My dad died on Sept. 19 after complications following his open heart surgery. Still a young, vital man at 73, he was a good friend, a wonderful father, and a superb role model. Last week was an awful week, but made survivable through the incomparable support of family, friends, neighbors and yes, even Internet buddies. Getting back on an even keel is going to be hard. Here's what I said, or at least tried to say, at his memorial service. Be sure to insert plenty of, shall we say, dramatic pauses.
Well, who would've thunk it – a boy from the mean streets of Hartford grows up to be an avid woodsman, hunter, fisherman and, yes, even farmer.
Growing up on the farm meant a never ending supply of stories. To this day, I can entertain city slickers at a dinner party for hours with stories of raising pigs, chickens, lambs, even bulls and, most entertainingly, turkeys. He wasn't afraid of anything and just figured it would work out in the end. And, of course, it usually did.
Dad loved his sports but within reason, unlike some of us who seem to have nothing in our wardrobes but team insignia gear. He took me to my first baseball game at Shea Stadium, sometime in the late 60s. And when, in 1986, I waited 4 days in line for the privilege of purchasing a single pair of tickets in the nosebleed section of the Fenway bleachers for World Series Game 4, there was never any doubt as to who was coming with me. I'm fairly certain there was a baseball game being played, but to this day I'm not sure how we ever got home. Must have been a very friendly cabbie. When I first heard the word that the Dodgers would be playing the Red Sox in Fenway, I immediately began planning how to get us a pair of Monster seats. At least we'd know one of his teams would win.
Dad loved to fish and a particularly vivid memory of the farm is of him and I donning long sleeve shirts, long pants, hats, spraying ourselves with both Deep Woods Off and even RAID, then heading out into the back 60 to fish our little trout brook. He always looked back fondly on the days of surfcasting while living on Cape Cod, although he never taught me the trick to actually catching a fish from the ocean. The day of “pickle” fishing with my daughters and their Papa on Pushaw Lake last summer will forever be a treasured memory of mine and, I think, the girls too.
But it was hunting where we bonded the most. From the earliest memories as a kid of long drives to Maine, trying to find a spot under a bed to sleep to avoid getting stepped on, marathon games of 31, early cold mornings and walking behind my Dad, waiting for the cherished moment when he would finally let me carry his gun. And of course, making him leave the woods early because my feet would get cold, a harbinger of times when it would be reversed, as he hated to wear the “gunga boots” that would keep his feet warm.
Later, I would get my own gun, do my own walking, and finally bring down my own deer, and it made it even sweeter that we used his tag for it. There were many cold mornings, warm lunches and tall tales spun. It will be very strange and sad this fall, as I've never been hunting without him before.
He really showed his balance as a father. While Dad had many great qualities as a father, including honesty, consistency and interest, if there is one trait of his I would want to have as a father myself, it was his uncanny ability to balance advice with support. If you wanted advice, he'd be happy to give it and you could be sure it would be honest and useful. You would then be free to make you own decisions and suffer your own consequences. And whether you followed his advice or not, he was always there to help. If you succeeded, he would be in the front row of the cheering section. If you failed, he would be among the first to help you up, dust you off and get you moving again. I had plenty of failures, usually directly attributable to not following his advice. Whenever I think about it, the wonderful quote from the ever accurate Mark Twain comes to mind:
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. - Mark Twain
Pabs, you are going to be missed but I have you pictured in my mind's eye sitting back in a place where the sun is blazing and the martinis are ice cold. In other words, Paradise.