Happy Father’s Day

Not as big a deal as Mother’s Day. I myself would be content to lay about all day and simply have someone to cook other than me.

However, around this time I think of my own Dad.

He was born in 1929, a few days before Black Monday. Although he lived through the depression, it wasn’t all bad for him. His dad, my Grandpa, worked for the city. That is to say, he had a job. So they did OK.

He was in the Navy and the Army. I think Navy ROTC. I know Army for sure in Korea since he had gotten into photography and there are cases of slides he shot in country. He also had navy and army stuff left over. I used his army blanket for years.

He didn’t talk much about either, although he had a few stories about being in the navy. Like walking along deck carrying potato salad and blowing his lunch overboard from being seasick. Laughed like hell that the scene caused one of his shipmates to lose his lunch as well.

He got back, went to school, got a job and married my mom. Met her on a blind date set up by her brother.

And they had a ton of kids. Eight of us.

When I was 17, my father was so stupid, I didn’t want to be seen with him in public. When I was 24, I was amazed at how much the old man had learned in just 7 years.”

Attributed to Mark Twain

My mom pretty much ran the house. And we learned that it was best to handle things at that level. Because if the old man got involved, matters would be worse.

One of my earliest memories was getting pissed off at one of my sisters and punching the storm door, breaking the glass. I’m sure she simply locked me out. Can’t even tell you which one it was, but I remember being dragged before my dad, who was relaxing in bed reading the paper, and being told to “Tell your father what you did”. Don’t think I was even punished that much. But I sure as hell remember choking up telling him what I did. And I don’t remember diming out which sister it was. I think I simply choked out that I punched the door and it broke. I think I was four or five at the time.

When I was in 7th grade, I was horsing around in class, got busted, and Sr. Michael Rafeal told me to get a letter from my dad telling her why he sends me to Catholic School.

Man. That was going to suck. Didn’t want to ask that.

But times were different back then. My mom would keep us uncivilized monsters from him when he got back from work. He came home, had a beer or two, read the paper, had dinner. Maybe on the after dinner beer, he’d be gently folded into the mix.

So at that time, all relaxed, I told him what happened. He had my mom give him a cute greeting card, pulled out the typewriter (his handwriting sucked), and wrote “Sometimes I wonder”, and signed it.

Couldn’t wait to deliver it.

He wasn’t a handyman, but could hold his own. I marvel to this day how he could do a decent job paneling two rooms – the boys bedroom and the add on kitchen, with a wooden mitre box, a saw, nails , hammer, jigsaw, and having the long cuts done by bringing the panels to a friend that had a table saw.

He designed and built a huge grape arbor above the patio. The whole patio was shaded by grape vines. He built an amazing garden that produced food every summer.

Yet, water rained into the utility room from the bathroom above for all my memory living there. It wasn’t fixed until after he died and my sister rebuilt the bathroom, as was the hole in the back door, the pilots on the stove, and a list of other things.

I’d have opened the wall and fixed it. 20+ years of water damage for want of $1.00 of copper (at the time). Wonder why I didn’t fix it before I left. I had a torch. I knew how to solder copper.

No telling.

All my teen years I thought he was a stiff. Instead of the chores I do every week now, he’d sit drink, read. He’d sit on the patio all Saturday afternoon, enjoying cocktails, grilling, playing his guitar and singing.

My dumb ass would have been mowing and painting. He delegated a bit, let’s say. Soon as my brother and I were old enough, we had chores – The lawn, trash, painting.

I moved out not long after my mom died. Hell with it, I needed some AC and to get away from the nuthouse the place had become.

Then things changed. I lived in an apartment, and the job I had provided us with clean uniforms. So I’d pack what little laundry I’d have in a tank bag and backpack and head to the old man’s on my motorcycle to do laundry and chew the fat.

That’s when my perspective changed.

“Where’s Marcia been?” he asked.

“Ahh….Marcia is no more” I said.

“Oh. Well. Eh…That was a relationship of convenience anyhow”

Called it, he did.

We had a lot of great talks in those years when I was single.

Good fathers not only tell us how to live, they show us.

Attributed to Mark Twain

We never truly understood how much he loved my mom until she was gone. They kept most everything from us. Never fought or discussed much of anything in our presence nor did they show much affection. They had to at one point, they had eight kids.

He loved my next girlfriend, turned fiance, turned wife like a daughter – Herself.

Nothing made him crack up more than when we had our oldest. My dumb ass with a daughter made his day.

Nothing made him sadder, I came to find out, than when we left to move to Houston.

Nothing made him happier than when we came back and lived with him while getting resettled.

He reveled in us sitting with him at mass. Front. Damn. Row. too.

We found a house in the neighborhood. A fixer-upper.

A year later he was dead.

Died in his sleep at 65. Like his dad, and grandfather before him.

After the dust settles, you realized what you lost.

  • Although he never said it to me, he did to my brother: “You can say you’re sorry. You can say you didn’t mean it. But you can’t say you didn’t say it”. I’m not remembering right, but I’ve had to relearn that quite a bit. It was advice to measure your words.
  • He worked at a job that I’m certain wasn’t his passion. But he kept a roof over our heads and food in our bellies.
  • He retired after 35 years on the job. He was 55. He got ten years before he was gone. Had he planned on retiring at 70, he’d have never made it. Although our financial planner thinks otherwise, I have zero interest in working like I do now until 70.
  • He, and my mom, brought us up to be independent. Each one of us is different, and pursued different paths. He had a habit of talking about us like birds leaving the nest. He’d do a funny wing gesture with his hand when discussing it.
  • He was super frugal. I didn’t get that gene, although my brothers got all or part of it.
  • He tried best as he could (it was a different generation) to bring us up in the Catholic faith. Maybe half of us still are after finding our way back.
  • In his later years he was a really good listener and could give surprisingly astute advice.

I miss him more than ever now and mourn the years he’s been gone – about thirty if my count is right. All those years it would have been nice to lean on him for advice. Hell, same with my father-in-law. He was of the same generation and died not long after.

At our wedding I remember trying to coax them both to the recieving line. They were having none of it, being at the bar, bending an elbow and talking. I don’t remember either mingling much. They stayed in touch until he died.

Funny story; I came over to his house one day and there was a new V6 Camry sitting in the driveway. He already had a maybe five year old Cutlass Ciera. Interestingly, none of the cars he bought while I was growing up sported more than an am/fm radio and AC. Most only had the radio. “Basic Transporation” as he’d say. Yet, both these cars he bought in retirement were loaded.

I went inside and asked what was up with the new wheels.

He said “Ahh…the Jersey crowd is dropping like flies. I need a reliable car to get to the funerals.”

Funerals are a big deal to the Irish crowd. I remember my dad telling me about being in the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and being a pall bearer at a funeral in an old church. Laughed so hard he was crying telling me how the widebodies in the kelly green sports jackets couldn’t make it through the door side-by-side and had to put the casket back on the cart and walk it through single file.

By the way, there was a squabble at my dad’s funeral about the music. My sisters battled with the Church and mostly lost. Come funeral day the power was out and the singer had to sing with no organ. At the end one of those widebodies (6′ 4″ or better, 300 at least) in the bright green jacket stomped up an aisle and said “It’s not a catholic song but we’re gonna sing it anyhow” and busted into “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” as they wheeled my dad out.

One of my friends that was a pall bearer sized up the scene afterword and said “That song at the end. It was a nice touch. My mom left here crying like a school girl”

Fast forward to a few years ago, when my aunt – last of my mom’s family passed.

I flew up to DC and rode to Jersey with my sisters to attend.

Later, at the reception, I bailed to the bar. And who’s sitting at it but one of my older Cousins (that particular aunt’s son).

He sized me up and started laughing. “You look like your dad. You’re standing there with the exact same posture, hands in your pockets, expression on your face and everything”

Then he told me that at every wake, he’d bail at the rosary and hit one of the the local bars. Either my dad would be there already, or show up not long after and stand there like I was just then. Hearing they were funeral drinking buddies made me smile.

I guess in some respects the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.