Happy Birthday Dad

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He’d be 94 today. Born December 3,1926 at his childhood home. He was the last of five children my grandmother had. She lost two of those children to still birth. Dad was nine year’s younger than his brother Wendell and six year’s younger than his sister Virginia. He was by all accounts spoiled as many “babies” of families are.

I’ve got pictures of him as a child living with my grandparents. Most of my recollections of Dad’s childhood as he saw it came from stories he shared with me as a young man growing up. We share the same first and last name and many of the same looks especially in adulthood. His stories nearly always painted a comic and tragic childhood that was marred at times by my grandparents squabbles.

Dad graduated high school in 1944 and enlisted in the US Navy. He went to recruit training at Great Lakes IL and later radio school in Chicago at a junior college that the government had taken over during World War II. Eventually he shipped out to naval base San Diego where he contracted rheumatic fever. That illness saved him from deployment to the Pacific fleet and perhaps harm from the war. He convalesced at a naval hospital in Corona CA and was eventually honorably discharged hone in 1946.

Like many returning GI’s he got a chance to enroll in college. He was admitted to the University of Buffalo Dental School eventually graduating in 1952. It was while he was a student there that he met my Mom who ate dinner at the same boardinghouse he lived at. They fell in love and were married in 1951. I came along fifteen months later followed by three siblings one of which died soon after birth.

We had a good life together marred at times by Dad’s bouts with depression. Back then very few people understood depression as they do today. Though undiagnosed I believe Dad was bipolar. When he was up he was great but when down he was miserable and violent at times. We all suffered but I think he suffered the worst as he was truly remorseful for his bouts. I know that he loved us very deeply though at times his behavior belied it.

Being most like him we frequently clashed especially as I grew older. At one point I moved away from the house for a week or more after one of the more violent outbursts. Relief came when I graduated high school and enrolled at college. Dad frequently demeaned me growing up. He told me that I would never rise to the professional ranks like he did. That’s quite damaging to the psyche of a younger person but now as a much older adult I can see that this was borne of his own severe insecurities. His frequent attacks on my integrity left me more determined than ever to excel.

Like him I got drafted and decided to join the US Navy where I served as a hospital corpsman eventually rising to the rank of third class petty officer in less than two years. I was named Command Sailor of the Quarter at one point thanks to the relentless drive for excellence and perfection. I got some leave after graduating from Hospital Corps school and had made no plans to visit my parents who were living on the west coast. I got a phone call from Dad begging me to visit and I’m glad I pocketed my pride and took the trip. I spent a week with Dad and Mom in northern California where they lived. It was the best week Dad and I had as adults. Then it was over and I was returning to the east coast and a new duty station. I can still remember that morning standing in the departure area of the Eureka airport. We embraced and he told me how much he loved me and how proud of me he was. I told him I loved him too and then turned and walked to the aircraft. I had a huge lump in my throat and tears welled in my eyes as I looked out the window of the plane toward Mom and Dad in the terminal.

Little did I realize then that would be the last time I saw him. He died after a short illness five months later. His life was cut short at forty-six. Time and therapy has healed the wounds and I forgave Dad long ago. I think of him often. I see him in our children. I walk by his childhood home often. Our children attended the same school he did and graduated from there too. Happy Birthday Dad!

40th Anniversary

I’m sitting at Dunkin Donuts across the street from St. Bonaventure University. Today began with yoga, a short drive from Franklinville to the St. Bonaventure University Chapel and a chance to gather one last time with friends and classmates from this year’s Franciscan Institute. Earlier when first awakened I remembered that it was on this day, July 26, 1973 that my my Dad died. He was my namesake and just like all fathers he left an indelible imprint on my life. I still remember the jingles and metaphors that he told me. I remember too the last time we held each other and told each other, “I love you.” Sometimes I wish we had one more day, one more hour to catch up on all that’s happened in the last forty years. I know that’s not possible but if I close my eyes and imagine I can see him and I replay that hug and kiss from over forty years ago in the Eureka, California airport just before I turned and walked toward the plane. The lump in my throat is much less than it was but the beautiful memory remains. I see Dad every time I look at our children. I see him in Devin and Dara. I see him in my brother and sister. I see him in my niece and nephews. I see him and hear his voice in the hills and foothills of Franklinville and the nearby Allegheny mountains. I can hear his laughter every time I think of one of the many limericks he taught me as a boy. He is with me always and though I can no longer touch him he continues to touch me. I love you Dad and I always will. Peace!


Today marks th 38th anniversary of my Dad’s death. I’ve written about it before and each time there is a different reflection for me. I’m in Arcade, NY getting my oil changed. On my way I passed the cemetery where his remains rest. On my way here I called my own son to say hello and tell him that I loved him. If there is one thing I learned in the last 38 years it is the importance of telling your children that you love them. That’s more important than anything you could ever give them. I have no doubt that Dad loved me but it was a sentiment he didn’t often express. His gift to me, my wife and children has been the legacy of letting others know that you love them. Do it often! I love you Dad and I still miss you. So many great memories. I hope you tell someone that you love them today.


A few days ago I stood above his grave and looked down at the Veterans Administration plaque that marks the spot where’s he’s lain for the past thirty-six years. He missed a lot of life by dying at 46. Dad is my namesake and there are many things about us that are similar. I bear his name and some say his looks. Looking like your father is not a stretch. He was an intense individual who like me wore his heart on his sleeve. I remember the last time I saw him and the last time I hugged him. We were standing in the terminal in Arcata, CA. It was late February 1973 and I was preparing to be assigned a permanent duty station by the US Navy. There had been a rift, some resentments between us and I almost wasn’t going to come to California where he and Mom were living at the time. I’m glad I did go. I’m glad that I flew to see him one last time. As we stood in the terminal my flight taxied into view and the attendant came to the door to beckon us to board this Hughes Air turbo-prop that was waiting. There was a lump in my throat and I’m sure there was one in his. I was trying to be brave like most 20 year old kids do. He put his arm around and gave me a big hug and told me that he was crying. I was crying too. Neither of us said, “I love you,” but it was there as big as life itself. I turned and walked to the plane and watched from window as he and Mom stood there and waited for the plane to taxi.

Thirty-six years ago tonight our Executive Officer came to the newborn nursery where I was working the afternoon shift. He asked me to come to his office. When he sat me down, he told me that Dad had died that afternoon in California. He told me he was sorry and that I could be relieved of my duty that night if I wanted to. I elected to stay and work. He told me to go to the personnel office in the morning and they would have emergency leave papers ready for me and a car would take me to the Albany, GA metropolitan airport where I would begin my journey home. I remember the kindness of my shipmates and how one guy, a dental technician, Bill Kirkland offered his Datsun 240Z to make the drive home. I’ve never forgotten that.

A year never goes by that I don’t remember Dad on this day. This morning a smile crossed my face as I though of one of his humorous metaphors which I occasionally share with friends and colleagues. He was a treasure trove of metaphors and similes. I’ve inherited some of those expressions from him. Time has healed the grief although there are times like this morning when I wish I had one more hour or one more day just to catch up. I see him in both our son and daughter. I see him in my brother and sister. I see him in my uncle, his brother, who will soon be ninety-two. I remember him often and as long as I live he will continue to live within me.