Father's Day: Transferred to a different department – and a higher place

We were kindred spirits in many ways.

BEST OF friends: The writer, aged seven months, with her dad. (photo credit: Courtesy)
BEST OF friends: The writer, aged seven months, with her dad.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
My father John C. Rossman and his family were on the last plane allowed to leave Vienna Austria in 1938. His beloved mother was instrumental in getting them out. He was six years old at the time and not only brought the shadows of the nightmare that they barely escaped from, but also the sweetness of traveling to the pastry shops for Viennese Cream puffs and true apple strudel. My grandmother Mutti Olga and her sister Irma made the best pastries and my great-grandfather Moritz Monath was a dairy baker to the kaiser.
My dad, Yaacov ben Rachel, was an adorable child. His baby pictures were of a soulful and perfect doll. His big sister Hertha adored him and often was assigned to babysit him, even on her dates with her husband-to-be Julius.
When my grandparents, Ignatz and Olga, came to New York City, they were poor, as many immigrants were at that time. My father went to the City College of New York and ended up being accepted to Cornell University on a full scholarship. He then attended UCLA, where he met my mother. My parents were a great match, as she was getting her master’s degree in nursing while he was getting his doctorate in public health. My dad’s work was so brilliant that at one point a professor stole one of his papers and tried to take credit for it, passing it off as his own.
In addition to his scholarships, my dad put himself through college playing poker. He was also an amazing blackjack player. I remember asking him to teach me poker because I wanted to learn how to have a poker face.
My parents were world travelers and during my dad’s doctoral work studying the incidence and death of coal miners in China, they lived off of the coast of the mainland. They loved their time in Taiwan. I often say that I was made in Taiwan, as I was born closely after they came back to the US.
My dad was a devoted son and took care of his parents. He and his sister were like two peas in a pod. I can remember her teasing him even as they grew older.
I just realized why I mentioned so much about his parents, sister, aunt and great-grandfather. A few days before his recent passing (on April 1, 2020), I could sense that they were warmly and excitedly waiting for him in the next realm. He is almost there, if not already. Your thoughts and prayers will help to get him closer.
I just took a gulp of tonic water while writing this. My dad liked tonic water and lime and taught me that it was a sophisticated, classy and safe non-alcoholic drink to get if I am ever at an event with a bar.
Ooops! I just burped from gulping. When I was a teen and in college, my dad and I would have burping contests and often play small practical jokes on each other. We had the same sense of humor and could start laughing just by looking at each other across a room.
We were kindred spirits in many ways. Much like my mother, my dad taught me to appreciate and respect people of all religions, races and levels of professional stature.
MY DAD was appreciative and respectful of people who were in high-level positions, as well as the sanitation worker, waitress, etc. He treated with dignity all who presented themselves as decent people. He judged people based on their merit and taught me to do the same.
He and my mother taught me to see the common thread throughout humanity as well as the beauty in our differences. My parents and I are soul mates in this respect. I still hold that lifelong teaching dear and will never change that.
My father could seem tough on the outside and had meticulously high standards at his work as the director and then the vice president of Health Economics and Policy Development at the Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS). His team was often on lockdown, crunching figures for long hours to meet deadlines. His statistical reports were so outstanding that they were requested by the White House.
The former president of HANYS, Daniel Sisto recently shared that my father created formulas and quantitative analyses so extraordinarily brilliant that they overwhelmed the status quo. He wrote that it altered directions and started innovation.
With his care and brilliance, my dad saved New York hospitals hundreds of millions of Medicare dollars. He started a national healthcare database and was instrumental in choosing the services provided for the Child Health Plus program, assisting it to be passed into legislation.
Sisto wrote, “John’s role in this and so many other issues was not always prominent and public. But in those moments when people with a heart and a brain conceive of ideas and pass them on to others who can work them publicly, more is accomplished by that humility and lack of self-promotion than all the grandstanding and egomania that we see today.”
My dad’s only regret before he retired was that he did not complete a pilot program for socialized medicine to serve those who were poor and without health insurance.
I recently asked him, “Dad, what was most important to you in life?” He cited his relationships with other people as being most important. His intellectual accomplishments with work, helping and serving others were also high on his list.

MOST OF all, what I see as being the most powerful part of my dad’s personality was his gift for storytelling. He would create the most riveting, funny, meaningful and spontaneous stories for me and would cater to the exact moral lesson that I needed to hear.
My dad taught me all of the skills to develop and grow to teach with my own stories. Storytelling is one of my deepest loves and the way that I express my soul’s purpose. I carry this with me and became a children’s storyteller, creating my own stories for over 10 years in my community as well as assisting a storytelling program coaching youth in the art.
Through this, my dad taught me how to merge my intellect with my emotions, as well as how to problem-solve and master struggles. If I put one of my problems into a story and found a way for the characters to creatively master it, then my inner angst could be freed and I could gain a lighter perspective. If I took one of my student’s struggles and created a story built around that, then this could be healing for them and I was teaching a transforming skill.
While my dad went through many challenges in his life that could feed a desire for bitterness, he cared deeply for others’ needs, was kindhearted and was always interested in learning another perspective.
This is the way that I understood or saw my dad. There is so much more I could add, but I would like to end with this idea.
Perhaps, with all of his expertise of public health, his amazing heart, his creative problem-solving, his genius and drive and ethic to help others, just maybe God decided that it was time, that he was needed in the next realm to help work on helping us on this earth, with our current pandemic. Perhaps my dad is now working from a different department and higher place.
My father leaves to this world his devoted wife Susan Gordon, who was also his caregiver; his first wife, my mother Vicki Schacter; and many family members and friends who will miss him dearly.
In honor of her father’s yahrzeit this year, my friend Debbie Herman shared that the meaningful lessons from the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) are likened to how every father is commanded to teach his children the correct way to live, to teach them how to have good midot and awe of God.
Among his many efforts to help make this world for better, my dad’s favorite organization to contribute to was The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, because a beloved non-Jewish friend was instrumental in saving our family from the Holocaust. Please consider contributing this Father’s Day to an organization or individual in need, in honor of our beloved fathers that are still here or have passed on.
Happy Father’s Day to my favorite person and beloved father, John Charles Rossman. Thank you for everything you have taught and given me. I love you with all my heart and soul.