"A dad is a son's first hero and a daughter's first love."
Today would have been my dear old dad's 90th birthday. I awoke this morning with him on my mind. Initially, I felt sad remembering his passing, but it was not long before the sadness dissipated. The melancholy feeling was replaced by wonderful memories that lit the corners of my mind. I recalled my childhood filled with wonder and joy -- his constant presence in the lives of Mom, my siblings, and me -- and all of the occasions that allowed us to share in our time together. The spring afternoons when we danced in the rain and rolled in the front yard filled with small ponds of mud. The summer days spent at the river's edge basking in the sun and learning how to swim. The crisp days of autumn, jumping in the mounds of leaves that had fallen from the trees. And the winter nights, skating across the ice at the local park and then nestling against Dad to keep warm by the fire pit. Those were the days to treasure and the ones which remain cherished memories contained within my heart.
When I contemplate the lessons learned from my father, I vividly recall his ability to translate ineffable concepts into the simplest of terms. His belief in God, his love of his family, and his integrity all provided grounding to balance our lives. His devout Catholic upbringing gave him the ability to utilize his beliefs as part of daily life. The life he built for himself and his family gave us the opportunity to watch, listen, and learn. As we grew into adulthood, these principles guided our daily practices. Under his tutelage, we flourished and became the individuals he expected us to be.
Like many Dads, mine was not a perfect man. He was, however, a very good one. Although he made his share of mistakes, he found a path to redemption and practiced what he preached. His disciplinary style was swift and stern in its approach, but he always found the time to explain why he had responded to our ill-behavior in such a manner. He would relate the importance that his children understood accountability for misbegotten deeds and responsibility to make things right again.
This tribute to Dad is not meant to idolize him, but rather, to articulate my admiration for the role he played in not only my life, but the countless others that he touched with his kind and caring ways. His role in this life was multifaceted. He was a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, a businessman and a teacher. He served honorably during the events of World War II. When he returned home after serving his country, he attended college and obtained a degree in education. There among the children, he taught school and coached football, counting himself not only as an educator and trainer, but as mentor to those who sought his guidance. To them, he became a tutor, a protector, and a surrogate parent. Many have attested to how his acts of kindness inspired their ability to move from a negative lifestyle to a positive manner of behavior.
As these memories cascade along the recesses of my mind, I am touched by how rapidly they translate to feelings of gratitude. In these recollections, I recall Dad's ability to illuminate a room with the mere twinkle of his eye or his warm smile. He seemed to possess an energy that made all who were present feel safe and protected. His spirit was both mindful and playful, yet comforting in some inexplicable way. It somehow encircled the room much like the memories of Dad that have made their home in the spaces of my mind.
Giving thanks this day, for the gift of a good man I called, "Dad."