My dad was the sweetest gentle man I have ever known. He died on October 5, 2008. I believe in my dad.
I only have an opportunity to identify a few of dad’s many endearing qualities, and stories that illustrate them. Dad’s most obvious characteristics:
DAD WAS DEVOTED TO MOM.
Mom and dad were always together. They spent years working together at the Marian Center, a Catholic gift and bookstore, and their antique business, the Antique Cupboard. When I was about 20 at a hotel in Ohio with mom, she mentioned that this was the first night she and dad had ever been apart. I doubt that they have ever spent a night apart since.
Dad always felt he was the luckiest man alive to be married to mom, who he adored. He has told the story of how, in his 20’s, he prayed to St. Therese, who he called “Terry”, to find someone for him. A few days later he met mom on a blind date; he knew on that first date that he wanted to marry mom. And ever since, mom and dad have been the fondest “buddies”.
DAD WAS DEVOTED TO THE LORD AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
While growing up, Catholic beliefs were an important part of our family life. Dad supported Father Groppi’s struggle for civil rights and passage of Milwaukee’s open housing law. In 1985, mom and dad made the first of their eight pilgrimages to Medjugorje, Croatia, to experience the apparitions of Mary. Since that first pilgrimage in 1985, dad and mom have attended mass virtually every day. They opened the Marian Center and were instrumental in launching a local Catholic radio station.
During the past eight years, they have attended daily mass at this parish, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Croatian Church. The community they have been involved with through this church has been at the very center of mom and dad’s lives.
DAD HAD EMPATHY FOR THOSE IN NEED, ESPECIALLY THE POOR.
Mom and dad ran the Marian Center for 17 years until their mid-70s. They donated all of their profits to organizations serving the poor and in support of life issues. They later donated the center to Miles Jesu, a religious order.
Before their involvement in the Marian Center, after dad resigned from being superintendent of the Milwaukee County Children’s Home at the age of 52, he worked with mom selling antiques, mainly jewelry, for 15 years before they sold their business to my older brother, Phil. Phil describes dad’s approach to selling jewelry: “he treated everyone the same, whether someone was looking at a $25 band or a $2500 diamond. He wanted the purchase to be right for that customer. It was not uncommon for dad to spend as much time talking a person out of buying an item they could not afford, as to making a sale.”
When it came to buying jewelry for the Antique Cupboard, mom was always the buyer, except on one occasion. Phil tells the story of dad paying a man $300 for a diamond ring when mom was not in the booth. The ring was a monstrosity, undoubtedly the most ugly piece of jewelry in their stock. And it remained in their jewelry cases for over a decade. Customers would comment on what an ugly ring it was. Finally, a man bought the ring—-for $300. Later at dinner, in recounting the sale, dad had tears of joy in his eyes. How crestfallen he must have been the next day when the buyer called to ask for a refund because his wife hated the ring…. but there was a happy ending: dad took the ring to an auction house expecting a loss. Later, the auctioneer told dad, “you really hit a home run with that ring; it sold for $1500!”
DAD WAS SILLY AND PLAYFUL, NEVER SNIDE OR GOSSIPY
You only have to look at the photo of dad on one of the boards where his grandchildren, who are painting his face with mascara and lipstick, surround him.
My sisters, Lisa and Janel, tell stories of how dad would wake them up for school every morning with a silly song in the voice of Edgar the Pet Mountain lion or a story: “Hey Janel, maybe you’ll marry Jim Ball today. You could name your children ‘base’ or ‘eye’ or ‘basket’”.
FINALLY, DAD WAS INVARIABLY OPTIMISTIC AND NEVER COMPLAINED.
I’ve never once heard dad complain of a headache or being tired… He was aware that he had dementia. I recently asked him how he felt about not remembering names or events. He told me, “it seems to bother everyone else, but it doesn’t bother me at all, but if it did, I likely wouldn’t remember anyway.”
On the day dad died, he may have had a slight stroke or seizure. He had several hours of double vision. But of course he didn’t complain about his vision, instead, he told me that now he didn’t have 4 children, he had four sets of twins.
Dad was not perfect, although darn close. We occasionally agreed to disagree about politics or whatever. But never once in my over 50 years do I remember him angry or with a raised voice.
Along with dad’s declining memory (although he could still play a fair game of sheepshead), he had difficulty retrieving certain words. For example, when proposing a toast, he had forgotten traditional toasts such as “salud” or “cheers”. Instead he substituted his own distinctive toast while clinking glasses, “smasheroo”.
So let me close by proposing a toast in dad’s memory: that we live our lives with a bit more of those qualities that made dad so very extraordinary: devotion to mom, commitment to his faith, empathy, silliness, playfulness, optimism: “smasheroo!”
More than any other person, dad is the person I most hope to emulate; I judge myself through dad’s eyes.
My dad was the sweetest gentle man I have ever known. I believe in my dad.
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