More than a few readers of my new novel, Face Value, have asked about the meaning of the final words on my dedication page, which reads in full:
In loving memory of my father, Bill Kahn.
All but six, Dad.
On this, the one year anniversary of my dear father’s death, I honor his memory by explaining “all but six.”
I first heard those words many, many years ago. I was in town on a visit with my parents. My father and I had stayed up late talking and sipping glasses of Scotch. Maybe two hours into our conversation, sometime after midnight, he paused, stared at me, and said, “Son, I have something to tell you.”
He always called me “Son.” Never “Mike” or “Michael.”
“What is it, Dad?”
“When I die and it comes time to order the epitaph for my tombstone, I want just the following three words on it: All But Six.”
I frowned. “All but six?” I repeated.
“What does it mean?”
“It’s short for ‘Fuck ’em all but six.'”
Another confused pause. “Who are the six?”
“The pallbearers, son. The ones who’ll carry your coffin to the grave.”
Another moment of silence. “I don’t understand, Dad.”
“I’ll explain, son. In this life you have to do what you think is the right thing to do, no matter what anyone tells you. When you follow your conscience, when you do what you believe is the right thing to do–the moral thing, the just thing–you’re going to get criticized by others. You’re going to get called names and you’re going to have people saying nasty things behind your back. But you got to stick to your principles and tough it out. You got to say to yourself, ‘Fuck ’em. All but six.”
He gave me a wink, and held his Scotch glass toward me. “Okay?”
I smiled and tapped my glass against his.
Throughout his life, my dad practiced what he preached. As a result of a lifelong commitment to equality, to fairness, and to social justice, his achievements were extraordinary, though often controversial at the time, as was recognized in this obituary from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and in this beautiful tribute read aloud by Rabbi Jim Goodman when my father received the Heschel-King Award for Social Justice in 2008.
But alas, when he died last June and it came time to specify the words to be etched onto his gravestone, his four children looked back on his life, and especially those final gentle days, and there emerged a consensus among my siblings and my wife Margi that Bill Kahn’s memory would be better served by words that conveyed his life’s meaning to friends and family instead of a cryptic three-word phrase. And thus above his name on the actual gravestone appear the words:
DEAR HUSBAND, FATHER, GRANDFATHER AND GREAT-GRANDFATHER
And below his name the following:
A TRUE FRIEND
CHAMPION OF JUSTICE
Even so, I was haunted by the memory of that night so many years ago, by the silent promise I made when we tapped those Scotch glasses together. And thus when I learned that the publication month for my novel would be the same month as Father’s Day and my father’s death, the language for the dedication page became obvious. And my dad, a huge fan of books (including his son’s), would hopefully smile over where his epitaph actually appears.
And so on this first yahrzeit of my father’s death, I raise a glass of scotch and repeat these words in his blessed memory:
All but six, Dad.
18 thoughts on ““All But Six” — A Tribute to My Dad”
I love this and can see you sitting with your dad that night. So glad I am one of many that got a chance to know him in his life and see the softer side of how he loved all of you so.
I will have this tattooed on me today.
Thank you ❤
That’s cool, Cody. If you do get it inked, please send me a photo and I will try to post it here. Stay safe!
I worked with a carpenter foreman when I was 19 years old (37 yrs.ago ) and he would say this from time to time. Never got the explanation til now.
Thanks and God bless.
My father used to say it all the time. Much like your dad, my dad was a champion for those who couldn’t champion for themselves. It was his mission in life to help others. When he explained the phrase “All but six” to me he told me that in the Marines he’d learned that the right thing wasn’t always the easy thing… do it anyway. Thanks for sharing about your dad. It’s nice to hear about others who were like mine.
My Dad was in the Navy in the Korean war,My Dad was everyones Dad im my small hometown in Southern Ohio just below Dayton.He was an avid Dirtbike rider and so was my brother and I.He would take all the kids in town over 100 miles to the only place we could leagley ride.All the kids would show up with their bikes and we would start loading them up in his big Dually pickup.Almost always there would be one boy whose bike would not start or had a problem he would tell my Dad about before we left,Then another favorite saying of his was no kid left behind! Sometimes we would have over ten bikes in the back of his truck! He was a champion in our town and all the kids loved him like their own or the father they never had! His favorite sayin was Fuck um all but six and today thanx to you Michael i have finally found out what it means! I cant read this about your Dad without stopping three or four times to wipe away the tears! Thank you again!
That’s beautiful, Steve. You are blessed to have those memories. Thanks for sharing.
My older brother Bill was in the US Navy 1957-1979 he retired as a CWO-4 and served mostly on Nuclear Subs. He was 10 yrs older then me so i was 8 when he joined the Navy and left our house with periodic visits home for a short time! During those visits I would receive very instructive lectures about what my future in the Navy would entail! When I was 19 I too joined the Navy but only for one enlistment and then out 1968-1972! Now for as long as I can remember his favorite sayings were “F’m all but six” followed by “Take care of Watash”! I realized what he meant in both cases literally and figuratively when I was young! Six Pallbearers who are your true friends and You are responsible for your own decisions as they reflect on You (Watash) which he said meant YOURSELF in Indian) although I’m sure he saw or heard it in an Old Western movie as we had no Indians in our Irish Mutt Family! He too was a great leader and teacher of those who were willing to listen and learn!
I enjoyed your memory. I had a boat named All But Six and my understanding is like your dad’s but a little different. It came to me as a kid in Philadelphia when the veterans returned from the Korean War. A decorated rifleman explained it to me. He said, “Two to fold the flag, one to play the drum, one to play taps and two to bear the pall.” Just a variation on your story and I’m not exactly sure I got the six parts down but you get the drift. Thanks for making me remember that.
That’s cool, John. Thanks for sharing.
I have no idea who you are. I just googled something my father always said. “screw them all, but six. We need them for pallbearers.” It must have been a generational thing. Peace to your father,
You’re probably right, Alison. A generation thing. Peace to your father, too. And thanks.
Michael that expression was used by my Italian family when I was a kid and we still use it today. I wonder who originated it?
Good question, Liz. I wonder myself as to its origins. Something tells me the expression or its equivalent is multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. There is a wonderful Yiddish expression that I would bet has its equivalent in other languages as well. That expression is: Man plans, and God laughs. How true, eh?
It derives from the Navy saying of “F..k ‘em all except for six and save them for side boys.”
Told to me by an old Marine.
Hello Michael: I have precious memories of my born-in-Ireland Grandfather who passed in Palmerston Ontario just before my sixth birthday in 1950. Whenever he was in disagreement with something he read or heard, or had comment about someone he didn’t like, he would mutter “All But Six”. I never knew what it meant and I carried “All But Six” in the back of my mind for decades ,,, UNTIL … reading Trinity by Leon Uris and the main character, Connor Larkin, said “All But Six” about some visitors walking up his laneway. The full meaning was revealed on the next page …”Fook ’em all but six, ’cause you need six for pallbearers”. After picking myself off the floor from a fit of laughter I vowed to find a fitting use for the muttering. So, over the years it has become a perfect sign-off for SOME memos or letters … where appropriate. But, most importantly it is the name of my Tanzer 22 sailboat … and has become a great way to meet people when they ask its meaning.
Professor Jim Craig – School of Media – Seneca College, Toronto Canada
My dad said the same thing to me, coincidentally over a beer together one night at his favorite watering hole. I had come to him, as I often do, about some work related issue I was having at the time. More or less, I just wanted to vent. He went on to listen to me bitch for some time. I thought he most certainly had tuned me out when he took the stogie from his mouth and said, “f*ck ‘em all but six”. I looked up at him confused. He went on to explain exactly as your dad had. Not only did I find the phrase clever, but it changed my prospective on the way I approach so many things in life. Doing what’s right doesn’t always lead an easy life, but an honest one.