Wednesday, April 19, 2017

In Honor of My Father

Over the last couple of days I've thought a great deal about my father. Since it's hard to sum up a man's life, especially someone as complicated as dad, I thought the best thing would be to just make a list of bullet points and see where it took me. I hope I've done him justice.

  • Growing up, my father was a huge Brooklyn Dodgers' fan. His favorite Dodgers were Duke Snyder and Pee Wee Reese, though I suspect he probably held a special place in his heart for Johnny Podres, the pitcher who tossed a shutout over the hated Yankees in the 1955 World Series.
  • After the Dodgers left Brooklyn, my father would eventually become a Mets' fan, and it was only fitting that his son would follow suit. My father and I spent many an evening watching Tom Seaver and Rusty Staub together.
  • In fact, my father and I watched a good deal of sports on TV, from the Rangers to the Giants to the Knicks.  We celebrated the Rangers' upset over the Islanders in '79 and their Stanley Cup win in '94. When the Giants marched their way to championships in Super Bowls 21 and 25, I made two copies of the games: one for me and one for him.
  • My father was a World War II buff. His favorite movies were Patton and The Longest Day. On one of his birthdays I got him the entire series of Victory At Sea. I swear the man locked himself in the den and watched every episode. And when The World At War made its way to television, I taped it for him. He was like a kid with a new puppy.
  • Speaking of TV, some of my father's favorite shows were Hogans' Heroes, Get Smart and Rowan & Martin's Laugh In. He used to love the way Sgt Schultz would say "I know nothing." I think that's why he loved Laugh In so much. He got to see Arte Johnson dressed in a German uniform saying "Very interesting, but stupid."
  • Another show that my father would watch religiously was the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. His personal favorites were Foster Brooks (the bumbling drunk) and Don Rickles (Mr. Warmth as Martin jokingly referred to him). I suspect had he'd been aware, he would've mourned the passing of Rickles.
  • And I would be remiss if I didn't mention Lawrence Welk. Every Sunday evening, the family would sit down in front of the TV and watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, followed by old Mr. Bubbles himself.  I'm being polite when I say sit down. As kids, it was the closest thing we knew to forced labor.
  • When it came to music, my father worshiped the Big Band era. His favorite band leader was Glenn Miller, though the Dorsey Brothers were a close second. And he probably wouldn't want me saying this, but the man had every Lester Lanin record ever made. Why? I have absolutely no idea. But then he was a complicated man.
  • The old man absolutely loved to drive, and often the family would pile into the car and go off for hours. It didn't matter where, so long as my father was behind the wheel. Some of my fondest memories were when dad would take me with him in the car, just the two of us. When I was maybe 6 or 7, I remember one time when we were in Nantucket. I got to sit on his lap and steer the car for a while. I think he got more of a kick out of it than I did. I should point out that I took my cue from dad when it came to driving, a fact my wife has never let me live down.
  • My father was a good provider and often made sacrifices for us. Every Christmas, the tree was overflowing with toys. My sister and I wanted for nothing as kids. On one occasion, he got a hold of a ticket to a Rangers' playoff game against the St. Louis Blues. Only one of us could go, so he gave me the ticket. I saw Barry Beck score the series winning goal at the Garden. It was a moment I'll never forget. I only wish he'd been there to share it with me.
  • But my father and I didn't just share a love for the local sports teams. We were both avid model rail roading fans. My father bought me my first train set when I was five. He set it up on a board that he hand-painted himself. When we moved out to Long Island, he and I spent many a day and night in the basement with the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads for company. Dad was more into the houses and the scenery; I was more of a track guy: the more the merrier. At one point I had three power packs running three separate trains on four boards. It was like Jamaica station during rush hour.
  • My father was never one for expressing his feelings. On the one hand we knew, as kids, that he loved us, but he just couldn't bring himself to say it. In his later years, my father and I grew closer and, after he moved down to Florida, we would often call each other. We always ended every call by saying "I love you." On my last call to dad, I told him I loved him, and he replied in kind, though by that point I suspect he was just repeating what he heard. Still it meant the world to me to hear him say it one last time.
  • As he grew more and more ill, I made it a point to visit him several times. We would just watch his favorite shows on DVDs that I had brought with me. They made him laugh, and it made me feel good that I was bringing some joy into the remaining months of his life. We even managed to shoot a game of pool.
  • Oh, did I forget to tell you tell you, the old man was one helluva pool player. We used to call him Massapequa Fats in the day. When we were kids, I remember my father and my uncle Syd would play pool down in the basement and we weren't allowed to make a peep. It was like watching Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman in The Hustler, that's how good the two of them were. It was a thing to behold.
  • And now he's gone. I miss him terribly, but I know that his suffering is over and that God has him in his care. One day I will be reunited with him in Heaven and we will watch those wonderful TV shows again, catch a ballgame or two and maybe even finish that pool game we started but never quite finished. Who knows, I might even beat him this time.
  • Rest in peace, dad. I love you.

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