The Sidney Harman I Knew
Harman, Justine, Newsweek
Byline: Justine Harman
He was a candy smuggler, a beer drinker--and a magician.
When I was born, my father was 66 years old.
Old 8mm videos of my older brother and me depict the same casual disregard any child has for a parent. My father, nearing 70, shot hours of footage of us with his old-fashioned video camera, his booming baritone narrating while Dan and I played air guitar or showcased our best belly flops. In my favorite vignette, I am smearing chocolate in my hair as Dad trills my nickname, Jussy, in trademark, singsong staccato.
My father, Sidney Harman, is credited with many things: building one of the biggest audio-equipment companies in the world, Harman International; maintaining an impressive golf handicap into his 90s; buying Newsweek from The Washington Post in 2010, when he was 91. He was puckish; he was a poet, a philosopher, and a sports enthusiast. But more than anything, my dad was a magician.
I will never forget the way his wiry eyebrows furrowed when he beguiled a stranger's son at a restaurant, asking him to blow on a coin that would later surface in the boy's ear. I remember willfully insisting that the quarter had never vanished and reappeared, that it had been in his pocket the whole time. That was my role: the adversary. When I was a kid, nothing my dad did--despite his curiosity, good humor, or success--particularly impressed me.
In seventh grade, I was accepted to a prestigious all-girls horseback-riding camp in Vermont. Only for the most serious equestriennes, the program demanded hours of intensive lessons and a regimented diet. Prior to my departure, I heavily campaigned for care packages, citing the irreparable side effects of withdrawal from Sour Straw candy. Halfway through camp session, I received a notice that a package was waiting for me at the canteen, but that it had been inspected for contraband. Evidently Dad had bought a board game and filled the box to the brim with candy, and then taken it to be shrink-wrapped. Although the packaging was seamless--and, as the camp director admitted, unprecedented--my sweets were seized. As I walked away with my gutted Monopoly game, I read the note from my dad: "A game for a gamine," he had written, in trademark, blocky scrawl. …