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Paean to a Dad: Melvin Marvin Tumin

I’m returning to blogging after a few months off. I’ve been playing with Twitter, FB, writing, making our numbers, creating some initiatives that with any luck will change the world some for the better, or at least shake it up a bit. That’s what we do, I reckon. A friend and colleague of my dad’s once called this crew “creators and disturbers”. I’ll take it.

I signal my return to blogging, then, recognizing my dad on his 90th birthday. He died somewhere in the mid-90s – I know the date – March 3 – but not the year. The day is easy – three days after my daughter’s birthday, one day after my son’s. Lord giveth, lord taketh away and such.  At graveside, my son asked, “Is that grandpa in that box?” Which, indeed, it was. Lying under a lovely elm in Princeton Cemetery, in view of Princeton Hospital, and in the shade of John Tulane and Grover Cleveland, whom he neither admired nor knew much about but would have enjoyed for their bulk, presence, and apparent orneriness. Tulane’s statue is closest to the edge bounding the University, with his backside turned to the University in some grudge now realized in perpetuity.

Melvin Marvin Tumin was born on this day – February 10, 1919.  Moshe Mordecai Tumin was known as Moishe to his mother Rose and his two brothers Israel and Eddie.  His father Robert was an ordained rabbi who left the rabbinate for an anarchist commune in New Jersey, abandoning three sons and wife in Newark NJ mid-Depression, leaving scars one can only imagine. In his farewell letters, written from a flophouse on West 23rd Street in Manhattan as he lay dying, hacking his lungs out with some ghastly consumption, Bob Tumin made not one mention of his three sons. Dead when my dad was 14, buried as a pauper on Staten Island, he stayed a man of pain and mystery for my dad, I suspect; he never visited that graveside. I weep for my dad’s pain, still. My brother and I are both named for Robert Tumin, even so. Rose insisted on it.  Robert is my first name.

I suspect that one of the reasons my father never visited his own father’s grave — aside from all the obvious things about pain — is that he resoundingly did not believe in what he would call “spooks”.  It was a remarkable transition generation, from generations of rabbis, to teachers, to radicals and rabble rousers, all learned. My dad cut his pais and left home at 15 to become a freshman at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He was a red – but smart, and deeply read. He wrote a 150-page autobiography at 20, insufferable to a fault. He went on to his PhD at Northwestern, having done his field work in Guatemala in the 1940s and, he mentioned, spied some on Germans there. He came back with awful stomach problems, which ultimately rotted his teeth. He spent his life popping Gelusils and smoking Benson&Hedges which, of course, eventually killed him.

He was a Jew deep in every bone of his body who walked away from the rabbinate and became, instead, a professor at Princeton in 1947, one of the founding members of the sociology department there when it was still embedded in the economics department. He met my mother teaching at Wayne State in Detroit just after Northwestern. Isadore Yarost asked to learn Mel’s intentions towards his daughter Sylvia. These turned out to honorable. They married and set up home in Princeton, New Jersey in 1948.

The story progresses, of course. But the post will end here. Over the year perhaps I’ll share a story or two – and there are good ones — growing up in Princeton NJ as my brother and I did in the 1950s and 1960s.  Today is Melvin Marvin Tumin’s 90th birthday, or would have been. We loved him madly, of course. Sons being sons, wives wives, nieces and nephews, brothers- and sisters-in laws, his own Uncle Martin,  and brothers, and cousins literally too numerous to mention. After all, Rose Yawitz Tumin (later -Fishbein, and then-Gorin! boy, could she bury them!) was one of nine daughters. Wolf Yawitz, the kosher butcher, had no sons.  Rose turned around and had three.  Today and always we remember as much as we can of those three Tumin boys – Mel, Israel and Eddie.









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2 responses to “Paean to a Dad: Melvin Marvin Tumin”

  1. Daniela Tumin says:

    By the way, one of my middle names is Roberta.

  2. Daniela Tumin says:

    Thank you for this post. The year was 1994: exactly 15 years. For me, your father’s death severed my last direct tie to my own father. Independent of that, though, I loved your father very much and admired him madly. The Tumin brothers were – are – a tough act to follow. They are all a part of my fiber, and I hear them in myself every day. Talk about dominant genes.
    Love to you and Jon.