Wednesday, September 8, 2010

80 Years Young

Today my dad turns 80. If you ever have the chance to meet him, you would never guess him to be 80.  He looks much younger (hope I have those genes) and acts younger still (those genes I do have!).  In the words of Jimmy Buffett he is, "growing older but not up".

His dad passed away when he was a teenager. I can't imagine growing up without a father, I know how lucky I am. Over recent years we have had the chance to spend some late nights together, and he would share stories of his youth.  Even though my father only had his father for a short spell, he was very proud of him.  "He was a man's man" he would always say. "He had a wooden leg, but it did not slow him down."  My grandfather still managed to give my dad a workout on the tennis court!

I had the opportunity, or I'll say, the privilege of working for him and then alongside him for over 30 years. I worked my way up in the business...product assembly, truck driver,  and foreman before moving to the office and finally up in management. He played no favorites, made sure I earned my way. Of course we still butted heads here and there, any father and son in the same business will do that. But the good times, conventions, factory trips - they far outweighed any negative times we had.

His favorite movie is "It's a Wonderful Life" and he still tears up at the ending. His music tastes, well, they are stuck in the 50's. Doubt he could even name a song by the Beetles.  I did get him to a Buffett concert once, but I think he enjoyed the tailgate more!

Sports has always been a way of life in our family. Football season being the best time of year.  Dad loved to tailgate at the NY Giants games; he enjoyed the Army games at West Point. But as big as football was (and still is), golf is what brought us closer as a family. We were lucky enough to play some great courses together. Pine Valley, Pebble Beach and The Belfry to name a few.  Those trips have left me with some incredible memories. And yes, he may have lost some yards off his drives, his putter not quite as true, but he still has that competitive spirit, still giving it his all.

Summers in my family were spent at the Jersey Shore. He always let his hair down there. Can't go into much, not sure if the statute of limitations is up yet! Winter vacations were always Disney. I remember always being at the rope, waiting for the parks to open.  When the rope dropped, we would take my younger brother by the arms and run to the main attractions. We had such great times there that I continued the tradition with my family.  My wife and I, for over 25 years, dragged our circus of a family to Disney. Looking back on those trips I'm shocked I'm still sane.  And now my kids are following suit, spending the money in favor of a lifetime of memories.  And to think my Pop started it all.  With how big our family has grown, Disney has ought to be grateful.

My parents lost a child when he was 5. My mother never fully recovered, it always haunted her. My dad, well he kind of tucked it away as best he could. But the sadness was always there, it was evident late at night when our conversations were more personal, emotional. When we lost Tommy life changed, priorities changed. Enjoying the simple things life has to offer became more prevalent. You look back at what you have learned from your parents; the honesty, the integrity, the being charitable. All important. But, I feel the most important thing my dad ever taught me was to "Smell the Roses". I'm doing my best to pass that onto my kids.....

Growing up as the oldest of four, I was the rebellious one, a product of the times. Did not do well in school, never finished college. Gave him and my mother fits. He is a Marine (once a Marine, always a Marine) and I never served. But as tough as he tried to be, he was always there if we needed him. I hope now I can be there for him. We lost Mom a little over a year ago. They were married over 50 years. I will never forget the call when he told me she had passed, never forget seeing him in the hospital outside her room. I had seen him cry before; at my sisters wedding, those cherished late night conversations.  But never like this. She was the love of his life. They did everything together, and her leaving left a huge void. He has found someone to help with the loneliness, add some  laughter and good times, but he misses her each and every day.

Dad, everything I have I owe to you, everything. Everything my family has we owe to you. I can only hope I can be half the man you are. Tonight at dinner, as we celebrate another year of ups and downs, I will tell you that. Thanx for it all Dad. 

Thanx for it all.
Love you.

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