My father passed away 31 years ago this summer. It’s easy to remember because it’s the same year my wife and I were married. The last time we saw him was when he and my mom drove up from Pittsburgh to come to our wedding. The wedding was a small private affair, I didn’t expect them to make the 9-hour drive but somehow I knew he would. I also knew that he would fight with me to pay the bill at our “reception.” If I had known that it would be the last time we would be going out at dinner together, I would have let him pay.
My dad was only 60 years old when he died. I will be turning 60 later this year, and I realize exactly how not old 60 is. I think of the things I am still planning to do in my life, and I feel sad knowing that he must have had similar plans. More selfishly, I look back over the things I’ve done in the 31 years since he’s been gone and I think about all the times he could have helped me. Less selfishly, I know that there would have been times that I could have helped him and I could have learned even more things working at his side. He would have been too old to provide much hands-on help when I ripped the roof off our house and turned a Ranch into a Gambrel. But he would have had a great time sitting in a lawn chair yelling up at me to make sure I did things right. He would have been proud and some of the happiest moments in my life were when I knew my dad was proud of me.
I was always proud of him!
My dad worked his entire life. While my brother and I were living at home and later while we were attending college, he worked two jobs. He was a mailman, and for the longest time, he managed a bowling alley in the evenings. After the bowling alley closed, he tended bar. He didn’t drink, but he tended bar. He retired from the Post Office when he was 55 but he continued tending bar and he worked other part-time jobs during the day. He also ran a small business repairing golf clubs and making custom golf clubs. He was very good at all those things. I remember visiting my folks in Pittsburgh one year when someone delivered a long box. At first we all figured that it was an order of shafts or something. Nope. Inside was a brand new set of woods that a previous customer had bought after moving to Denver, CO. There was also a signed blank check and a note:
“John, you know how I like my clubs. Fix ‘em up and fill out the check for whatever you want.”
My dad was a sports fan and an athlete. He had played semi-pro football after he returned from WWII, and he could pick up any other sport and play it well. He took up golf in his early 40’s and by the time he got off the waiting list of a local golf club, he was regularly in contention for the top prizes. My brother was pretty good at sports. I mention that because I was not. I tried a few different sports, I made an effort, but talent, size and coordination were lacking. I tried golf. I was terrible, but I tried. Late in his life, I agreed to play a round with him. He had moved his golf club business into a building at a local country club. In exchange for starting the early foursomes, they gave him the room for free. They also let him play for free. We made it 3 holes when he turned to me and said: “maybe this isn’t your game” and we headed back to his shop.
His arrangement with the country club enabled him to play, golf, all, the, time.
The country club closed every year after they held their New Year’s Eve party. The owner and his family went to Florida for 4-6 weeks. One year, it got very warm in January. Some people showed up and wanted to golf. My father let them. The warm spell lasted a few days. He collected fees and when the owner returned, he handed him over $2,500 in cash.
My dad had a heart attack while playing golf and died shortly after arriving at the hospital. So many people came to his wake with a golf ball to place next to him that you could hear the balls rolling around as they moved the casket at his funeral.
I think of my dad often. When I’m working on our house, when I’m working in my shop, when I’m watching the Steelers or the Pirates win and especially when I’m watching them lose. I laugh when I think of what he would be saying. He could string cuss words together better than anyone. I think of him when I visit my brother. We both take after our dad, but I see it in my brother more than I recognize it in myself. He’s still with me in spirit, and I’ll do my best to keep that spirit alive.
Tomorrow is Father’s Day in the US, so happy Father’s Day to every dad.