Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Funny Thing

Something kind of funny happened a couple weeks ago.

We were in Michigan, visiting Nana, and I got message through Facebook. It said:

"Subject: Was Steve Cronk your dad?

I used to write for Steve and learned recently he'd passed away. If you're his daughter, I wanted to write a bit more to you about my positive experiences working with him.
I have a facebook account, but I never look at it. I only used it as a means of finding you. Please respond to ---. Thanks!"

Wow, I thought. Yes, Steve Cronk was my dad. And yes, it's true, he died a few years ago. Who is this? Did this person really write for my dad, or could it be that my father had another family and this is his son? (Dad and I used to joke about that.)

Well, it turned out this person is not my father's illegitimate child, and really was a writer for him. For those of you who don't know, my father was the editor of "Teddy Bear Review" magazine. Funny, right? We thought so, too. Teddy Bears. But it's true! Anyway, the work my father gave him ultimately led to professional and personal growth.

This man wrote to me that a woman who'd worked with him and my father had told him that dad died. She sent him a memorial article that had been written, that mentioned his only daughter -me. He wrote to me that he has four daughters and thought of writing to me. So he got himself on Facebook, did a search and there I was!

He ended his email with: 'My sympathies to you, Allyn, now almost 3 1/2 years later! I'm a richer man in a number of ways for having had the privilege of working with Steve Cronk. If you have the inclination, I'd be interested in having my very narrow perspective of your dad widened a bit.

I knew this would be an emotional letter to write, and I finally did it today. I thought I would share it here with you. Some of you knew my dad. I know I didn't capture everything about him... how can you reveal a whole person in just a few paragraphs? This is just a snapshot of my dad, who I miss lately more than ever.

Dear Mr. Lee,

It's so hard to know what to focus on, about my dad, so forgive me if I ramble.

My father was from Anderson, Indiana. He was an only child and loved to play chess. When he was young his parents dealt with any rowdiness by having him run around the (small) house a few times.

When he was a teenager he had a 12 string guitar that he carried around with him all over the place. This is something people who knew him then remember about him. He loved folk music and loved Simon and Garfunkel. When I was growing up he took me to the Paul Simon concert in Central Park in 1991, when I was 13. He once got into an argument with my mother about who was more influential to music: The Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel. He felt it was Simon and Garfunkel.

He went to Purdue University and became an English teacher in Indianapolis. The Christmas before he died he told me one of the greatest moments of his life was when he heard that a couple of really tough kids he taught told someone that "Mr. Cronk is a cool guy".

He then taught at Anderson High School, where my mother had just graduated from, but her younger sister was a student. My aunt used to tell me that all the girls were in love with him (I've seen the pictures from that time - his thick 70s sideburns looked great!).

He and my mom, an aspiring singer and actress, met, got married and moved to NYC together. They both had always wanted to get the hell out of Anderson, IN, and so they did. They lived in Greenwich Village while my dad went to NYC for his graduate degree. While in school, he worked at The Strand book store.

This was an important time for my dad because he was always into beatniks and writers who based a lot of writing in the village. And it was rumored that Bob Dylan had lived in the same building a few years before. The building is at the corner of MacDougal and Bleeker streets, over the recently closed Le Figaro cafe.

After he finished school he and my mother moved back to Indiana because that was the only teaching job he could find. In 1978 they had me (he was 30) and about two years later they got divorced.

My mother moved me back to NYC in 1983, and my father and his girlfriend (they were together until 1992 I think) moved to Hoboken, NJ, to be close to me. My father had various jobs, and when he started working for Collector Communications he started at the bottom. He worked his way up, working a lot on "Collector Editions" and finally becoming the editor of "Teddy Bear Review". He'd never considered the idea that he'd be working in an area of teddy bears and collectibles, but he enjoyed it.

He did this for years, and worked on his own poetry writing but wasn't really published. Finally, in about 2000 or so, he left the company and did some freelance work. A year or so later he went back to Indiana to take care of my grandfather, whose health had declined (my grandmother had died a couple years before). So, my dad was back in his childhood home in a town he wasn't crazy about. But he took care of my grandfather, who died a year before dad did.

I hated my father being there, so far away. At this point he was single and I worried about him. But he was fine, just kind of in an early retirement and having a good time.

Soon, though, he told me that it looked like he had liver disease, and then he ended up in the hospital. My husband, who dad loved like a son (Andy and I have been together for 11 years now), and I drove to Indiana and were with my father as we found out he was about to die. This whole thing went on for about a week, while he was in the hospital. Being the only child of him, also an only child, he talked me through getting things sorted out and everything. He knew he was going to die and he was very calm and everything. I am very much like my father, including an English teacher and book lover, and we talked about things like the one book I need to read before I die (Ulysses, he said). My mother came to help and they reminisced about living in the village. We all got to say our goodbyes and he seemed at peace. When he died I was with him.

My father had a great sense of humor. He was sarcastic and sardonic and self-deprecating. We were able to turn everything into a time chance to laugh and joke around, so even when he was in the hospital, we truly had a jolly time.

My dad was also very funny and had a great ability to set people at ease and was just easy going and fun. He was also so smart, and was a very sensitive and emotional person. He was always reading and had such an appreciation for stories that were about life, and those that were dark or sci-fi too. He loved Raymond Carver, William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies and Saturday Night Live. One of his favorite movies was "A Christmas Story," especially because Jean Shepherd was a Hoosier, like us.

He was a great dad, my best memories are of him taking me bowling or to play pinball, and to movies. Because he was a "weekend" dad (I lived with my mom and saw him every other weekend), he always made an effort to entertain me. But he seemed to have a great time. We always played board games and checkers and chess and everything. Don't get me wrong, he wasn't perfect. He drank too much and would get into ridiculous arguments, or play "House of the Rising Sun" on his guitar. He lived in his head a lot. He was a poet, to the core. But with a wicked sense of humor.

So, in a (lengthy) nutshell, that's my dad.


  1. Thanks for posting your letter. Makes me want to call my Dad today.

  2. I found this by chance. You may not remember me but I remember your father and my husband were both good friends. In fact, you and my stepson (Josh) picnicked with us in Holliday Park in Indianapolis when you were very little, maybe only 5 years old. Steve definitely was a cool guy, a vital part of the Writers Center and someone with a great sense of humor. That only touches the surface of who he was.

    I've come to appreciate the fleeting quality of life and those we know as I grow older. My mother is in her late 90s and I wish we'd had more time to spend with Steve. My husband visited him once in New York and they had a great time :)