Father’s Day is the day each year that people generally celebrate, honor, ignore or otherwise think about their relationship with their father. I think about my dad all the time, but, honestly, for the majority of my life, he was not a contender for Father of the Year. He was a chameleon, telling whomever he was with whatever they needed to hear. You can imagine this caused no small amount of difficulty with his relationships, especially the one between his new wife and his children. With no apparent warning, my father left home one cold January day and never returned. He and my mother’s best friend decided that they were so in love that they couldn’t stand to be without each other, so they packed up, left their families and moved to Florida. For the next 42 years, my father lived with that decision and the best way he could deal with it was to live like a chameleon. He would tell my brother and I whatever would make us happy and, once our visit ended, he would tell his new wife whatever made her happy. It was, for all intents and purposes, crazy making for everyone.
And, yet, before he and the new wife took off, there were eleven years where he really was the best father ever. There are fourteen years between my brother and me, so to say that I was a surprise is an understatement. I was very wanted, but, frankly, they had given up all hope of a second child. Enter moi!!! My parents were over the hill excited about having another child and, as my mother tells the story, she didn’t think they could ever be lucky enough to have a girl. All this to say, I was the most exciting thing that happened to my parents in the 1950’s.
And, breaking all stereotypes of fathers during that era, my father was very involved in having and raising children. My brother was a musician and he and his band were picked to audition for American Bandstand, which was a pretty big rock and roll show out of Philadelphia. It was a huge deal for these small-town boys. My father went to pick my brother up at the Catholic school that my brother attended, and the reigning monsignor informed my father that leaving school to audition for American Bandstand was not an excusable absence and that he, my dad that is, was not allowed to take my brother. God bless my father. As politely as possible, Dad told the monsignor that he could not care less what was or was not an excusable absence in the eyes of God because my brother was going to leave the school, get in the car and go to Philly to audition for American Bandstand.
I remember another time when my dad did a really adorable-dad-thing. It was the late 60’s, when pony holder hair ties had just hit the market, and I was very eager to get a pack. Prior to this, we all used rubber bands to hold up our pony tails, so the invention of the pony holder hair tie was a big deal. Plus, my friends and I went to Catholic school where we wore uniforms which meant that anything we could wear that was an allowed accessory to the uniform was rare. The pony holder hair tie, with those two plastic beads on each end was an allowable exception. My dad had worked all night and when he came home I was telling him about the pony holder hair ties and how much I wanted them. Pony holder hair ties are a common item these days, but you have to remember, this is back in the day when we had three choices for hold up our hair: rubber bands, barrettes and bobby pins. Pony holders were the brand-new thing on the market.
I did my best to describe them. “It’s like a rubber band, but not a rubber band, and it is shaped like a long figure 8, and it has a piece of metal in the middle to clasp it closed, and a bead on each end.”
My father just looked back at me as though I were speaking Greek. “Where do you get them?” he asked, hoping for a hint that might provide clarity.
What did I know? I was a kid. And it was not like today where every corner has a CVS, Rite-Aid and Walgreens, followed by big box stores within ten miles of each other. We had two local shopping choices – the small food market down the road and the Two-guys Department Store in the next town. On the topic of these pony holders, my dad and I were the blind leading the blind.
Sure enough, school dismissed and my dad picked me up in his old beat up Ford Falcon so I didn’t have to take the bus and walk home in the freezing cold. When I got in the car, I had forgotten about the confusing conversation from that morning, but then I saw my dad reach up to the visor and pull out a pack of the coveted pony holders.
“You got them!!! You found them!!!! You got them!!!”
I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it. It was the best day ever. It turns out that after I left for school, my dad slept just long enough to be sure he had time to go to Two-Guys where he found some lady who worked there and described our conversation to her. Of course, she knew exactly what I wanted and directed him to the correct department. He really was my hero.
There are many examples of his being Father of the Year before he left home. Any time the ice was solid and safe enough, he would take me to the lake by our house to ice skate. He taught me to skate, to do figure 8’s, to skate on one foot, to cross one foot over the other. He taught me to swim and to dive. He taught me to ride a bike. He was my brother’s biggest fan, always supporting his music career, providing a car for him to get to performances, teaching him to fish and hunt, how to use tools and fix things around the house. My brother was in Viet Nam for 13 months and my father wrote to him every single day that he was there. Every single day. And that is to say nothing of the packages of pepperoni and other dry goods he mailed frequently. My dad was a blue-collar worker who really created a life that was the envy of many of our relatives – the living, breathing example of hard work paying off.
And then, as my mother likes to say, he went crazy and left home. He always said it was the worst decision he ever made and that he regretted it forever. He said he wanted to change his mind at the last minute, but the new wife threatened to tell everything and the shame and humiliation was too much for him to bear. Who knows if any of that is true? And, at this point, it hardly matters. What does matter is that he was here, he left us with a lot of good years, with a lot of good memories, with an excellent example of what love looks like and what it doesn’t look like.
Happy Father’s Day, Pop! You are finally free. I love you. Rest in peace.