On my mother’s mantel, there used to be an old black-and-white photograph. Taken in the summer. From the beach. Looking out to sea. In the foreground, two figures are wading into the surf together. Wearing matching madras bathing trunks. One is a large, powerfully built, young man. The other, a small boy. They are holding hands.
The big guy was my father, Victor Harry Frank Jr. He grew up in Philadelphia. Graduated from Central High School. Spent idyllic summers at Camp Kennebec in Maine. Served in the U.S. Navy. Earned degrees from Yale College and Yale Law School. Got a Master of Laws degree in tax from New York University.
After law school, my father went to work for the Department of the Treasury, and after that, for the New York City law firm Webster Sheffield. From there, he joined a large, international food company called, at the time, Corn Products. It made, among other things, Skippy peanut butter and Hellman’s mayonnaise. He eventually became a vice president.
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan made my Dad the American ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, which was headquartered in Manila, Philippines. There, for about six years, and with the help of my mother, my father did his part to foster international good will and understanding by promoting free enterprise and human rights, and by introducing the local diplomatic community to such hallowed American traditions as the annual Ground Hog Day party.
In retirement, my Dad started the Asian Programs Foundation, an Islamic-American development foundation that attempts to improve understanding and relations by holding conferences and encouraging Muslims and Americans to do business together.
Along the way, he served on corporate and public boards and advisory committees, such as the boards of our local school and hospital. He was also a member of the Englewood City Council in New Jersey.
My father loved sports and played them all his life. He played football in high school, for Paul Brown at the Great Lakes Naval Academy, and at Yale. He was a track-and-field champion, and a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic team that went to London. People said that pound for pound, he threw the discus as far as any man (177 -11 1/4 as a 185-pounder).
He changed the way that people threw the discus. For years, athletes who threw the discus stopped spinning after they released their discus. My father thought that it made more sense to keep spinning in the circle. Now, everyone does.
Against his sons, he played a mean psychological game of tennis. In later years, he made up for what he may have lacked in speed and agility because of a bad back and hips with a running commentary, skillfully designed to take advantage of his opponents’ weaknesses, often their funny bone.
Next to his family, my father’s greatest love was for his friends. Many of his closest were from college and Skull and Bones, the secret society whose program of dinner debates and personal histories he revered. He made friends wherever he went, and cherished and kept them for life.
He was a man of strong opinions, who enjoyed nothing better than a heated argument. But he bore few grudges and had many friends who held different views from his own. He started out as a young liberal Democrat, encountered conservative thought in the form of his friend and classmate William F. Buckley Jr. in college, and became a Republican, much to the consternation of his mother. He became the leader of the small, but spirited, conservative wing of our extended family.
But to me, he was always Dad. He died April 6, two days after his 83rd birthday.
He showed me how to throw a football. How to hit a tennis ball. Rooted for me on the sidelines of my baseball and football games. Consoled me when I experienced the inevitable disappointments of life and love. Exercised superhuman restraint during my teenage years of antagonism and rebellion.
When my brothers and I were small and we lived in New York City, our family would spend summers on Long Island. At the end of each summer, we would all pile into the black Rambler for the drive home.
As we returned to the city, I would doze off in the back of the station wagon, vaguely aware as the sights, sounds and smells changed from those of sand and beach and farmland to those of concrete and subways and city streets.
When we got home, I liked to pretend to be asleep so Dad would carry me up to bed in his arms.