Michael Stern’s father was Superman.
But he didn’t realize it until years later—after his father Murray was in WWII, after he made a name for himself in the garment business inventing baby sleepers, after he started a library in his home town, and after he taught chess moves to all the neighborhood kids.
“But if he was Superman,” Stern said, “then I was Lex Luthor,” referring to Superman’s archenemy.
“We didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things,” said Stern, of Riverton. “We didn’t talk a lot. But [my father's] generation was a lot like that. They were very, very reluctant to talk about their experiences.”
Murray died a few years ago at the age of 97, prompting Stern, 64, to write a memoir of his father, using him as a representative of that generation—the generous generation, he calls it.
A baby boomer himself, Stern knew he wanted to write something after his father died, but didn’t know what. But after going through his fathers’ things—letters, documents, and military records—Stern knew there was a story there he wanted to share. The result is Reflections on a Generous Generation, a self-published book that came out this summer.
Murray Stern and the war
Murray Stern grew up during the Depression and enlisted in the Army even before WWII started.
“He anticipated what was going to happen,” Stern said.
He was on active duty from 1941 to 1946.
But as far back as Stern could remember, his father didn’t talk about it. Stern has his assumptions, he said, about what Murray did, especially after seeing a letter written from George Marshall, chief of staff in the Army during WWII.
“People did what he said,” Stern said of Marshall.
The younger Stern figured his father was involved in undercover activities he said, but during his father’s last years, Stern asked him but the elder stayed quiet.
“He said, ‘Because I gave my word,’” Stern said.
After the war
After Michael’s father’s time in the Army, he went back into the family business in the garment industry. He had an idea for blanket sleepers for babies, Stern said, and made money off that invention.
“I talked to some of his business associates who gave me a whole different perspective,” Stern said. “He was unique.”
Murray also played chess, and even watched Bobby Fischer capture the world championship title in 1972.
Stern said his father taught chess for 20 years and he still meets people who say his father taught their kids when they were young.
“He was involved in everything that he did,” Stern said. “When he decided it was something he wanted to do, he was a significant part of it.”
Writing the memoir
It was because of these stories and many more that prompted Stern to write Reflections.
“The story was fascinating to write,” said Stern, “being able to take a broader perspective and see how all these different things tied together with a generation.”
It was his father’s generation who started donating heavily to the United Way after the war. Stern said it was a combination of economics and the Depression, WWII and “surviving it all.”
“[That generation] had a different perspective on the world,” he said. “It was a can-do attitude. They weren’t tied down to pettiness. Their politics were middle of the road, rather than the extremes they are at today. They understood compromise.”
Stern isn’t a writer but said he was around books his entire life. His father had more than 1,000 books in his home and even helped to start a library in the Sterns’ hometown of Garden City, NY, and also in the retirement community he lived in down south.
Stern, who most recently worked in the mortgage business, always loved writing, he said. He keeps a blog that holds his political commentary, and since writing Reflections, has written two more books and is working on a fourth.
“It’s like I found something I really, really enjoy doing,” Stern said. “And I think I’m good at it.”
Finding out about his father
Through Stern’s readings and writings on his father, and interviews with family and friends including his sister Frances Goldstein, he said he was able to not only find out things about his father, but things about him in the context in which he lived.
“Family was important to him,” Stern said. “They faced hard times the way certainly none of us has ever seen.”
And he learned more about his father after he died than he did while he was alive.
“When you’re living too close to it,” Stern said, “you don’t actually see it all. It look me a while once I started putting it together to actually see what I was writing.”
Stern's book can be found on sale through Amazon.