By Corinne Wnek
Sometimes I think that Father’s Day plays second fiddle to Mother’s Day. Maybe all the flower and jewelry commercials that try to convince us to ‘show mom how much you love her’ have something to do with it. Maybe women just need affirmation more than men because we are wired differently.
But we do seem to celebrate fathers in a more understated way, as if men aren’t about sentimentality. Perhaps they just don’t need to be reminded on one particular day in June that they are loved. But my father was different. He liked being reminded that he was loved.
My father passed away at the fairly young age of 59, one day short of his 60th birthday. I can still remember that first Father’s Day without him. He had only died a few weeks earlier so it was still pretty raw for us. My mother, sister and I went through the day without so much as mentioning my father or that it was Father’s Day. That this day simply didn’t apply to us anymore was pretty much how it felt. We were outsiders now with a holiday permanently deleted on our calendar, out of synch with the rest of the world who still had fathers.
Time does heal sadness. But the sting around Father’s Day is still present, if only for a little while, even after 28 years. I remember everything about my father and the remarkable thing is that I haven’t canonized him yet, the way people sometimes do after someone they loved has died. Joe was a first generation American with a big heart for anyone in need. He literally put his money where his mouth was, talking the talk and walking the walk.
But he also had a temper and high expectations for my sister and me. Woe to us if we slipped up! My father was ahead of his time in that he insisted on his daughters being educated. We were instructed to stay in school for as many degrees as we wanted because work would always be there. Marriage was out of the question until we were finished with school and ready to begin our careers. Education was everything to him and he happily paid for ours, believing that it was his responsibility to give us a good start in life.
My father took care of his family and that included everybody, my mother, my sister, me, his father and his brother and sister whenever they were in need. My father took in four of his in-laws, all at the same time, twice, when they needed a place to live. One of these was an uncle who struggled with alcohol and whose company had been on strike for weeks. My father made sure my uncle had money for lunch every day. We were never rich, but somehow we seemed to have everything we ever needed or wanted.
When my father developed a persistent cough, he did the rare thing, for him anyway, and went to see the doctor. The prognosis was not good. I began to watch my father closely, always without him being aware of it, to study him, his expressions, the sound of his voice, what made him laugh and what shows he enjoyed on TV. I prayed for a photographic memory so that I could always recall his exact image, knowing there would be many times in the future when I would desperately need to feel his presence in my life.
The series of events leading up to my father’s death a short time later was like watching a scary movie in slow motion. Everything happened both quickly and slowly all at the same time. I remember frantically calling 911 and shouting to the dispatcher to “hurry up and get an ambulance here right now”! I ran to my father who was suddenly drifting in and out of consciousness on the living room sofa, sabotaged by an embolism penetrating his lung. He seemed to want to say something to me.
The last thing I heard my father say was, “Be… nice… to… people”.
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