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Our Fathers… My Dad…

  • Published: June 18, 2017
  • in News

Fathers Day, like Mothers Day, comes on a Sunday each year.  And it’s good to have a designated day for our parents.  But in truth, we all think of our moms and dads a lot during our lives.  After all, they brought us into this world… they “created us” as it were.  But on this Fathers Day we take the time and effort to tell our fathers and to show our fathers how much they mean to us.  We tell them that we love them.  And for those of us whose fathers have passed away, we think about them in our memories.  And so it is for me…  I am left to think of my dad in the past tense.  

My dad was born and raised on Mackinac Island.  Although he did live some of his early life on the mainland in Sault Ste. Marie and Saint Ignace.  His mom and dad had a rocky marriage and so he was bounced back and forth between them but mostly lived with his mother..He was born in 1927.  Some big events occurred that year… Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs for the New York Yankees and their “Murderer’s Row.”  Charles Lindberg flew across the Atlantic Ocean non stop.  My dad grew up a Detroit Tiger fan… and his favorite player was the big Indian, Rudy York, who played for the Tigers.  I still remember his first baseman’s mitt that was autographed by Rudy.  Dad had much to cheer about for his Tigers as they were in the World Series in ’34 and ’35 while winning it in ’35.  They did it again in ’45.  

But by 1945, the world had been at war for five years and my dad… like all young American boys… wanted to enlist as soon as they could.  Thus, at seventeen year-old, my dad joined the U.S. Navy in the Spring of ’45, and after his 12 weeks of basic training at Great Lakes, IL… found himself right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  World War Two was in the final, but most intense stages, to defeat the fierce Japanese.  He saw some action albeit not too intense… But combat is combat… and I dare anyone to really think of it as “not too intense”… I mentioned in an earlier blog the story of my dad and his buddies on the LST-779 en route to the Philippines and being the last “Americans” to see the USS Indianapolis before it was sunk by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine.  Dad survived the War and returned states side at a time when our country was ready to burst.  

He met my mother through a mutual friend, and after a year or so… they married on July 4th, 1952 in St. Ambrose Church in Grosse Pointe Park.  My mom had graduated from St. Ambrose H.S. in 1948.  Because my dad enlisted in the Navy when he was only seventeen, he only made it through 10th grade.  He was a veracious reader though and was very much attuned to his world and how it worked.  He never had a problem getting up and getting to work  even after a hard night of drinking.  He fought his alcoholism all of his life… And finally beat the demon in his latter years and was sober the last 12 years of his life.  

Because he and my mom were both devout Catholics… thus had eight children.  We struggled quite a bit financially… but we always ate supper together..My dad at the head of the table… me (the oldest boy) at the opposite end… My mom to my dad’s right… One of us would take a turn saying Grace and we would did in… I remember my childhood with mixed feelings but my dad did the best he could (as did my mom) and I have many happy memories about times being spent with him and my siblings … going out to play ball in the backyard with my dad and my two brothers…Joe and Jerry.  Even my sisters would join us from time to time.  We invented our own game of “pepper”… If one of us caught the fly ball that was hit…you threw it back and tried to have it roll across the bat that was laid out horizontally… the hitter then had to catch the ball as it “hopped” over the bat.  If he caught it, he got to keep batting… if he dropped it or just missed it… The guy who caught the ball then got to bat.

My dad loved a good game of cards and taught us all how to play games like Gin, and Cribbage.  He had a great sense of humor and was genuinely a very funny person… He saw life’s absurdities and often made funny observations about them.  He didn’t express his emotions much except his anger… But only after he had been drinking.  I spent much of my young adulthood living with my dad as we went out east to Atlantic City, NJ to make candy on the Boardwalk… And to Hollywood, FL to do the same.  I can honestly say I knew my dad more than anyone else save my mom and my “Grammy” (his mom)…  

My dad had his foibles but all who knew him held him in a fond light.  He radiated a quiet goodness and honesty.  He was a great story teller.  He was dealt many low blows by many who found him easy to take advantage of… but he never lost his love for life and love for his family.  His last few years were difficult for him as his health continued to worsen.  His last weekend was Labor Day weekend 2010. I was running his candy store up in Mackinaw City and he was home bound all that summer.  I didn’t plan on going down to Charlevoix that weekend because it is traditionally our busiest weekend of the whole summer.  But my son, Ryan, and his wife Amy, were visiting in Charlevoix.  Amy’s folks were also up there and they had brought steak and all the fixins’ for a big cook out.  My wife, Marcy, and I went down on the Saturday afternoon and enjoyed a great time with our kids and Amy’s folks.  Marcy and I were leaving town to head back to our home in Mackinaw City around 7:00 that evening.  As we were driving out of town, I said “I want to stop by my folks’ and say “Hi”… 

So we did… I talked with my dad for a little bit about business up in Mackinaw.. and we watched the Tigers on TV for a while.  We eventually said our “goodbyes” and headed home.  The following Tuesday after that busy weekend found me sitting at the fudge stove cleaning out the jets on the burner.  It was 5:00 o’clock.  The phone rang and it was my sister, Julie.  She said that dad had gone out on the front porch just to look at the birdies and see the sun when the storm door was caught by the wind and pulled him to the ground.  He suffered a broken hip.  

He was hospitalized but the writing was on the wall.  His frail body just couldn’t deal with the trauma… We were all around his bed on that Thursday morning… My mom…all my brothers and sisters… Leon, Nikki…  I was gently stroking his head and telling him “It’s OK”… It’s OK to go”…. as he lay semi-conscious and slipping away.  He died that morning… My dad lived a good life… the best life he could… he was loved by many… and he died a good death.  

When I think of my dad on this Fathers Day… I’m reminded of my favorite line in “The Wizard of Oz”… when the wizard says to the Tin Man… “Remember my sentimental friend, a heart is not judged by how much it loves… but by how much it is loved by others.”… 

A Happy Fathers Day SHOUT OUT!   to all dads out there… Thank You… 

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