Gifts from my Father

Father’s Day.  It was always a challenge to find a gift for Dad.  Usually books or music, rather than “stuff”, suited him best.  He died in April, 2001.  i’m officially off the hook to help my kids shop for their Dad (the way i did when they were young).  That sort of makes this particular holiday “Free Parking” for me…

Rather than take the free holiday, thought i’d mention some of the gifts i received from my Dad.  There are many more.  He wasn’t particularly materialistic, so there are only two “gifts” i can physically touch*.  The rest?  Integrated into who i am, how i live – and if there’s anything good in me, i know who put it there…

Tolerance:  Dad was raised in a mill town near Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1930’s.  It was a melting pot of immigrants.  A first generation Sicilian, he grew up with friends who were Irish, Polish, Jewish and working class New England.  A Roman Catholic married to an American Redneck Methodist – once we were settled in the suburbs, he adapted, and even became an usher at church**.  “You meet people where they are – and trust them until they prove you wrong.  There are assholes of every race, creed, economic status and color.”

Music:  Although poor, his mother knew an education was his ticket out of the urban ghetto.  Music was part of that education.  He learned violin in primary school, and his mother gave him $5/week to buy a tenor saxaphone when he entered secondary school.  It was a good investment.  He played jazz sax in clubs all the way through high school and college, making extra money while indulging in one of his passions.  After his parents died within a few months of each other***, and his life fell apart, it was his “musician family” that gave him the foundation to get back on his feet, and get on with his career.  All four of us got musical training.  My brother, T, is a rabid musician, and i will still indulge occasionally****.  Not exactly a passion, mostly a creative outlet, an escape… an adrenaline rush.

Silliness:  Dad was a big man.  6′ tall, a solid 250-280 lbs most of his adult life.  Yet that never stopped him from mincing about the house doing his “two steps forward, one step backward” dance when we needed to learn a “life lesson” about setbacks.  Nor did it stop him from wearing whatever ridiculous hat my oldest sister, S – the 60’s flower child – happened to bring home.  We probably have more pictures of him acting like a goofball than we have pictures of him not acting like a goofball.  Including the pic of him posing with the Hooter Girls for his 75th birthday party.

Reflection:“The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Yep.  He was quoting Socrates to us as children.  Right there in the Trailer Park.  In retrospect, this was perhaps his primary “coping” mechanism.  He chose to devote his life to our family.  Rescuing my Mom and oldest two siblings from almost certain poverty, he gradually gave up other parts of his life that brought him joy.  He stopped seeing friends (couldn’t bring them home – Mom was embarassed about the cluttered house), stopped going to arts events (Mom always felt other people looked down on them), and so on… He read, watched television and sports, went to church.  And seemed perfectly content.  He seemed to know his purpose, and how all the pieces came together…

Not a complete list, by any stretch.  But some of the important stuff.  i still have conversations with him in the car after a tough day, or when i’m trying to figure out what to do with my life. Still.  No one lives forever, but if i can tell his story, perhaps i can serve as caretaker for his legacy…  i still miss you, dad… and i’ll try to keep that promise.

daisyfae and Dad.  From my sister, T’s, wedding in 1991*****.  Forgive the hideous dress – we had a few weeks to find something.  She met a Palestinian taxi driver while on a trip to San Francisco, and married him 3 months later…

* His mother died long before he married Mom.  Only a few pictures of her, and even fewer possessions were saved.  When i got married, he offered me his Mother’s wedding ring.  The scratches from her work in the mills still visible.  The other?  After teaching himself to play classical guitar on an instrument he bought in a pawn shop, he decided to spring for a Martin – not the top of the line, but a nicely constructed instrument.  Perhaps the only thing i remember him doing purely for himself.  He wanted me to have it…

** Taking great pleasure passing the collection plate on Sunday mornings in a white-bread suburban methodist church, in his dark suit, looking every bit the Sicilian Mafioso…

*** At the age of 25, an only child, he’d buried both his parents.  Not ready to tell this part of the story…

**** Beyond the theater silliness, and sitting in with bands during professional conferences, i will (rarely) grab the guitar, work up a 30-45 minute set, and get lost on an open mic stage.  Not quitting the day job, but if i had to, i could supplement my income by tagging up with a local club band.

***** This is the same sister, T, who now dates a former Lady Professional Golfer.  She was testing heterosexuality, and in the middle of a gentle “manic” phase when she came home to tell us she was getting married.  We had to wait a bit til she confirmed it would be a man.  We were all perfectly accepting of her lesbitarian status… and adapted quickly to throw the big white wedding she wanted.  Hence, the bridesmaid-dress-by-Satan.

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13 thoughts on “Gifts from my Father

  1. Lovely tribute.

    Funny, my dad taught me the same pillars. We don’t have many (or any) family heirlooms, but the things I like about myself, I got from him.

  2. Man. Dais. I’ve got such a soft spot for good daddies. Specially since mine was a bit of a berk. Yours sounds like a winner. And clearly one of the reasons you’re as outrageously fab as you are. He’d be proud.

  3. gnu – just wish i could get the answers?!?!? maybe i need a psychic or something…

    heartbreaktown – ah, another ‘daddy’s girl’…

    DP – Still alive? Of course you are – unless you believe those “beatle-esque” rumors that were started when people read some of your blog posts backwards…

    az – yep. still spoiled rotten…

    silverstar – best to highlight the good stuff. at some point, i’ll get around to some of his demons (we all have them)… since capturing who he was is the primary reason i’m writing, i need to paint the complete picture.

    dolce – to me the most remarkable thing is just how unremarkable he probably appeared to others. i always wonder about that when i see some older man driving his wife to WalMart, or taking a walk in a park somewhere…

    annie – thanks. he was…

  4. After I was 11 I never had a father to celebrate Father’s Day. A war-damaged heart took him unexpectedly. Yet he had fitted a stack of stuff into his short life and his greatest passion was performing. Banjo mandolin, acting, singing, radio announcing. I was too young to mourn yet 45 years afterwards, I was doing some lighting for a play which needed a war-time wedding photo. Yep, Dad got to be on stage again and I finally got to mourn him.

    The story of your wonderful father just brought all sorts of stuff to the surface – thank you.

  5. manuel – it was a dress so hideous that the other bridesmaids dresses laughed at it, and refused to be hung near it on the rack. in fact, it was REFUSED when i tried to give it to a consignment shop. the theater costume mistress also “forgot” to claim it amidst a pile of other donated items. it’s FUUUUUUUGLY.

    archie – sounds like you managed to gain a lot from him, even in those few short years. i read once where our fundamental values are set by the time we’re 10 years old…

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