My Father would be 96 years old today.
I wrote about him a lot over at my other pre-sobriety site; Girl, Corrupted. I was knee deep in it back then, dealing with his disease and physical and mental atrophy, as well as his death and post-funeral fall out. I was a Daddy’s girl, through and through, and the last years of his life were more painful than his actual death and I’m sure some of you can sympathize with that bittersweet loss.
I’ve talked about his brash, hard-drinking, stubborn, fearless and heroic persona many times and I have brothers that can back up that bravado. He was bigger than life, and not just to me. He was a large man and had hands that would engulf yours if you were to shake hands with him, and I mean grown-ass men. My Mom would lament that his feet were just as large and we were forever stepping over his giant mud-covered work boots in the garage. Dad was a master handyman and could fix and/or build anything, really. If he needed something and he could build it, well then, that’s what he did. A garage. Shelving. Tables or bookcases. I grew up with sawdust as a constant and yes, why that IS a post-hole digger, thankyaverymuch. He had almost every tool or implement there was and if he couldn’t fix it, well, then it was a piece of shit in the first place.
He was a Marine. He was a proud Irishman. He liked to fight, he liked to drink, and he liked to swear. More than that, he liked to laugh and I think he and I shared a belly laugh each day we were together on this planet. He was my biggest fan, and I, his. His blue eyes would light up when I entered the room and his booming voice would yell “top o’ the morning, shitbird!” Shitbird was a term of endearment, naturally. I loved it when he called me that; he was feeling kicky.
Today though, I’d like to take a minute to tell you about the other side of Joe. The side that not many saw, but if you did, consider yourself lucky. The above picture was recently given to me by my Mother – I’ve never seen it. This picture was taken at my high-school graduation. My parents were among all the other families in the bleachers in my hot stuffy school gym since the weather that day didn’t cooperate. She couldn’t remember much about the young boy’s family, only that he had grown so sleepy during the commencement ceremony, that he had unconsciously fallen over onto my Father’s lap and been fast asleep for the duration. My Father, without a word, simply put his arm over the boy and waited it out while his only daughter was accepting her diploma. As the Grinch is famous for saying, my heart grew three sizes when I heard that.
This was also the man I loved. The gentle and kind man that was always underneath the raucous braggadocio. Sure, he once punched a guy’s lights out in a McDonald’s DURING BREAKFAST, but he also rescued countless stray kittens and rabbits and baby birds. I have many sweet memories of my Father holding an eyedropper filled with milk while nursing one of God’s littlest creatures back to health in a shoebox lined with a dishtowel. Don’t get me started on his love for dogs. Well, not all dogs. He did take more than a few “for a ride” back in the day but that’s a post for another time. He once told me that he hoped to die before our German Shepherd, Thor, because he didn’t want to imagine his living day to day without him. I didn’t take that personally.
To my absolute horror in my early twenties he showed up at my work with a picnic lunch. Y’all, I mean a PICNIC lunch. Complete with blanket, basket, fried chicken and all the fixings. He had plopped it down in the grassy area of our parking lot and I was MORTIFIED. I went along with it though (thank god because we alcoholics can dwell on shit like that for decades) and now it’s one of my fondest memories. What I wouldn’t give for him to pull up in his pick-up outside my work now, with a goddamn picnic lunch.
You better believe that if someone was on the side of the road with whatever the hell wrong with their car, he’d start signaling to pull over as soon as he saw them. He never sped past someone needing assistance, no matter how he was dressed or where we were going. It was just what you did. Oh, and how children loved him. He put the fear of God in many a grown man, but children would flock to him like lepers to Jesus. He’d pull a magic trick, tell a joke, or have a piece of candy in his pocket. He was FULL OF IT, so of course kids and (most) adults loved him. He would spin a yarn and have everyone’s rapt attention-he was a master storyteller. He would do most anything for a laugh and adored a good prank. He once balanced a bowl full of water on the ledge of my cracked bedroom door to catch me coming in late on my curfew. Upon tip-toeing into the house thinking I was home free, I gently pushed my bedroom door open when the bowl toppled onto my head, soaking me in the process, and sending a shocked scream into the night, notifying my Father of my late arrival. Lucky for me he was so tickled that his snare worked, I didn’t even get in (much) trouble.
I could write until dawn and I wouldn’t run out of anecdotes. It’s done my heart good just to jot these down, and my eyes brim with proud tears at these happy memories. I think of him often and a giant grin always spreads across my face. My husband says that my eyes light up when I talk about my Daddy. Of course they do. He was larger than life in every way, he was immortal, and he was the bravest and strongest man I had ever encountered. Now though, I want you to know the gentleman that he was, for that side is equally as important, now maybe even more so.
He was my Father, and he was a gentle man. Happy birthday, Daddy. Your shitbird sure misses you.