There you go, you’re gone again…
I was listening to the old Johnny Cash tune the other day
while I was thinking about how I would mark my father’s 100th
I always perceived my Dad as kind of elliptical. He was
there, but not quite. Not ‘available’ there. You didn’t go to Dad with problems
because he’d likely refer you to Mom, who usually was the problem…
As a kid, I thought he ran the family business, but the
older I get the more certain I am that he was the guy who worked in the butcher
shop and counted the money at the end of the night, and my mother was the one
who ran the kitchen and called the shots. Mom was at the center of the action;
Dad’s butcher shop (and the front counter, which he also manned) was at the
But his accomplishments were vivid. He served in WWII from
before Pearl Harbor to after VJ Day (look it up, kids). He was shot down over
the English Channel and was awarded a Purple Heart. Then he came home, married
a well-connected, stunning beauty and took off in pursuit of the American dream
he had fought so long and honorably to ensure.
He sold lacquer thinner (but not well because he could never
take advantage of a rube and sell the rube something didn’t need, or more than
he could use); opened business after business to modest success, solidly
establishing himself as a Job Creator through the decades; and most
impressively, became an adoptive father to four orphans, taking up the
responsibility for the last two after his 50th birthday.
He was a Knight of Columbus and he worked charitable events.
He started his own charitable organization in his 70s when he saw a news report
that people in his city were going to bed hungry. His organization consisted of
him, collecting non-perishable food outside of church all Sunday, every Sunday,
then driving the food down to a mission on the south side of town.
And although he never talked about the war, on any other
topic he was a well-regarded raconteur. I can recall many times my Dad
regaling a crowd of friends with a lavishly-performed anecdote or
questionably-tasteful joke in our wood-paneled rec room in the basement.
I remember both my parents leaving home before sunrise and
coming home after dark, six or seven days a week, depending on the business at
And my Dad liked to smoke. Loved to smoke. He didn’t die
until they took the Tareyton out of his hand. Seriously.
He took us with him bowling sometimes, and it was always
very exciting. It seems like it was on a school night, so being away from home
and up late was especially enticing for me as a kid. SO much more potential
trouble to get into. And more importantly, the Ben Franklin’s in the same strip
mall that housed the bowling alley also sold comic books. Comic books in our
house went back and forth between being objects of derision, hostages held in
exchange for my improved behavior and all too often, casualties of combat. So any time I could get my hands
on a couple new ones was a big deal. Back at the bowling alley there was a lot
of laughing and swearing and smoking and drinking. Everybody had a great
time on bowling night.
Today we would probably describe
most of my father’s generation of combat veterans as victims of PTSD, when to themselves they were
just the grocer, the gas station owner and the guy who ran the cleaners. The
shit that should have been eating them alive, they ate instead. Ate it for
breakfast, most of them.
But like I said, my Dad didn’t talk much, not in front of us
anyhow. Maybe I was too young and he was too old. What exactly did we have to
talk about? And I was kid number three of four. Typically kid 3 gets a brief moment in
the spotlight, then the final kid arrives and she’s an infant and proceeds to
suck up all the emotional oxygen in the room.
(Sorry. My issues.)
But I tend to think my Dad’s reserve was a stoicism born of
growing up during the Depression, surviving the horror of WWII, and watching
helplessly as start-up business after business went by the wayside. And I was
too damn young, then too stoned, to think about asking him about his life; his
childhood spent hopping tenement rooftops in downtown Chicago; later, hauling
cases of Coca Cola up and down those same tenement stairs; the girl down the
street he grew up with, then courted and married after the war.
It was a rich vein that I failed to mine. Don’t know how
much he would have shared (for instance, he refused to take me to see the movie
“Midway” when it came out because it cut too close), but I’ll regret for the
rest of my life not having asked him anyhow.
He was my Dad. He was born September 1, 1913 and he was a
damned good man; better than I’ll ever be. He made the world a better place for
having been here, and really, what greater accomplishment can there be?
I miss him.