Robert H. Silver, 1934 – 2007

on May 09 in Essays & Reviews by

My dad passed away on Saturday, May 5, 2007. This is what I read to my kids, my niece and nephew:

There are so many things I could tell people about your grandfather. So many things that were unique and interesting and special about him, so many things that drew people to him, made them want his advice, his blessing, so many things that we loved about him that others may not know because at times, he seemed shy, unprepossessing, private, even solitary.

He was gracious and well mannered, which could, be mistaken for meek, but he was not meek. He could be a man of few words, but they were important words. He didn’t talk to hear himself speak; he said what mattered, whether logistically and lovingly. He was very generous with his time and attention, especially with us, whom he held with a sense of awe that made us feel extraordinary.

To sit and talk with him was to feel this beam of laser-like energy coming toward you. So intensely interested in us he could be, he would sometimes avert his eyes while talking, as if he knew that what he was saying, like the sun, was too hard to look at straight on.

He was playful and cute. He taught Deb and me harmonies and rounds in the bathtub; I remember belting out old songs like Bicycle Built for Two, Down by the Old Mill Stream. When you were little, he traced the letters of the alphabet on your backs as a combined lesson and a physical joy. He loved wordplay, was a great or terrible punster and a kibitzer right up to the end. Picture him sitting at the kitchen table at night in his red pajamas having milk and cookies.

He was of course industrious, packing several lifetimes of accomplishments into his 72 years. Things he found interesting – history, religion, science, psychology, language, philosophy, business, and for a time, tennis and golf, he was willing to study and study quite seriously. Anything any of us got into, he took a crash course in. When I went to work in the music business, he gave up Steve & Edy and Andy Williams for Air Supply and the Grateful Dead. He could talk about anything to anyone, though he chose his friends carefully. He was an extraordinarily good listener, comfortable with silence, comfortable in his own skin, comfortable absorbing the thoughts and emotions of other people without fear that doing so would diminish him in any way. I would say that in general, he knew others better than they knew him.

Over the past fifty years, I have seen him adjudicate disputes with great sensitivity and restraint, rush past onlookers to help an older woman who slipped on the sidewalk, and forgive terrible breaches in trust with equanimity and compassion. I have also seen him go out on people with a measured fury never physical but with a few words that cut directly through excuses or hidden agendas, if he thought someone was being insincere, untrustworthy or evil. He wasn’t passive about anything, changing political parties when it became clear to him that the Republican agenda was bad for you, his progeny.

We all know he was extremely disciplined and had an incredibly strong will, which some people may have mistaken for being stubborn or detached, though he was neither. He was the most facile thinker, like a gymnast really a person who was delighted when a conversation that started one way, heading toward what he thought was one conclusion, veered off and wound up someplace completely else, even if the actions he’d planned were now irrelevant and inappropriate. He had the kind of spirit that was delighted to find out that something he held true was wrong so that he could update and refresh his understanding or action plan. I would say he was the most open-minded father of any of my friends, willing to really consider ideas that challenged things. But he was no patsy either. He was full of conviction and resolve. He knew what he believed in and he didn’t waffle. He was a rigorous thinker and a person who understood the assumptions people make to arrive at their opinions. He was gracious, humble and self-deprecating because he was brilliant and he had faith in that vast intellect.

And so, last week, when his doctor informed him that the long fight with leukemia was nearing its end and he drew us close and blessed us – Mom-Mom, Deb, Tom and Anne and me and especially you, his grandchildren, he told me that without his mental acuity, he really didn’t care to go on living. It was a simple logical conclusion based on facts and afterwards, he delivered a blessing that was simple and beautiful, the point of which was that of all our passions in life — fans, business, teaching, learning, writing — staying close as a family was the most important by far. He said that he knew we were close now and could only hope we would remain so after he was gone.

We had many beautiful moments together last week, even a few laughs. There was a night when Deb and I were sitting with him when he woke suddenly from a sound sleep and said, “My pen! Where’s my pen? Mom-Mom had of course kept his trusty pen handy, so Deb slid it into the chest pocket of his hospital gown. Just black? she asked, remembering that he always carried red too. I™m semi-retired now,” he said, falling back to sleep.

Another moment, only a day or so before he passed, the nurse’s aide had just rearranged his pillows and I asked if he was relaxed. “Moribund,” he said, and then with a sly smile, realizing that this was a rather obscure word, did what he always did with us: he explained it’s meaning: almost dead.

It’s sad saying goodbye to a man who took care of us and who loved us so hard and so well. He was my first best friend and my fiercest and most devoted fan. He was yours too. Not a conversation went by with Deb, Tom, Anne or me, when he didn’t ask what was new with you kids. He delighted in your accomplishments, kvelled at your quirks, and took immense joy from your simply being in this world. When this week is over, he would have told us to finish grieving, take care of Mom-Mom, go forth in the world to learn, to give of ourselves, to love each other, when the time is right, to make families and above all, to live our lives fully.


  • Molly Russakoff says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your dad. I know this can’t be an easy line to cross. I hope that the closeness you achieved here on earth, the understanding and appreciation, will give you peace when you think about him. Please give my best to Anne and the kids.

  • Carl Mendell says:


    I am sorry for your loss. I remember your father well. I lost my father three years ago and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.

    I think losing a parent makes you real face your own mortality. I feel young – sometimes much younger than 48, but at other times I look into the mirror and I see my father and the pain of the last few years he faced with the indignities of aging and dying.

    Your father struck me as very much a caring and loving father. Obviously I saw the relationship more through his love towards Debbi, but I also clearly remember the pride and the routing he had for you when you were producing records. I remember the charts he framed and the pride he took every day or week a song would move up the charts -even though he probably related more to pragmatic business he never made either of you to kids feel inhibited to cut your own path.

    There was support that was unselfish and focused steming from love. Yes I saw all this and remember it well.

    I remember how he liked to drive a beautiful Mercedes at home, but not to make the workers at the plant feel bad or unimportant he drove some little Ford (I think it was a precurser of the focus).

    I remember suggesting to Debbi when they were thinking of a pool at your Abington home, that she suggest a large pool big enough for laps (I think I suggested make it ‘olympic’ sized). So all Debbi had to do was ask or suggest this and he was there to please her. (I’m sure she didn’t mention me – wouldn’t have been as effective)

    Anyway I loved my father deeply and still do, and he was brilliant and loved me. But honestly Don I saw a very special love from your Dad towards Debbi and you that was from my vantage completely unselfish.
    I think it was unusual as he was extremely pragmatic yet generous – some fine qualities not often found together.

    All though I do remember a big faux pas when I told him in what 1981 that I had a lot of respect for Ralph Nador – back then I think your Dad was still a true Republican – (he certainly didn’t like Nador – or my opinion ) of course the party wasn’t as bad pre Bush.

    I did however understand that he understood business and more importantly people. I am certain his success grew from his good nature and reason and not because of the product per se – it could of been any product.

    I remember being impressed when your father said why waste money on rent when Debbi was living in the Villiage in NY and bought her an apartment. I think he paid something like 85k and sold it a year later for something lke 115K, and being 22 and challenging I said why sell it?, and he quitely answered “I never went broke taking a profit” or “you will never go broke taking a profit”.

    I had to laugh because I deep down I knew that was sensable. I suppose lots of people would take risk or leverage themselves or go out on many risky limbs – leaving vulnerbility. But I think his priority was to provide a safe environment for you ‘kids’ to grow up in.

    To fucking bad life gives bad curves and all too often takes life away to young. I’m sorry for your loss – and believe me I understand it.