Happy Father’s Day. The last time we got to spend Father’s Day together was 1979, a very long time ago. I was not yet 22. Just over one year later, you left us. It seems like forever ago. More time has passed since you died than the time I got to spend with you. We missed the best of times – the transition of a hyper-active, over-achieving first son into manhood and fatherhood.
You left suddenly on July 27, 1980 after a very long battle with heart disease. The same ugly disease that took your mom when you were only 9, your oldest brother before he turned 40, and your youngest sister. Thankfully, that gene seems to have been thwarted.
I was driven by you from as young an age as I can recall to be successful. No matter how well I did, “You can do better, Michael” was what you told me. It’s never left my psyche. I compete with myself to this day – sometimes that’s been great for me, others not so much.
I always wanted to live up to whatever hopes and expectations you had for me. I put the picture of you and me sitting on a dormitory bed at Notre Dame after the graduation ceremony in 1979 on social media every year. I know how proud that made you, you never got to finish high school. And, the one with us wearing hats on our couch with the caption “Men in hats!”
I never got to hear directly from you about how proud of me you were. Mom always told me when we reminisced about you. I learned a lot about it at your wake and funeral when the long line of friends and colleagues you had paid tribute. It did not take away the sting of your death.
I never got to call you when those life’s moments faced me and I was not really sure what to do. I never got to call you when celebrating a great moment, like the birth of my two daughters. They never got to see either grandfather as both of you died well before your times. Trust me, there were many times I needed to call you …
What lingered in my mind too long was the summer after 4th grade when you punished me to write “I must be good and I will be good” after a school year of straight A grades but “Not Acceptable” in conduct – I was very hyperactive and not challenged in school. Nevertheless, it was a very long summer being stuck in the house every day. Regardless, I knew you were serious.
What I know now that I did not know then is that you developed in me a very strong sense of self-confidence. The hyperactivity of youth became a constant personal energy source. I am always positive with a hopeful outlook on life. If I’m known for anything, it’s the smile and infectious energy that I exude, thanks to you. You instilled that hope and faith in me while pushing hard to be the best I could be.
You’d be very proud of many of the things that I’ve accomplished in my career. You’d also be disappointed of the mistakes and bad judgments I’ve made. It’s all part of life. If there’s one thing about life that I’ve learned, it’s the fact that there are no guides to al
l the situations that you will face. “C’est la vie” is one of my overused clichés.
I wanted to be a great father, a caring and loving dad. There are many great memories for my girls but many difficult moments, too. It was almost 10 years between your death and the day I got to hear “Happy Father’s Day” said to me. It was almost more 10 years afterwards that the enormity of you being gone really struck.
I was laid off of work in 2001 but was back working in just under a year, I was fortunate. But unemployment hit me hard, harder than I could understand or admit at that time. I recalled
how hard our lives were in the mid-70s when you were out of work. I feared that moment for my own life every day since and I still do as I approach 60. It scared me more than anything had up to that point in my life.
Being out of work changed me forever, in many good ways and some bad. I really needed you then, but there was no one to call. The void was overwhelming. It was Father’s Day in 2004 that it really hit me about you being gone, I broke down and cried for what seemed like an eternity.
When I look back on our short time together, I remember the great things like the first baseball game when you and our neighbor kept laughing at the goofy jokes of the ushers. The next thing we knew, we were in the seats behind home plate for the 2nd game of the double header. Or, how we managed our way through a weekend camping trip of nothing but pouring rain.
I remember the confidence you showed as we came home from a family visit in NYC when you gave me the keys to the car during another rainstorm while mom sat white-knuckled in the backseat of the car. With rain as the theme, our drive to Notre Dame the first time was wild when we could not see past the front of the Triumph Spitfire on I80 near Cleveland. All good memories.
It’s now 2017. 60 is just down the road. I’m healthy, employed, happily married, and watched my children grow. One is on the verge of great success. The other’s path is still uncertain. I did my best to get them where they have both gotten to. I know that they have to take it from here. I just wish they had met you.
Mom died three years ago. She lived happily after you left with her second husband. It’s just me, Rick, and Joanne now. Thankfully, we’re connected to many of our cousins and your closest sister, Millie.
I just visited my wife’s dad for Father’s Day, another NYC Italian of immigrants, just like you. He’s 96 and still kicking. I call him Dad. I tell my wife how lucky she is to have him around for her entire life so far, it’s a blessing.
I am grateful for every day that I have. I’ve had a lot more time than you did and I appreciate the chance to see my family all grow. I have 2 step-grandchildren, too. What a joy that is!
Well, it’s time to call it a day. To sum it all up, I beckon the call of Frankie, your musical love that has passed on down to me. In the song that you took as your own that I have since co-opted he says, “Regrets, I have a few. But, then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption. And more, much more than this I did it my way!”
Love you, Dad!