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How I Met Your Father

January 16, 2022 | by Lori Samlin Miller

I’ve told my children countless times that I met their father thanks to my father, who played the role of a persistent matchmaker while God was winking behind the scenes.

The story actually begins a long time ago with my brothers who, as young boys, would play football every year on the day after Thanksgiving, with Eric, the man I would eventually marry. This annual game in suburban New Jersey occurred for many years, first as young boys, then as teens.

Years after this annual football bonding ritual began and friendships were well-established, Eric, who was then attending medical school, noticed that a patient named Mr. Samlin was in the hospital. Samlin was the last name of my brothers, his former football teammates. Eager to perform a mitzvah, he made a personal visit to meet Mr. Samlin.

Eric and my father

Eric’s assumption turned out to be correct. A warm friendship between my father and my brothers’ friend began, one that would have plenty of time to develop while the medical student progressed in his studies leading towards becoming an amazing doctor, while the disease for which my father was being treated sadly progressed. Over time, the two got to know what was in one another’s hearts and heads. The great difference in their years was overshadowed by the similarity of their values and life goals.

My father expressed a desire for the kind young doctor to meet his daughter – and this is where I come into the picture. I immediately declined. I’m very squeamish in medical settings and had no desire to date a doctor. As much as I respected a doctor’s dedication, I just couldn’t envision myself being happy in such a relationship. My father and his handsome young friend were disappointed.

A week after being discharged from one of my father’s hospitalizations, we sat around the dining-room table at my parent’s home for Shabbos lunch, a weekly ritual made all the more special having my father home. There was a knock at the front door, and since my mother was in the kitchen, my father, too weak himself to get up, asked me to see who was at the door. Guests in our house were common, especially on Shabbos, so I had no idea I was being set up.

Standing outside the door, dressed in his nice Shabbat suit, was Eric.

“What are you doing here!” I gasped. Fearing that the young doctor had come to share some bad news about my father’s medical condition that was so important it couldn’t wait, I was mortified to see him. It never occurred to me that he was here because of an invitation extended by my yenta father.

He smiled and said, “Good Shabbos,” as he walked in and took a seat next to my father.

My conversational skills didn’t recover very quickly, but they didn’t have to. My father and Eric spent the afternoon shmoozing about common interests and playing Jewish geography. I learned that before we moved to New Jersey, Eric and his family had lived in this very same house!

My husband and I cutting our wedding cake.

The conversation overflowed with connections that included memories of Atlantic City, the beloved boardwalk, and beautiful beach of my childhood. Eric had also played on the very same Connecticut Avenue swath of sand that provided such carefree memories for my family. Going back a generation, his grandmother and mine lived next door to one another in a Jewish section of South Philadelphia. In the prior generation, both of our grandmother’s families lived within the same shtetl, outside Kiev.

Same house. Same beach. Same street. Same shtetl. When the conversation veered off this path, we learned other interesting things about one another. I forgot my distaste for hospitals, breathing a sigh of relief that no unwanted medical news was forthcoming. I was glad he had joined us for Shabbos lunch.

We began dating and were married the following year. My father knew something I didn’t quite grasp: I was going to be marrying a person, not his job. My pride in my husband’s work far overshadowed the limits on his free time. Two mitzvahs brought us together: visiting the sick and inviting guests. And we were blessed to have one very persistent matchmaker who worked tirelessly in his mission, despite being so ill, to help me recognize the man who’d become the center of my world.

Me and my father

In the last few years of his too-short life, my father grew weaker, became sicker, and was in the hospital often. He missed out on so many things he would have loved, including Eric’s medical school graduation and our engagement party. Thank God we had my father with us under the chuppah, and he remained with us for several more months, long enough to enjoy the news we were expecting a baby.

Our four beautiful children and two grandchildren are the legacy honoring my father’s successful matchmaking efforts. In the midst of my father’s overwhelming health challenges, he still had goals he was trying to accomplish. When I retell this story each year on the anniversary of my father’s death, I pray that we be inspired by my father and maximize the time we are given to fulfill our purpose.

On the occasion of the 35th yahrzeit on 21 Shevat, 5747, January 23rd, 2022, of my father, Yitzchak ben Chaim, Irvin Samlin, obm. May his soul be elevated.

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