By Brian Dann and Elene Gubin
Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes, how do you measure a year in the life? That is the question asked to us by the song Seasons of Love, from the Broadway musical Rent. Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes, how do you measure a woman or a man? The answer that is offered to us by this song is, “How about love.” Well by looking around this room today, and the amount of people who have come out to pay there respects, it’s obvious to both my sister and me that our fathers life was immeasurable.
There is an old Yiddish saying. It goes, “We make plans, and G-d laughs.” That has never been truer then it is today. Cancer is something that our father never planned for, but who does? He planned for many things but not this. He planned to stay healthy. He worked out every day on the treadmill or lifted weights. He watched everything he ate, and he took incredible care of himself and it showed. It was one of the many things that defined our father. He always looked 10 years younger then he was and he could run circles around me. He always used to say to me, if some one asks you your age, don’t lie and say that you are younger, lie and say that you are much older, because then there response will be, “Boy, you look great for your age!” But my father didn’t have to lie, because he always looked great. He took impeccable care of himself. But this, this he did not plan for. He planned for many things. He planned to play with his grand kids, to see them grow up and dance at there Bar and Bat Mitzvahs’, there weddings. He planned to see them go to college, and at least one of them, Danny, he was lucky enough to see him grow up to be a fine young man and attend Indiana. Danny was his first grand kid, the golden child. And you have never seen a papa more proud to have become a papa then he was on the day that Danny was born. He attended every game, every sporting event Danny was in. He was Danny’s biggest fan, as he was to all his grand kids. He was a proud papa and his love for each one of his grand children was unconditional. Danny, Jamie, Sarah, Dylan and Addison, were the light of his life. He was blessed. One day while my father was in hospice, Rabbi Helbraun came by. My dad was very weak and the Rabbi asked my dad if he would like him to say a prayer. My dad said yes, and the Rabbi asked if there was something in particular that my dad would like him to pray for. My fathers answer was, “My grandchildren.” As me, my sister and my mother stood there, all with our hand on my father, the Rabbi said his prayer. It was one of those incredibly real moments in life where you feel so connected to the ones around you and to G-d.
A few weeks before my father past I wrote a Thanksgiving article about him for my website. I wrote that during this process that our father was going through, he was given a gift. It may not have been a gift that he wanted, but it was a gift none the less. Our father was given the gift of having time to tell the loved ones around him how he truly felt about them before his soul moved on, and we were given the opportunity to tell him as well. One day while in hospice my mother asked him, “Earl, what was your biggest accomplishment? Was it DannDee Display, your cars, your boat?” My fathers answer to her was, “It was marrying you, Marilyn,” and he truly meant it. I can’t tell you how many times my father had told me that he never could have done anything without the support of my mother. She was everything to him. My mother gave him the freedom and the support to do the things in life that made him a success. Whether it was running his business or taking flying lessons he often told me that with out her support he never could have done any of it. She was his true partner in life. They were a real love story. He loved my mother, adored her and most importantly cared so deeply for her. He met her at a dance, a dance where he went with a blind date who he managed to conveniently take home early by telling her that someone had broken into his business and he had to go meet the police at his office. He took this girl home and went back to the dance. When he got back, he saw a pretty young girl standing across the dance floor. He walked over and introduced himself. He used to joke that he couldn’t tell where the crinoline stopped and my mother started. They went on a date and nine months later, on December 18th 1960, Marilyn Pearlman became Marilyn Dann. He used to write her love letters when he would travel for business and even up until his last days at Dann Dee Display Fixtures he would send her flowers every time he traveled to the Orient. His love for my mom is forever and that is something of his that my mom will always have.
I said earlier that there were many things that defined my father and one of them was his success in business. Dann Dee Display Fixtures was more then just a place to work. It was like a second family to him. Every single person there was important to him and he truly appreciated the contributions they made to his company. Earl Dann had an open door policy, anyone could come talk to him any time they wanted to and he treated every employee with the same level of respect from the new guy in the warehouse to his highest executive in his company. He had a true passion for his work and loved what he did. My dad was a born sales man and a great businessman. But he also knew his limitations and he told me that to succeed in business, surround yourself with the best. And that he did. And many of them that could be here today, are. From John Vacala, to Larry Chronowski, Rosemary Levy to Carol DeCicco, Mark Pritchard to Jennifer Winebrenner, just to name a few, these people were his second family. They believed in my father and were just as committed to his success as he was. As children, my sister and I used to love going to work with my dad. When ever he had to redecorate the showroom for the change of seasons he would take us with to help him, and as a young boy watching my father, in August, open up giant Christmas trees and ornaments, snowflakes and robotic elves, strings of lights and giant boxes of plastic snow and putting them all together into a winter wonderland was amazing! Not every Jewish kid gets to decorate for Christmas, but I did. I thought my dad had the coolest job in the world, and when we would go with him to trade shows in New York, he would stroll down the convention hall like he owned the place. Everybody knew him. He was like a celebrity. Our dad was amazing. He was a visionary and he changed the way the display fixture industry did business. He was the first to put out a full color catalog, and every year the cover was anticipated by everyone who got it. He grabbed everyone’s attention and forced others in the industry to step it up a notch. At the top of his game there was not a store in the United States that did not have a Dann Dee Display Fixtures catalog under there register. My father always told me that in business, it comes from the top down, and my father’s passion, commitment and enthusiasm for his work permeated through out his company.
But for me the thing that really defined my father was his passion for his family. When you are young, a father’s passion for his family is something that is difficult to see. It’s difficult to understand why a father does the things he does, or says the things he says. And I don’t think I every really truly understood my father, until I became a father myself, and then I understood, because the moment your child is born, life is no longer about you. I understood why in old photos and movies why my father looked so happy holding me and my sister as babies. I understood why my father was so thrilled when I learned to ride on two wheels. I understood why my dad was at every little league game, and wanted to coach my soccer team. I understood why he loved to take me to the airport for lunch on the weekends with all the other private pilots and introduce them to his boy. I understood why he wanted to take just me fishing in Canada. I understood why the day I was leaving to go to college, my dad was standing in his bathroom, by himself, crying. I understood why when my sister and I wanted to work for his company he made us start by taking orders on the phones, and work our way up. I understood why when I wanted to leave his company and start my own photography business he helped me every step of the way, and continued to through out my life. And I understood why when he was laying in Hospice and I told him that by this coming June I would finally have my Masters Degree, he opened his eyes and smiled. I understood that to my father, we were everything and life was no longer about him, it was about us. I understood.
One of the most difficult things I have ever had to do is define my father. How do you put into words a man who has been an inspiration and a role model for my sister and me our entire lives? The other day a co-worker commented to me that I seem to be handling this very well. Family and friends said to me many times that I often don’t seem sad. My answer was always, don’t worry, I will have my moments, and I have, but when I think of my fathers life, I am happy. The truth is life is never long enough. There is always something else to do, something else to see, events we don’t want to miss, but we all have our time to go. No one can say that my father’s time on this earth was wasted. Because when my father was alive, he lived. He lived with passion, he lived with purpose and he made the most of life. He lettered in track, he served in the army, he was a disk jockey, he sang with big band orchestras. He got married, had two kids, 5 grand kids. He saw both of his kids get married, and saw one of his grandkids go to college. He built up a highly successful business and sold it for millions! He flew airplanes, owned boats, a Bentley, houses, and had more friends then a person could ever imagine. He lived! And for that I feel good. We should all be so lucky to live as full of a life as our father did. My sister and I, as well as our entire family will miss him very much. We will miss his guidance, we will miss his sense of humor, and we will miss the way his face lit up every time he was with Danny, Jamie, Sarah, Dylan or Addison. Not only has he been our father, but he has been our friend, our inspiration, and our role model and we will miss him. Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes, how do you measure the life of Earl Dann? We measure it with love. We love you dad.