He loved coffee. In the morning, he held one mug under the coffee machine while drinking out of the second mug. At least 20 mugs daily. We bonded over coffee and sports. Once or twice a week, he looked at me and said: “Let’s get a coffee.” We walked for a mile to our local coffee shop, he drank his 2-3 cups and I nibbled on pastry. Coffee was a symbol for being in the safe zone.

Sports was our relationship spine. I woke him up at 3am for Muhammad Ali fights, kept him awake for late night football games (“Don’t fall asleep”) and fought every morning over the sports pages. He came to every single football home game. Standing on the sidelines, chatting with the coaches and teammates. When I was ejected after 5 minutes for a flagrant foul, he hugged me and said: “Learn from it. Let’s get a coffee.” When I scored 5 goals in a half, he hugged me and said: “Good game. Let’s get a coffee.”

He loved talking politics. He watched parliament debates for hours. Politics mattered to him. Politics turned his home into a smoking pile of trash, politics made him a refugee. Because politics mattered to him, politics mattered to me. So, I sat for hours next to him, watching politicians debating how to deal with the Soviet Union, not understanding one word. When the debate was over, he said: “Ready for a coffee?”

He owned two records: World’s worst cook. And world’s worst handyman. His typical cooked meal consisted of an unidentifiable slap of meat plus a barely warmed-up can of peas. Once, he wanted to surprise us with a cherry soup . Instead of sugar, he used salt by mistake, hoped vinegar could neutralize the taste, doubled-up on sugar: the result tasted like 3-day old vomit. He ate the whole pot. Never admitting his mistake, admonishing us for our weird taste buds. Learning to cook early was a basic survival skill.

When it comes to his handyman title, I’m close second. I curse as much and get impatient after two nanoseconds. One Saturday, it took him 3 hours to assemble a book rack. I placed three books on the first shelf and it all came tumbling down. “Why do you put so many books on the shelf?” I knew there was no point in arguing. For the next few years, I lived with a book rack held together by hundreds of nails and pounds of glue. It was good for 10 books and a feather. I never achieved this level of handyman incompetency but don’t look too closely at my daughter’s bunk bed.

He was starving for information. Loved his newspapers and magazines. Read books like they were running out of style. He read the first 20 pages, then the last 20 pages and glanced for 10 minutes through the remaining middle of the book. He read “War and Peace” in 50 minutes. For Christmas, he usually got 10 books. Mid-Afternoon Christmas Day he was done with all of them. Ready to learn more, read more magazines and newspapers.

He loved deals. 20 pocket knives for $30. 500 pencils for $2. 30 pocket knives for $40. A pocket knife was the answer to everything. Girlfriend broke up with you? Here’s a pocket knife. Broken foot? Another pocket knife. When I moved out, I found 20+ pocket knives in my room. The graduation gift? Well, you know.

He lived through the horrors of WWII, saw his home and family raped and pillaged, trekked for years trough Europe to find his second home. He could have felt disappointed about opportunities lost, fantasized about what-ifs. He had a Teflon soul when it came to all this bad stuff. He rather cracked a joke, played a trick, reframed people’s negative mindset. He knew life shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Let’s get a coffee.