So tomorrow is my Dad’s birthday and, despite the predicted frosty weather, my Mom and I will take a drive to the beautiful Veterans cemetery where he was laid to rest amidst all of the other brave men and women who served our country. It is a sad day for me but I always try to remember the happy things about his long life because I know that is what he wants me to do. And my hopes in sharing this with you is that I can pay forward his indomitable spirit, his everlasting curiosity about people, his compassion, his kindness.
The thing about my Dad that always makes me smile is how much he loved kids and dogs. When my great kid and my niece and nephew were little, he loved going with us to the tiny amusement parks with their crazy rides and climbing aboard each ride with them to enjoy the fun. He’d stand side-by-side with them at all the arcade games, pretending to try to win but ultimately deliberately losing so one of the kids could win the 99 cent toy that we had invested $20 in playing the game multiple times. His idea of the perfect meal while there was to split a hot dog, fries and a soft-serve chocolate cone with sprinkles with my great kid.
Many of these amusement parks were at the various towns at the Jersey Shore so a trip up and down the boardwalk was always part of our day. Inevitably some police department or fire department or ambulance squad would be raffling off tickets to win a car or a motorcycle and he always bought multiple tickets because supporting our first responders (and maybe winning too) was always top of his mind. (And crazier things can and actually have happened. During one visit to his church’s carnival where he bought one of these raffle tickets, he and my Mom actually did win a car!)
But the thing he really enjoyed was the opportunity to share time talking to his grandkids about what was going on in their lives, or striking up a conversation with the random person sitting on a bench with him, or thanking a police officer or soldier for their service, or petting the dog strolling down the boardwalk with its owner. He had an offbeat sense of humor as evidenced by the time he and my Mom were visiting my sister and her family. They were playing a board game and the question was something along the lines of “what do you admire about Superman”? The others talked about his x-ray vision, his ability to fly, his search for truth, justice and the American way. And when it was my Dad’s turn? His answer was “I like his boots”. Everyone got a good laugh at that, although my father probably didn’t get why the others thought that was funny but he said what he felt, conventional wisdom be damned.
As my mother has always told me, the times when we were kids (and his grandkids were young) were the happiest times of my father’s life. He brightened the day of anyone he met and, if he were still here, he’d be asking me how soon we could go down to Point Pleasant and have clams and corn-on-the-cob and play the arcade games. Because, deep down, he was all about his kids and his grandkids and his words and deeds and example of a life well lived make me want to be a better person tomorrow than I am today. I wish you could have met him.