My Dad would have turned 96 this month, a week after Father’s Day.
I am now older than my father, at least in most of the pictures I have of him – at his wedding, joining the New York City Fire Department, at my college graduation and wedding. My first daughter is now older than when her grandfather became a fireman. It’s a strange notion but from a certain perspective, I could be the father of the young man smiling proudly out at me from his Fire Academy graduating class photo.
We shared a very special bond. As the firstborn, I sensed his responsibility raising four children and tried helping him in whatever way I could – like helping him clean houses and washing windows. He often worked nights at the firehouse; doing odd-jobs in his off-duty hours and days. He was talented with his hands and did fine woodworking and light carpentry – building furniture, toychests, and assorted pieces for cash or barter. For years, our pediatrician check-ups and dental fillings were “paid-in-full” with bookshelves, personalized family photo albums and customized Christmas creches.
His philosophy of life was a simple yet universal truth – “It’s nice to be nice.” He practiced what he preached – his word was his bond. He taught by example all I ever needed to know about being a responsible adult, a faithful husband, a loving father. He was the hardest-working, most selfless man I’ve ever known.
Although not in the military, he faced his own special brand of hostile smoke and fire, almost daily, for three decades. Standing just 5 foot – 7 inches, he was a giant of a man. Dad was unpretentious and quite dignified – proud and articulate. His formal education stopped abruptly at the eighth grade due to his need to help support his suddenly widowed mother and four siblings. Yet his wisdom surpassed my degrees.
He was always my biggest fan. My fondest memory is one hot summer evening, sitting on a park bench across from the Grand Concourse Hotel, near the Yankee Stadium. I was twenty-one, just returned from the Navy and uncertain about my future. He assured me that any organization would be lucky to get me; if not, it would be their loss. I never forgot his comforting reassurance that night.
He was the finest man I ever knew. He died in 1988 and I mourn him more with each passing year. Time doesn’t necessarily heal every wound. At his funeral, I eulogized my Dad. I’m not one to show my emotions in public but there are times that just the mention of the word “dad” triggers a flow of emotions that is unsettling but which I have come to accept.
He is constantly with me – in my heart and thoughts. I saw my Dad three days before he suddenly died. He hugged me tightly, softly saying, “Bob, you’re a good son.” My fondest wish would be to hug him once again and say “Happy Birthday Dad, I love you.”
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