At 82, dad’s still sailing the high seas of life

By Melissa Hirschl

Editor’s note: In recognition of Fathers Day, coming up this year on June 20, Wrangler News contributor Melissa Hirschl shares these observations of one of the two leading  men in her life.

At the youthful age of 82, my dad brings to mind the immortal image of Peter Pan. With a perpetual twinkle in his eye, he is continually in search of new adventures on the high seas of life.

My dad is Leo Bruskin, a high-spirited Sun City West denizen who is never at a loss for things to do or worlds to conquer.

He currently teaches at Rio Salado Community College as well as at Ottawa University; he’s also been a volunteer with the Sheriff’s Posse for more than 20 years.

Personality-wise, he is mischievous, playful and amusing, with an infectious laugh that is as quick as his wit. At times, he can be maddeningly stubborn, but even then it’s hard for me to get angry with him. He’s just, so, well--charming  (I swear he must have some Irish in his blood somewhere.)

I consider him among my best of friends and confidantes. When we’re together, we gab away like two high school kids--laughing, joking, musing about all types of things: places, movies, people, and all the absurdities that make up life.

I can also have provocative and stimulating conversations with him, mainly about politics, a subject that really gets us both going full steam.

I have always admired my dad’s pursuit of knowledge. Even at this juncture in his life, he has decided to start learning Latin. I’m still not sure why, but I find it very inspiring. My dad is also somewhat of a Renaissance man. His vast knowledge of so many subjects always astounds me.

Maybe it has to do with the fact he has degrees in foreign affairs, along with a bachelor of law degree. For the majority of his life he worked for the IRS as an estate and gift-tax examiner in Brooklyn, but I never saw him that way.

To me, he had the potential to be a stellar salesman or a CIA agent. As the Billy Joel song goes, “Quick with a joke or to light up a smoke.”

When we go out to restaurants, he shamelessly flirts and teases the waitress (I think half of them would pay him to stay longer).  If you’re ever depressed, this is the man you want to be around. Even if you’re not depressed, he’s still a great choice.

He has a backpack full of wonderful and amusing stories and his face is almost always lit up with enthusiasm, no matter what he’s talking about. Maybe that’s why he makes for such a fascinating conversationalist. He seems to be up on everything and can give you his opinion on everything, too, in that same “charming” way, of course.

Being a true New England Yankee from Connecticut, my dad was always independent, strong willed and extremely thrifty. Since the words “self discipline” weren’t in my teenage vocabulary, we spent many a time sparring over our opposing “philosophies” of money.

I thought it should be spent (immediately) and he thought it should be saved (immediately).  Both of my parents tried their best to teach me the necessity of wise investing, but to their chagrin, my bank accounts never were dormant long enough to develop any of the dust of planned obsolescence.

I still remember the many episodes of quarreling over why I had to order the 99-cent breakfast specials on vacation. And shopping for food was always a precise science for my dad; he made sure every single coupon would be used, going to each grocery store--in the right order of course--to save on gas.

Every precisely cut coupon had to be lodged in its proper place, alphabetized and cataloged. Looking back on life, I realize the wisdom of his ways; after all, I’m a parent myself and (surprise!) my kids just inhale money. I often joke that they need a few weeks at Camp Grandpa.

Being an IRS worker in the Estate Gift and Tax Division for many years, my dad would commute between Glen Cove, Long Island (where we moved when I was 18) and downtown Brooklyn, N.Y. Tired from his work and journey on the Long Island Railroad, he frequently relaxed with my mom in front of the television set at night, cuddled up on the couch with our cat Snowball firmly entrenched on top of them. It’s an image I’ll remember forever.

My dad, being a natural comedian, would delight in watching the old classics like Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days and M.A.S.H. His laughter was infectious, and I always found myself lured to the family room to see what shenanigans were going on with his TV families.

But it wasn’t just TV shows that he enjoyed. I think the whole comedy of life has always delighted him. He was and always will be someone who sees the humorous side of just about every situation. It’s no wonder my kids adore him. Since they’ve been small they cling to him like magnets. When they were younger they adored “fixing his hair” (at least what was left of it) and decorating him with ribbons, barrettes, wigs and anything else they could find to “enhance” grandpa.

Good naturedly, he would go along with their silly antics, even when my mother protested that he was being too “abused” by his little munchkins.

Sadly, my mother passed away six years ago. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from my dad, since they were so extremely close.

To my surprise, he demonstrated remarkable resilience. He soon plowed right back into life, full of all the gutsy determination he’s ever had. First he went out and bought an extra car (I still can’t figure out why). Not just any car mind you but a bright, fire engine red SUV (and no, he doesn’t use it to go backroading).

Personally, I think he just secretly likes to be “cool.” I’m sure he’s raised some eyebrows in Sun City with that car.

During the past six years he has also been doing a lot of traveling to destinations that I never would have expected--Spain and Morocco, for instance. I never know where he’ll be cavorting off to next.

When not traveling, teaching or swimming, he also volunteers his time at the Westside Food Bank, where he now works three hours a week. As far as health goes, he’s got more discipline than I have. He swims for four hours, two or three times a week. I guess it’s another testimony to his youthful stamina.

Sometimes I feel that our roles are somewhat reversed at this point in our lives, and it’s I who has to keep him in check more than vice versa. When I was a teenager I definitely gave my parents a “run for the money,” so now I guess it’s payback time.

Well, Dad, here’s lookin’ at you, kid. You’re the tops!