I know the original form of the statement reads “The sins of the father…” but today, on, what would have been the 110th birthday of my father, I prefer to think about the grace that was visited upon his sons.
I never knew my father to be sad. I never saw him cry until my mother died. He was always smiling and, despite having many life experiences that would have made other men bemoan their fate, my father chose to tell stories that made all who listened laugh.
I used to compare my father and my Uncle Al to Laurel and Hardy, my father playing Ollie to Uncle Al’s Stan. Uncle Al was another man who had a hard life but you would never know it listening to him and my father talk.
The only character flaw my father had was that he couldn’t keep a secret. That’s not to say that he revealed sources to the Russians while entertaining them in the Oval Office. Rather, my father’s weakness pertained solely to Christmas. He rarely waited until Christmas to give me presents.
One afternoon in October my mother and father were waiting on Taylor Avenue as I was released from school. Walking out the gate by the Convent I saw them there in the car. As I got in the back seat my father had a sheepish grin and gave me the head nod encouraging me to look on the floor of the car. There was a box from Kleins and it had LIONEL emblazoned all over it.
My father bought me a set of trains and instead of tucking it away for Christmas, I was playing with them on Halloween.
Then, in December, I think it must have been the 23rd, he came bouncing up the stairs of 1261 Leland with a small box in his hand. It was two days before Christmas so why wait? He gave me the box as he led me into the front bedroom where our Lionel layout was stationed. He then opened the box and took out a beautiful Santa Fe diesel and placed it on the track.
He was always fond of taking my mother and I up to Ferry Point Park on a warm spring evening. They had lawn chairs and we always took a bat and ball and our mitts. I am guessing I was 10 and that would make my father 53.
He had just completed a hard day working in a Con Ed powerhouse but that did not stop him from fielding my fly balls. The unfortunate thing was that I was not a consistent hitter. When my father played left field, I hit the ball to right. Then he moved over to right and I hit the ball to left and so on and so on.
He never complained and was happy that I hit the ball no matter where it had landed.
I like to think he made me the father that I am.
I know he made my brothers Johnny and Michael the fathers they turned out to be.
I never had any chance of doing otherwise. Between the three of them, I always came in fourth but that’s still saying something.
The testament to my father is that anyone who knew him and is reading this is nodding his head and remembering much more than I have written.
I always liked to say that my father was a man of the twentieth century. Born in 1907, he witnessed the Great War, the Great Depression, Ruth, Gherig, and DiMaggio, WW II and all the rest of a most historic time. Yet, he taught me that true history recorded the lives of simple people enjoying a grand life.
And so, I wish my father Happy Birthday, knowing full well that no one would be singing louder than himself.
Happy Birthday Dad.