There are some sentences that really grabbed my attention in life, like, “I love you, Daddy.” I heard those powerful words on a day when I couldn’t believe I was hearing them. Because they came from me..and I was 38 years old.
When I walked into room 421 of LaGuardia hospital, Queens, NY, the bed in the corner was empty. My father had been in it, but the bed was made and raised up high, it reminded me of a bier. That implies that I thought the worst and I did. But I was told my dad had been moved to room 414.
When I went to room 414 Dad was in the bed by the corner. The same bed placement in the same room my mom had been in when she died. Strange coincidence.
Below, my dad, a NYC Transit cop, 1943:
When I spoke to the nurse about Dad she told me he “mooned” everybody out in the hall. Mike, also a retired NYC Transit cop in the next bed, confirmed this and told me how Dad had walked out into the hall naked. Dad was very weak but apparently he had some reserve strength to give an astronomy lesson to the 4th floor staff. I knew then how I got that propensity to for au naturale. See The Naked Patriot.
My Dad was a real man, a manly man. He had a strong appreciation for manliness. If I ever got into trouble he didn’t mind so much if it involved manly action, like a fist fight.
My dad built this sun house in our yard with “help” from me and my brothers. Dad also built the fence, the bench and ran electricity to that garage. And he mixed and poured the concrete patio beneath that sun house…all by hand…on his days off and vacation.
When I told my dad I was joining the Marines his feet levitated a good six inches off our living room floor. When I told him I was becoming a Transit cop the distance from floor to feet was a good foot and a half.
He loved me, my brothers and sisters and we knew it. But he was’t one to say, “I love you, son.” I don’t think he considered it necessary; he worked 60 hours a week much of his career and his days off consisted of fixing the sink, painting the garage or repairing our bikes.
Sometimes he’d show me how to do things like turning the nut on the axel of my bike, “left to open, right to tighten.” Or how to change the sash cords inside the frames of our double hung windows. Never did I reside in a home of my own with those kind of windows or with sash cords with which to put those valuable lessons to use. But I’ve since learned it was more than sash cord replacement that we shared.
Another vivid memory of my dad is a bike ride we took to Merkel’s meat store in Ozone Park, Queens. Those were the days of sawdust covered floors in meat stores, the kind where a kid could write his name in the saw dust with the toe of his shoe. They gave free samples, like a slice of boloney to kids. This day my dad bought half of a baloney. With Merkel’s cord, he strung the long tubular thing under the crossbar of his bike, torpedo style.
But on the ride home he surprised me when he pulled over ahead of me and said, “Let’s take a bite,” pointing to the butcher-wrapped pink torpedo. I was incredulous. But we both took a bite out of the end of that delicious meat of uncertain content.
Now, I don’t know how old I was at the time but I was at an age when yielding to such a delicious impulse such as this would have incurred a parental wrath of some kind. But it was his grand idea. And to me it was the finest lunch, the best baloney cuisine I’d ever have. It was an outrageous act of lunch-with-dad-al-fresco. Never again would a cold cut taste as good.
A Woodhaven Queens Merkel’s Photo credit:Projectwoodhaven.com
This is how my dad showed his love, much like his dad before him might have showed it. And his before him. But, “I love you, son.” was not his way of speaking, like many dad’s of the time I suspect. I think he considered it unmanly, maybe weak or even womanly to verbally express what should be obvious. If he ever dared to say such a thing as I grew older i think I would have had to have a shooter and a beer to steady myself.
But his way of expressing himself, or not, affected me and the way I used the word,”love” with such economy in my younger years. Somehow though, I was able to break the shell of my reticence little by little. It began when he was dying. I leaned over to him in that hospital bed and said, “I love you, Daddy.”
My dad died in 1979 but I thought of that “I-love-you” day many times since. One of those times was on Fathers Day, June 20, 1982. We were on the patio of our backyard and I thought of my dad as our three girls played nearby.
They were early-teen and pre-teen beautiful young ladies. I wondered if I told them enough that I loved them. I’m sure as they grew up most of the time it would have gone like, “I love you very much but I can’t let you write on the walls with crayons,” or whatever.
My three girls when they were very young.
But this day I just wanted to blurt it out without any context. I said, ” It’s Fathers Day and I love you girls.” I did have to put it in some context after all. They came over and kissed me. I’ll always remember that day, they may not. But it had special meaning for me because of my dad and because if was evidence I was trying to grow…from his ways, and from mine.
Years later I had phoned my brother who lived in Florida. I told him about a newspaper article about someone he knew and I said I’d send it to him. I put it in an envelope with a short note telling him how I was looking forward to him visiting with us soon. I closed the note with, “Lee”. Then I thought I should have closed it with, “Love, Lee.” But I felt awkward putting “Love” in the closing.
While in the Marines, in letters to my mom or sisters it would be okay to end with “Love.” But my brother? Felt weird. Still in that note I felt I should have be saying it so I wrote, “Love, Lee”. Then I looked at it and regretted it and wrote a whole new damn note. Crazy, right? This time I omitted the “Love and just wrote, “Lee”. I put the envelope in the space between the door frame and the wainscoting for mailing Monday morning.
There it stayed where I saw it coming and going over the weekend, knowing I left, “Love.,” off the closing. Yup, Eventually I reopened the envelope, wrote, “Love” above, “Lee” and because the envelope was stamped I re-sealed it with LePage’s glue.
My brother called me later and said that when he comes up he’ll be bringing me some envelopes. He told me that when he opened the envelope he said to himself, “What is it with these envelopes?” He sounded confounded as he said, “You used a glue of some kind to seal the envelope and it got on the article and the whole thing stuck to the envelope.”
My brother Arthur, above, a Vietnam vet, died in 1994. I have another brother, Rod, a Vietnam era vet too, still with us. With him, I sometimes close emails with, “Love ya, bro.”
Below, my dad and brother, Rod.
I told my brother, Arthur, that I originally put the article in the envelope by itself but decided to add a note and reopened it to insert one. I never told him about my vacillation in the closing nor the reason for it. I never told anyone what really happened, except maybe to confide to about a thousand of my Brothers and Sisters on the Retired Transit Police site.
I guess the point of all this is to say my dad had his own way of speaking his love for me and he was very articulate in his way. He spoke by teaching me, as we stood side by side, the intricacies of sash cord replacement and the fine art of baloney transport.
This was his way to bond, this was his way to say, “I love you, son.” But for me I’ve learned it’s not so good to be too economical with words of love, words of caring.
Maybe it’s good to splurge once in a while with everyone you love. Even if it should be obvious. Yeah, words, they do matter. But then again, so do actions.
My love goes out to my three girls on this Father’s Day.