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Sunday, June 21

father's day

I was realizing the other day that, if my math is correct, I have now lived without my father for as many years as I lived with him. He died before his time from complications of Parkinsons Disease. At the time, his illness was interwoven with the birth of my first child and I was distracted by the conflicting emotions of these two life arcs.

He was, in my mind, the iconic Italian Dad. He worked hard as a cement mason, coming home at night with dusty boots and a pail heavy with tools. He had rigorous meal rules. Pasta on Wednesday and Sunday. The list of things he would not eat is long, but his disdain of turkey made our Thanksgiving meals forever Italian. More pasta. He told bad jokes, teased my Mother about her Spanish heritage, insisting that she had not worn shoes before he met her. And he was probably the most gentle man I have ever known.

It must have been hell for this traditional man to have a hippie daughter. When my picture turned up on the front page of the paper that day in 1969, he woke me by slapping my bedpost with the rolled up newspaper, angry that I lied to him, that I put myself in danger, that I didn't respect the President, but mostly that his buddies on the job site would recognize his daughter as the shouting, fringe-wearing, candle-bearing protester. I never saw him so incensed. I tried to explain but he would have no part of it. He was over it by dinner, but I was more careful after that.

He worried. Always. About money, about his job, about his kids. When I first started spreading my wings and going out at night, in my own car, I would pull in the driveway and see, reflected in the dark picture window, the glowing end of a cigarette and I knew he had been pacing and waiting for me to come home.

It saddens me that Dad missed seeing my brother's son. That would have probably been the highlight of his life. But he danced at our weddings and he died believing he had raised his kids well and that they were happy and settled.

I'm sure that if I thought long and hard I could come up with dark memories. Tempers lost, maybe. But if they are there, they don't count. And this is a lesson I carry as a parent. That the mistakes seldom count. That when the "score" is tallied, what matters is, simply, love.

I remember that when I was 12 years old, a local record store would sell the week's top single for 1/2 price and that he stopped every Friday night after a long day to buy it for me.

I remember taking the bus home from my first job and getting lost. I called him from a pay phone, described the things around me and he came and got me.

I remember him taking my arm to walk me down the aisle and, when he heard the guitars he muttered "Cowboy music? What a country" and that when he let me go there were tears in his eyes.

I remember how he would break tiny pieces from his favorite candy, Peppermint Patties, and give them to my son who would wait, wide eyed, standing with his pudgy hands on Grandpa's knees for the next bite. And I am grateful to my son for insisting he remembers this.

My brother and I joke about our dysfunctional family and its eccentricities. I guess that's how families are. But every so often he breaks into a perfect mimic of one of Dad's favorite lines. "Yeah, go ahead, laugh" he'll growl in a funny, gruff way that brings a memory home and we smile and I know he misses him, too.

Maybe that's the goal. To live your life in a way that, after you are gone, your kids will remember you with smiles and tears both, that your legacy should be that you loved without condition, that you did your best for those you loved.

With that as criteria, my Dad was an unqualified success story.

1 comment:

Terry said...

Patty, that's great thanks. I am in a terrible funk and somehow the story about your Dad makes me feel better.. Terry