FIVE years ago on Father's Day, my dad handed me the
and asked me to read a letter he'd marked.
I read it without question, as I did with many things he'd asked me to do over the years. At first, I thought one of my siblings had written it about my father. But as I got further into it, I realized it was my dad writing about my grandfather.
There were many things in it about my grandfather that I never knew until that day. At that moment, I realized how my dad became the man he is today.
My grandfather passed away in 1981, when I was 3. I have only one memory of him, but it's vivid. I was sitting at his kitchen table, and he was trying to make me laugh with the collection of dolls that my grandmother kept on the cabinet with the dishes. I don't know how the brain holds on to certain memories, but I was happy to have this one.
To this day, my father tries to make me laugh the same silly way - hiding my keys when I come over to visit or telling me to make a muscle and then squeezing the heck out of my arm to prove he's still stronger.
As the oldest of five kids, my dad had a lot of responsibility growing up, always trying to make sure the younger ones turned out OK.
When he became a father, he had the same worries for his own family. We grew up in a strict Irish/Italian Catholic household in Havertown. My father never had to raise his voice. He just gave you "the look" and you knew to behave. He didn't say much, but when he did, you knew he meant it.
He'd do whatever it took to support his family and never complained. When we were young, my parents didn't have a lot of money. They used to say they "didn't have two nickels to rub together." If the house needed work, my dad would get an estimate from a contractor and ask him in detail how he'd do the job - and then do it himself.
He's also the type of person who'd help you paint your house and never expect a thank you. "No problem, happy to help."
Growing up, it seemed to me that his life was always about his wife and kids - never about him. The little things in life are what mattered to him, whether it was his train collection, Ansel Adams photos or the out-of-date family photo calendar we made for him one year.
He was always there to make things OK and pick up the pieces, like dads are supposed to do.
Since I'm his youngest daughter, he always wanted to make sure I was OK. I remember having my picture taken on the front step of our house on the first day of grade school. My dad made sure I had my pencils sharpened just right and had everything I needed for the new school year.
Fast-forward 15 years, and he was still doing the same thing.
On my first day of work in the big city of Philadelphia, he took the morning off from work to take the train with me just to make sure I could find my office safely. That may sound a bit overprotective, but he actually taught me to be strong and capable over the years.
He often told me, "I didn't raise you and have you educated to take care of some man, but for you to be independent to a point and make sound decisions based on what's right for you." It was a tough thing to hear, but the last thing I would ever want to do is disappoint my father. He has sacrificed so much for my family over the years without ever needing a thank you.
From time to time, my mother says, "Ugh, you're definitely your father's daughter!" as some of my personality traits are dead on with my dad's.
For one, it's hard for me to show emotion - just like my dad. Every time I hear the song "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics, I think of my dad and how I should express my gratitude more often for the way he's been such a great father and role model over the years.
I know he still worries about me from time to time - it's his job. But I also have the luxury of knowing that if I make a bad decision or get laid off, I'll get through it. (I can always move home, right?)
Dad, you've taught me to be prepared for anything life throws at me. So, yes - I have six months of mortgage payments saved, am fully contributing to my 401(k), never let my gas tank fall below the quarter mark and always check the oil.
But no matter how old I get, I still need you there asking those important questions and looking out for me. Granddad would be so proud of the patient father and best friend you have been to us kids over the years.
Happy Father's Day! *