Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Old Man

I'm not sure when I started calling my Dad "Old Man" but it has always been apropos.
Dad was born old.
We joke about that now. Dad is always telling anyone who will listen (waitresses, cashiers, etc) that his son has always said "I was born old!" To which the cashiers/waitresses/staff laugh appropriately, telling him that he "sure doesn't look old" or some such compliments. But, believe me, Dad was born old. And he had lived a lifetime by the age of twenty.
By the time he was twelve he had lost a brother to a fire in a junkyard, a mother to heart disease and his father was a raging alcoholic. In his teens he had overcome abject poverty through his sister Agnes (his "second mother") who had taken him in (along with her husband Jack) so Dad could get a good education away from his father. Unfortunately, Agnes died very young and, once again, Dad was alone in the world.
He had gone to college to be a history teacher only to turn it aside because teaching only paid $5000.00 a year and his summer job at Proctor & Gamble paid $7500.00 a year. This mindset would later cloud Dad's judgement about my chosen career path (cartoonist) but at least I now know the source of his misplaced advice.
By the time I came long Dad was 29 and had been married to Mom for 8 years. Barbara followed the year afterwards and Mark came along in 1969. He worked long and hard to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
The first time I ever saw Dad cry was when my maternal Grandfather died. "Grampa" had been more of a father to him then his own dad had ever been.
The second time was when we had to put Suki to sleep. She was the family mutt who, as much as I wanted her to be my dog, she was really Dad's.
The third time (the worst time) was when Mom died. They were married for 25 years. She died 3 weeks shy of their 26th wedding anniversary. He was devastated. Still, he shouldered on. There were still three kids at home, after all.
Dad made some quick life choices. Within a year he had sold the family home and we moved to Carver. He met Joan (which was also my Mom's name - I hated this) through a neighbor and remarried quickly, within 18 months of Mom's death. However, this happiness was short-lived. Joan died of cancer five years after they were married. During his time with Joan his brother Charlie had died of cancer and his brother Arthur of old age. After Joan died, his brother John died after complications from heart surgery; the same illness and aftereffect which had killed their father, "Pops" in 1980, at the age of eighty-five.
Any of these things would make me old before my time, too.
This is not to confuse "old" with "joyless", however. There has been much happiness associated with the Old Man, too.
Dad has a great sense of humor. Every week when he was at P&G he would come home to tell me the latest jokes that he had heard around the plant. When I had a summer job there in 1985 I met his co-workers. One group of women remarked that "Cliff is always talking about you. Every time he hears a new joke he mentions that he has to go home and tell it to Andy." This summer job was also the first place and time that I had ever heard that Dad was proud of me, too.
I remember Dad, sitting in his wing back chair, watching a Bruins game (or any sporting event) complete with a bottle of Black Label, some ruffles, cheddar cheese and slices of pepperoni. He always seemed content with just these things.
We watched the "A-Team" religiously. Every week we would order a pizza from Mike's House of Pizza in Hanson and race into the den to watch the A-Team. We would take no phone calls and brook no conversation during this show. We loved it when a plan came together. Pizza and the A-Team was our plan.
Dad has always enjoyed a good baseball game. When we were kids Dad would listen to ballgames on an old transistor radio that he hauled upstairs from his workbench, plugged it into an extension cord and ran it out to the picnic table. One of my finest baseball moments with Dad was during the 1990's. We were seated out in center field at Fenway Park about an hour before game time watching the players warm up. The sun was setting and the sky was lit with brilliant multicolored hues of orange, pink and purple.We had snacked on sausages from the "Sausage King" cart , had a beer and now we were smoking cigars as a gentle breeze was blowing across the outfield. I looked over at Dad in his baseball cap, smiling contentedly and I thought "this is a perfect moment."
And it was.
Once a month Jenna and I head down on a Saturday morning to visit Dad and Roe (his wife) and I talk to Dad every two to three days. We usually just chat. We talk about the Red Sox, or whatever ailment has flared up. I tell him about work and, if I've heard a new one, I'll share a joke with him, too. I'll talk about Jenna and her progress at school or whatever else is on his mind at the time. Our conversations rarely last more than ten minutes (his choice) but if I don't call by the third day then he calls me, concerned that "something is wrong". If he depends on me to check in every few days then who am I to argue? Its a small request. One that I am happy to fulfill.
I have long since given up trying to determine if the Universe is "fair" or not. Mostly, it just "is" and we have to deal with whatever is thrown in our direction. There is no tally at the end of the day that says that "You made X amount of decisions today. Out of X, this many were right and this many were completely effed up". Instead, we have to live with the many decisions that we've made during that day, that week, that month and that year. Constantly moving forward, ready to make more decisions again and again.
Dad has had his triumphs and his tragedies. He's made mistakes...but who hasn't? My own could fill this blog for the next year. Dad's experiences may have forced him to "grow up" a lot earlier than I did and he may indeed have been aged beyond his years. However, I have come to realize (very recently) that my Dad has taken everything that the universe has thrown at him and - to this day - he is not bitter or resentful about it. He just continues on the path.
I'm grateful that now, at nearly 72 years of age, he really has become an old man in fact as not just in affectionate title only. I'm glad he's still here and I'm amazed that after forty-two years he still can show me a thing or two about life.


Blogger Fox In Detox said...

Great post friend. Really great. you paint a wonderful picture of your father. I had no idea that he had so many struggles in his life time...and what a rock for shouldering them all and coming out on the other side without bitterness. My hat is off to him.

6:39 AM, June 25, 2008  
Blogger Cynthia said...

Not many people can write about their father with such honesty and affection. What is wonderful is that the two of you are friends in the truest sense of the word. I hope your father reads this post and realizes anew what a gift he is in your life and the treasure he has in you.

8:16 AM, June 25, 2008  
Blogger Letera said...

Wow, You know Andy I am always amazed at your posts and I feel like I am there. This was a very nice post about your dad. It truely shows what kind of person he is to still be doing good against all odds. My hats off to your dad!

8:55 PM, June 25, 2008  
Blogger Summer Ryan Doyle said...


10:08 PM, June 25, 2008  

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