We lost him when my children were little. They grew up with a wonderful grandfather, but not this one. I have a few scattered pictures and memories of my father with my kids, but they never got a chance to know him.
He said Tyler was a thinker, and Jami was fearless. I’d say he was spot on.
He died suddenly, on a sunny summer morning.
My children will never know that he was the father who “fixed” things with a hug. Things like teen heartache, and failed drivers tests. He was gentle with animals. He loved birds and dogs. He loved all our little babies. He crawled around on the floor with them, a brawny man turned soft amid the giggles and climbing. He held them, and talked to them, and carried them over to windows just to point things out.
He loved nicknames. We started calling him “Special K” in the 90’s and it stuck.
At home, he cooked and canned. He built things. Artistically, he carved and painted beautiful wood duck decoys. He grew the juiciest tomatoes in New Milford.
He cherished his big pontoon, and boy could he fish. In the summer, in the winter, didn’t matter. The fish called to him while he stood wide awake looking out at the water. And they darted and jumped inside his dreams, too.
Candlewood was a mini paradise for my dad. An outdoor playground. Aside from asking my mother to marry him, buying my grandmother’s small lake house in “The Trails” was one of the best decisions he ever made.
I saw him angry. I saw him happy. I saw him worried. I saw him reflective. I saw him confident. I watched him get worked into a frenzy when the NY Islanders won the Stanley Cup four consecutive times. Overtime had him on his knees, slapping the floor.
I saw him loving. I saw him creative. I saw him marvel at the wonders of the world. Sometimes he was quiet. Sometimes he was impatient. I saw him selfish. I saw him kind. I saw him drunk. One time, I watched him throw up into the pachysandra outside our kitchen door. I saw him cry uncontrollably in the hallway of the hospital when his mother, my legendary grandma Betty, passed away. I watched him dance. And I danced my heart out with him.
Mostly, I saw him human. Boy, he sure loved to laugh. He laughed himself silly listening to Richard Pryor. He gently “re-located” squirrels from our yard to Harrybrooke Park, and kept a tally on the fridge.
He held my arm and walked me down the aisle at my wedding, with a smile as bright as it was tender.
He provided. He was a factory man. He “worked his way up” at Kimberly Clark. He did 17 years of ‘round the clock “shifts” as a machine operator before earning a daytime desk job.
He spent 4 years in the Navy. A handsome young sailor with his whole life ahead of him is all I see when I look at his photos in uniform. His white cap was as jaunty and as set to the side as a sailors cap could be, with eyes that shined brightly, filled with light and youth and promise.
In the 70’s, he had a motorcycle. He had sideburns and wore boot-cut Levi’s. He loved the blues, and rock and roll. He listened to The Coasters and Janis Joplin. He loved spaghetti with meat sauce. He wore a baseball cap. He combed over his bald spot and we poked fun at the little tuft in front that refused to surrender.
“I need a hair cut,” he’d say, rubbing his scalp.
“Which one?” we’d chuckle.
He finally quit smoking, but it didn’t save him.
He told me I was pretty even after I cut my own hair and came home with a mouth full of metal. He made me feel special, which is so much better than pretty.
He didn’t go to college, but it was clear to us that we were going. He encouraged my writing. We shared the same sense of humor. I still have a few letters he wrote to me in his signature left-handed scrawl when I was away, back when composing a letter was a thing. Each one is four pages long. Apparently, he was a writer too. He signed them “Daddy,” using quotation marks, as if I’d ever forget. He was always “daddy” to me.
He was the guy who took us camping. He made us stack wood and rake leaves. When he spoke, we listened. He tricked my brother into eating a fish eye once. He told us to go play outside. He bought me a 10-speed bike and hid it in my room as a surprise on my birthday.
He was the husband who squeezed my mother’s behind as he passed. He scratched and tilted his head at her ways, but his eyes always twinkled. He loved affection, and he loved her deeply.
He was not a simple man but he enjoyed simple things. In many ways, before he died at 59, he still had a lot to learn about life. But in the ways that were important, he had it all figured out. He was just a regular man, with thoughts and feelings, and hobbies, and kids, and a wife, and a life, but he meant the world to me.
He was not perfect, but I remember the perfect moments.
And I miss him every day.