On Monday, June 27th I got the call that I had been dreading for years…My father had died. He was 92, and died in his own bed with my sister and his wife by his side, which isn’t a bad way to go. It was just his time.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to my dad, so I might just ramble on for a while and see where it leads me.
Pop was a morning man. I think this is where I get my love o’ the dawn from. Growing up, sleeping late on weekends was not an option. Before the smell of breakfast could reach your nostrils, dad was yelling up the stairs to “get the hell out of bed.”
Dad the Breakfast Cook. My father liked to cook breakfast every weekend. Anything from French toast, which I liked, to Liver and Onions, which I didn’t like, would be served up on our blue formica kitchen table. My favorite breakfast was Nana’s pancakes…Slovak crepes called palacinki. They are my daughters’ favorites to this day.
Dad was an adventurer at heart. While my mom was good for back to school clothes, or that pair of shoes you really wanted, she rarely let you walk on the wild side. But not when you were with dad…every tree was climbable, every rock was there for you to scramble up on, and every path was worth hiking down.
Dad liked to go visiting. I’ve blogged about this in the past, but Monday nights were his banking nights. He’d take us to his bank in Cliffside Park, and then we’d go visiting the various aunts, cousins and family friends who lived in the area. My father had no siblings, but he managed to make a huge family network for us made up of fairly distant relatives who felt like next of kin to us.
Dad in New York City. Many a Friday night my father carted all four of us kids into New York City. My brother and sister attended Slovak School, and my brother had accordion lessons as well. The lights and smells and sounds of New York in the 70’s is something that will always be with me. We usually ended up eating a dirty water dog from a NYC cart or a sack of White Castles in North Bergen.
Dad in front of the TV. My father had a bad back, so TV viewing was done on the floor laying flat on his back with head propped up against the couch. He would do calisthenics and isometrics while watching “The Waltons,” or “Masterpiece Theater.” One of us kids would always make him a cup of Sanka, and bring him a piece of whatever Entenmann’s cake mom had bought at the Co-op.
Dad on a Rant. Some weekends could be lethal at home when my dad was in a mood. Rooms had to be cleaned, the yard had to be raked, the garage needed cleaning out…you name it. I won’t even go into the lectures my poor mom got about all the food we had in the house that my mom wasn’t using – mainly because it was really far back in our ginormous kitchen cabinets.
Dad on Martha’s Vineyard. Dad was at his best up there…away from the pressures of work, and enjoying the place he loved. Mornings were for fishing (and catching a whole lot of nothing), afternoons were for the beach, and evenings were for dinner and a walk around town.
Dad behind the wheel. I’ll admit, driving with my dad could be a drag. He never got lost, but you had to listen to what he wanted to on the radio. That meant a whole lot of Bob Grant, and financial shows. I sent up a silent prayer when the Walkman was invented, and another when we could actually afford to buy me one.
Dad the Storyteller. Dad was always good for a story about his colorful life. Like how he used to get chased by the grumpy old man at the Palisades Amusement Park pool for digging holes in the sand…and then later in life, he became the grumpy old man as it was his job to fill in the holes the kids dug. Or how he and his friends would swing on a rope out over the Palisades, praying the rope wouldn’t break. And the one about him having to out-run some ruffians in his souped up car out in California. My dad had adventures, yes sir.
Dad the Healthnut. My dad was a bonafide health nut. He was always sneaking wheat germ and flax seed into our pancakes and oatmeal. When my mom boiled vegetables, he drank the water she cooked them in from a coffee cup because that’s where all the vitamins were. He took crazy vitamin pills like shark cartilage, and bee pollen way before it was hip and trendy. I am certain it is why he lived to be 92.
Dad the Helper. My father helped quite a few people over the course of his lifetime. He took my Aunt Carol, my mom’s sister, out of a mental facility to come live with us when he saw that she was never going to thrive there. She became a vital member of our family, and I cherished her presence growing up.
He was also a one-man Czechoslovakian UN. My father sponsored my cousin Stello to come live with us for a year, where he worked in New York and was able to send money home to his family. He also sponsored my cousin Gitka, who came and stayed with us for a month and saw all the sights of the East Coast in the good old USA. He sponsored quite a few relatives to come and see the US – many of whom became citizens.
I also remember a couple who moved here from Czechoslovakia …Darinka and Louis, with their young son Renee. My father helped them get accustomed to the States, and we had them over our house many times for dinner – he let them know they had a friend nearby as they made their way in a new country.
I also recall him having the young son of a family friend stay with us over the summer. They lived in upstate New York, where there was little to do besides get high and get in trouble. This son was going down that wrong path, so he came to live with us for a few months. I had to take him to my volleyball matches, and listen to The Fixx.
I’m really going to miss him. I’ll miss breakfast at his house in Florida, sitting around the table as he yelled at CSPAN, while I did the crossword puzzle. I’ll miss his far left arguments, and his refusal to believe anything the right has to say. I’ll miss seeing him on the ferry to the Vineyard, big giant sunglasses and what was left of his hair whipping in the wind.
The world is a little dimmer without you here dad, that’s for sure. But know that you left some damn fine humans behind in your wake, and for that we are grateful.