Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Good Man is Hard to Find, or the Story of My Dad, a Few Days Late.

"Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged."
--Col. 3:19, 21.

The situation of my birth was anything but simple. Thoughts of being a young and out of work widower with four children must have flown through my fathers mind, scaring the wits out of him.

From all accounts my delivery went well, except for the fact that my mother lost so much blood this time. There had been a miscarriage between the birth of my older brother and me, and the pregnancy with my younger brother was difficult. Up until delivery, her pregnancy with me was normal. Giving life to me nearly killed her.

But this story isn't about my mother. This one is about my father. He had been laid off from his job at a local military defense plant a few months before I was born and there were 3 other children to feed. My mother worked as a psychiatric nurse in the detox unit of a psychiatric hospital, but paid maternity leave was non-existent. So, in that cold February of 1965, there was no money coming into the house and a fourth child was added to the family. Times were tough, and bill collectors were even tougher.

Eventually my mother would go back to work, but my father didn't find a job until September of that year. He would stay there until his retirement  25 years later.

Young and carefree
 He often blamed himself for starting her on the road to alcoholism. "Sheila, if you can't sleep at night," my father would say, "have a beer before bed." It was the beginning of their marriage and my mother worked the wards drying out the drunks who had been committed to the state hospital. They did the hard stuff. She couldn't sleep. A beer sounded good. The road to hell starts with a single step, and for the next four decades my father would see his wife go to bed drunk every night.

A million times he could have left. He could have just walked out the door and said good-bye to it all.

But he didn't.

In 1956, he made a vow to love and cherish my mother until death. I imagine that it may have been quite difficult for him to practice that sacramental vow toward a wife who never sobered up. Quite often, he took on the role of both parents because he had to. To the best of my knowledge, he also never cheated on my mother. A lesser person would have cut and run.

Dad at 50, me at 15.
He's a man who keeps his promises, my father. At eighty years old and a widower for ten years, he makes sure that everyone in his family gets mailed a birthday card on the appointed day, no matter where they live. Every winter he goes to Florida. Each spring, when he finally makes it back from the land of the snowbirds, he sits in his chair and watches every Yankee game until the final out of the season. Every fall Sunday from that same chair, he watches the fate of his beloved New York Football Giants.

My father Pete taught his daughters what it means to be a husband and a father. I often see traits of him these days in Micki's husband, Eddie, as he tends to her breast cancer recovery. I see my father in the way Eddie makes sure someone is with her at all times; in the way he props her up to ease the pain. The sandwich he makes the night before and leaves on the night table.

At forty-six, I've never been blessed with the opportunity to live the sacrament of marriage, but because of my father, I know that love is not an emotion, but is the action of giving yourself completely over to another. My father then has made real for me the meaning of Christ's words, "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." (John 13:34)