better. When I wore the clothes my mom would say, "Your father bought that for you, didn't he?" Now that I'm wiser, I realize he must have told her he'd bought me an outfit that day.

One time when I was visiting my folks in Florida, long after he had retired, my father and I had an opportunity to spend a few hours alone. We drove to a deli for a late breakfast. As we drove, he proudly pointed out signs he'd made. I got great pleasure in telling him what a wonderful sign painter he was.

After lunch he said he wanted to buy my mom a watch. My dad loved to buy presents. I knew my mom did not need another piece of jewelry, but off we went. Of course he had to buy me a watch, too. To him life was a place to show people that you loved them.

My dad had a great sense of humor, he enjoyed life and he was a generous, loving man. In my eyes he was handsome, funny and smart; he always had time for me. He was faithful to my mom and loved her from the time he first saw her when she was 16 years old.

I feel blessed to have had this wonderful man on my side for so many years. Now that he's gone, I picture his jet-black hair, his clear blue eyes and his red mustache. I thought he was the handsomest man in the world. Maybe he was.

On Father's Day I found myself focusing more than usual on how much I miss my dad. On Dec. 13, 2003, when my father was 89 years old, he departed this world. I know he is making his new world a better place.

Wherever you are, Daddy, my heart is always with you.

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