Finishing a Father’s Story
When Earthbound Farms co-founder Myra Goodman found her father’s journals after his death, she discovered a way to understand and connect with him.
My father, Mendek Rubin, immigrated to America in 1946 after surviving three horrendous years in Nazi slave labor concentration camps—years during which his parents and four of his siblings were murdered in Auschwitz. At 21, he arrived at Ellis Island with only a sixth-grade education. He didn’t speak English or have any money or marketable skills. What he did have was a brilliant and creative mind.
Over the next 40 years, Mendek’s inventions revolutionized both the jewelry and packaged salad industries. But even more remarkable was how he applied his genius to his own psyche, figuring out innovative methods to heal the deep, unresolved emotional pain he carried from his early life.
By age 60, my father had not only overcome the severe depression that had plagued him for decades, he’d also become the most peaceful and joyful person I’ve ever met. Just as he’d invented revolutionary ways to manufacture bracelet clasps and package salad greens, he had discovered how to be truly happy and free.
When I was a girl, everyone who knew my father called him “good-natured.” No one in our family remembers him saying even one harsh word to any of us. He was always kind and patient, but he also knew how to have fun. Only the people closest to him—my mother, Edith, and his sole surviving sibling, Bronia— understood the depth of the despair he hid so well.
There was only one time that I sensed a bottomless darkness deep within him. After wandering into the kitchen late at night, I saw him standing by the sink, his head hanging down. I felt confused and anxious. Was there something wrong with my dad? My father was my sunshine. I couldn’t bear to see him as anything but happy and strong, so I tried to put the image out of my mind.
Throughout my life, my dad was someone I could always rely on. When I was young, he tucked me in at night and listened to my childhood fears. As an adult, he worked hard to help make my business a success.
In the early days of Earthbound Farm, when most people thought my husband, Drew, and I were crazy to try to sell pre-washed organic salad in bags because it had never been done before, my dad never once questioned the viability of our concept. Not only did he invent ingenious equipment to wash and pack our delicate baby greens, he also provided a crash course in manufacturing: teaching us to think about assembly lines, scaling up, and the most efficient ways to achieve top quality.
His quiet assurance gave us the confidence and faith to pursue our dreams.
Over the next dozen years, as our company grew from a tiny roadside produce stand into the largest grower of organic produce in the world, I became a very busy working mom with two young children. My parents helped me by babysitting almost every day.
Losing My Father
After my father died in the fall of 2012, I missed him even more than I expected. I craved his smile, and the feel of his hand in mine. I regretted how much I didn’t know about him and had never even thought to ask. I’d lost the opportunity to learn his history and delve into the philosophical theories and spiritual revelations he loved to share.
But at the same time, I continued to feel his presence. Daddy, are you here with me? Is the light I feel coming from you?
Then one day, while sorting through his belongings, I found the unfinished manuscript of a book he’d worked on for many years, a work he’d titled In Quest of the Eternal Sunshine. It was the same manuscript he’d asked me to edit decades ago, during a hectic era when I was caring for two young children and a fast-growing business. I’d worked on the manuscript for a few days, but it had required more time than I could possibly devote, so I’d set it aside—temporarily, I thought at the time. In the intervening years, however, I’d completely forgotten it existed.
Now, I was riveted. I had a deep yearning to understand my father and uncover his secrets.
Night after night, I sat at my dining room table, tears streaming down my face as I soaked in my father’s words. I learned so many things about him that I’d never known before. His writings were honest and intimate. While my father had always appeared calm and mild-mannered in person, on the page he expressed himself boldly and passionately.
What shocked me the most was the intensity of the pain that had suffocated my dad for much of his life: feeling unworthy, in despair, afraid of both living and dying. Following the Holocaust, the universe felt hostile to him, human existence pointless.
Making the Decision to Live Fully
For 45 years, Mendek was mired in feelings of hopelessness and fear until, one day, he made a declaration of war against a life he found wanting. Refusing to waste his remaining years estranged from himself and the world at large, my father embarked upon an extraordinary odyssey, both in the real world and inside his own mind. He found the courage to face his past and question his belief system. And in doing so, he discovered that the cold, indifferent universe he had lived in for so long was nothing more than his own projection, and that he had the power to change it.
Mesmerized by my father’s words and wisdom, I wanted to share his healing journey with a wider audience. But because my father’s writing was primarily motivated by his desire to communicate his philosophy, he’d skipped over full decades of his life, leaving me with more questions than answers. I barely knew anything about his past, not even how many siblings he’d had. So much of his history was the history of the Holocaust, and he’d always preferred to avoid that subject.
I spent years researching and writing the missing parts of my father’s story, as well as countless hours sorting through, editing, and reorganizing the existing content. While many of the chapters were written by Mendek from start to finish and my only job was editing, I created most of them like a patchwork quilt—carefully sewing together small pieces of copy and information gathered from many diverse sources to form a cohesive whole.
To tell my father’s story from his perspective in his voice, I had to look at the world through his eyes—emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually—which meant always holding him close. When I felt his energy land on the page, I knew what I had written was on target.
Turning my father’s life story and writings into this book has been a new chapter in our father–daughter relationship, another chance to work together to create something wonderful that neither of us could have accomplished on our own.
Want more of Myra Goodman’s writing? Read her article “Coronavirus From the Perspective of Mother Earth.”
Excerpted with permission from Quest For Eternal Sunshine: A Holocaust Survivor’s Journey From Darkness to Light by Mendek Rubin and Myra Goodman. © 2020 by Mendek Rubin and Myra Goodman. She Writes Press, a division of SparkPoint Studio, LLC.