Monday, February 02, 2015

Measure of a Man

We laid my dad to rest today.  In the middle of a snowstorm that was after a postponement from last week's big snowstorm-after dealing with two funeral homes to get him from Florida to Massachusetts.  The man who hated funerals had a 12 day service!  But he was with us in spirit as his Patriots won another Super Bowl and I'm pretty sure he whispered into Pete Carroll's ear last night to pass the ball with 30 seconds to go.

I wrote this eulogy the night he died but because the snowstorm forced us to cancel the final memorial at the funeral home that usually precedes the Mass at church-I didn't get to read it. 

I don’t even know where to begin when describing my dad to you.  He was strength personified yet bawled like a baby at weddings, births and 4th quarter interceptions.   He was serious and dedicated in his work and totally goofy at home.  He shot a hole in one four times after he took up golf.  He cheated at Monopoly.  Dad coached every sport we played between the ages of 8-15 and won championships in three sports for both boys and girls.  More than 35 years later, former teammates that I run into will tell me they have fond memories of him as coach.  

Like my grandmother before him, he was a practical joker.    There are hilarious stories of our childhood that probably would get him in trouble with child services today!

We started to think of some of the best ones to describe him:

The first one that comes to mind is the Anti-Valentine.  Every year on Valentine’s Day we would be called to the table for dinner and on our plates would be these homemade Valentines from SalMark Cards, which must have been a black ops division of Hallmark.  They were always made on his company's graph paper and hand drawn.  And they included everything that deserved snarking about you that year.  For instance, the year my sister was 13 with teenage acne and braces was especially brutal.  And yet we loved them and looked forward to them every year because it meant he was really in tune with our lives.  I mentioned to him a few Christmases ago that I wished that I had saved them and then the next Valentine’s Day, my anti-valentine came in the mail.  Funny, I just found it last Sunday when going through my desk.
Our kids worshipped him. 
One thing I will never forgive him for was teaching my then second grade daughter how to spell Negotiate.  When he left for Florida later that summer, he reminded that impressionable 8 year old girl that everything is negotiable.  Thanks Dad, I’m still paying for that bit of advice 15 years later.

When my brother was old enough to go out drinking with his friends, Dad used to torture him when he came home on the weekends a little on the intoxicated side.  One night he put a life size cutout of Rambo complete with gun and vest of bullets right on the inside of his bedroom door.   My brother screamed like a girl.  Another night, Dad hid under his bed and when bro stumbled in and collapsed on the bed, Dad reached his arm up from under the bed to grab him-the manifestation of every kid’s nightmare.   It’s a wonder my brother never ended up in therapy!

This past summer when Dad was in the hospital, he wasn’t eating much because he said the food was awful.  My sister started giving him a hard time about eating so he said he would eat if she could be his official taste-tester.  She had to close her eyes while he fed her what was brought on his tray and if she could correctly identify what the food was supposed to be, he would agree to eat it.  After that, she agreed that he didn’t have to eat the thing they had labeled mashed potatoes.

Dad loved to make up names for Mom.  One day he just started calling her “ Ichiro.   He told her that was Japanese for little lotus flower.  A year or so later they were at Dina’s house  watching a game on TV where the Red Sox were playing Seattle and Ichiro Suzuki (a Mariner at the time) came up to bat and Mom was all happy and explained that was her nickname from Dad and it meant little lotus flower. Everybody laughed and Dad confessed that he really started calling her that because when she cleaned, she used to pull the front of her hair up in a vertical ponytail and it reminded him of a Sumo wrestler.  He absolutely loved telling that story.  They bought a dog after that and named him Ichiro.

It wasn’t all fun and games though, so I started to make a list of things I learned from my Dad

#1 Nothing is more important than Family and when you are Italian that means all your family.  We were very blessed to have a very connected extended family for so long thanks to the 8 crazy brothers and sisters that our grandparents raised. It gives me comfort to know that all ten of them are together again.  

#2. Practice, practice, practice.  I remember going next door to Grandma’s backyard where he would hit groundballs to me for what seems like hours.  We would finally stop after one of us was exhausted or Gram stuck her head out the window and yelled at us in broken English about hitting her house.

#3. It’s OK to round  to the nearest dollar when recording expenses in your checkbook and that Mom would understand that the  entry marked Stop and Pee was actually this week’s groceries from Stop and Shop.  I think  he just wanted to make her laugh to forget that the checkbook never balanced.

#4 Little White Lies are OK, like when he took us out to dinner to celebrate when Mom had given birth to my sister and when Mom called from the hospital to see how we were, dad was cool as a cucumber and said “fine” when in reality my brother and I were throwing up in the sink from food poisoning from the dive he took us to.  

#5 Sports teaches you about life, whether you are a spectator or a player.  There actually IS crying in baseball as he was the first person I called after the Red Sox finally broke the curse in 2004 and we cried tears of joy together.  #5B, If mom is downstairs in the basement doing laundry and the team made a good play, do not let her upstairs under any circumstances to avoid jinxing anything.  

#6 When you turn 16-find a job.  I actually think my 16th birthday greeting consisted of Happy Birthday-get a job.   But between school, sports, band and that job-boy did I learn time management and responsibility.

#7 You never know if you are an alcoholic until you take your first drink.  Now obviously with the aforementioned story, my brother never had that talk.  I think it was probably just his way of scaring me away from doing what every teenager does but it really worked because to this day, I don’t drink.   I really wish he had somehow related that to avoiding chocolate instead.

#8 Girls can be anything they want to be.  This may not seem like a big deal to those of you under 35 but back in the 1970’s it was unusual and very inspirational to me.  One of my favorite Dad stories was during my freshman year in college.  It was finals time and some clueless person in the registrar department thought it was OK to schedule three of my finals within one 24 hour block.  I was tired and stressed so he came up to the school to take me to lunch.   As we sat there, he pointed over to another table which was obviously a business lunch and said “see that, that’s going to be you someday and this will all be worth it.”  And that finals week lunch became a tradition for those four years and taught me how to deal with pressure just like sports did.  By the way, that restaurant was also a dive and it went out of business soon after.

My mother always says that she raised three very different kids.  I think those of you who  know us will agree.  Over the years people have often jokingly labeled us since we are so very different from each other.   My sister is the funny and kind one, I'm the "smart" one (although my sister tried to cross that out and write  the cheap one) and my brother is the good-looking, charming, debonair, athletic one with great hair.  But Dad told me recently that my greatest strength was my confidence.   And he seemed to worry most about me when my confidence waivered.  That in itself often helped me to find it again.  I wonder if he ever knew that.
They say you become what you learned from home.  And in thinking about my dad, I think about an old 90’s power ballad. (And no, I’m not going to sing it. Dad used to joke that Mom and I never changed notes, we just got louder).   It ended with the lines
You gave me strength, cuz you believed
I’m everything I am, because  you loved me.

And in the end, those two lines are all you  really need to know to understand who dad was.

When we tried to think of a song to play at the end of the wake, we didn't want anything maudlin.  Dad would have hated that.  So, we chose a celebration of his life instead.