My father died on August 8th, 1982. I was 30 years old. The day of his funeral dawned hot and sunny. I was amazed at the number of people who showed up at the cemetery. People whom I knew and people who were perfect strangers. The common denominator, my father had touched these people’s lives in some way. Enough so that they wanted to honor the man they knew in life.
My dad was a member of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation.” He served honorably in World War II as a combat field medic, earning a purple heart and a bronze star at the age of 24.
What I remember about my dad was his sense of humor, his humility, and how he had the ability to make you feel safe when he was around. He was completely dedicated to his sons and his wife, and worked twelve hours a day for as long as I can remember. I can still remember the sound of his car pulling into the driveway and how good that felt.
Going with dad to see the Phillies play at old Connie Mack Stadium and going with him to watch the Eagles play, and the day he took my brother and me to the zoo (to give my mother a break). Trips to the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Natural Sciences and never protesting when my mother would plan a family outing on my dad’s only day off.
When I was a rebellious fifteen year-old, I mouthed off to my father. He smacked me across the face at something faster than the speed of light. It wasn’t a hard slap; it was more for the shock value, but boy did it get my attention. It was the first and last time it happened and with the exception of a brief spanking when I was little, it was the only other time that my father laid a hand on me.
My dad would never come to the table unless he was showered, shaved and dressed and I never saw him get something from the kitchen without asking my mother if he could get her anything.
When I was seventeen and still rebellious, my dad suffered his first of three heart attacks. Two years earlier he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Both began to rob dad of his vitality and I had to grow up fast to help my mother care for him.
He recovered well enough to go back to work, but he wasn’t the same guy. On the eve of his second heart attack, I was home when it happened. With dad in the backseat, I drove the car to the hospital. Again dad recovered enough to go back to work but three years later at the age of 60, he retired on disability. He cooked meals and did other work around the house as much as his physical condition would allow. On rainy days, he would wait at the bus stop for my mom holding an umbrella. Three years later he succumbed to his third heart attack. Parkinson’s had taken a huge toll on him as well, and he was only a shell of the man that I knew.
My huge regret in life is not spending more time with my dad during those last years. I had moved away seven years earlier and only got to see my folks two or three times a year. I wish that I could have talked with him more. The last words I spoke to him were “Hi dad, how are you?” All he said was “I’m fine; I’ll put your mother on.”