Friday, June 13, 2014

Father's Day

For Father's Day this week I'm sharing a piece from my aunt's blog. It is about her father, my grandfather and I love it. Go read her anytime at

June 2014 ~ Father's Day Memories of my Father

Probably  the most unappreciated job in our culture is “father”. He is the butt of jokes calling him clueless. He shows up in TV commercials as the one asking the stupid question or behaving like a dimwit.  A man’s home may be his castle but he’s regrettably portrayed as more court jester than  knight in shining armor. In our family the role of a husband had been defined  by my grandmother O’Donohue whose infamous line was “It’s not a fit night out for man or beast. Let your Father go.”

But in truth and in life, a Father is most often that knight. He struggles to make money he almost never sees as it flies out to cover family bills. He carries you when your ankle is sprained, comforts you when bad dreams terrify and confronts your mean teacher/coach/boss. He refinances his house to pay for your education and foregoes the new car to pay for your wedding. He is your life-long safety net and most trusted advisor. And when he’s gone there is a void no one can ever, ever fill.

My own Father was the original alpha male. A child of the depression his first job (while still in fifth grade) was  as a look-out for a floating crap game. He never did finish high school when he married he had to supplement the income from his Hell’s Kitchen diner by pushing a hot dog wagon down by the NY docks. One sweltering day, when the fleet was in, he realized that families in line who couldn’t afford his Orange Crush were parched so he began going up the line giving out small cups of water. Free. Now here comes an anomaly . . . a good deed that wasn’t punished. The iconic Parks Commissioner Robert Moses rode by and noticed this kind act and had an aide contact Dad to offer him concessions in some of the city parks. Soon, with umbrellered carts all over the metropolitan area, he’d built such a fine reputation that in 1941 he was offered the Tiffany of concessions . . . the state owned historic Bear Mountain Inn up in the Hudson Valley, which he managed magnificently for the next 25 years.

But think about taking over a country hotel in September ’41.  Three months later war was declared and with it came gasoline rationing, food rationing and ruination. Then Dad saw an item in the Daily News that the major league ball clubs would no longer be able to travel south to Florida for spring training so he found the Dodger office in Brooklyn and offered them a deal . . . come north instead. But the  boss, Branch Rickey, thought it wouldn’t work because the weather would confine the team indoors.

So Dad then drove the few miles from the Inn to West Point where he assured the Commandant that his  cadets were about to be perceived as draft dodgers and the Academy needed some good publicity like giving over their huge indoor Field House to the Brooklyn Dodgers. With that deal done the Dodgers trained at Bear Mountain for the next four years. The football Giants came too and the Knicks and the Golden Glovers and they stayed on into the sixties. 

Along the way my Father was considered such a friend to West Point that he was made an honorary graduate and to this day an award in his name is given out at graduation. (An honor that proved more enduring than his solid gold pass to Ebbetts  Field.) Providentially his connection to West Point gave him the chance to recommend an old friend (who’d been coaching high school football) for a job with the Army team. His old friend was Vince Lombardi who later got to know the NY Giants as they trained at Bear Mountain. And the rest, as they say, is history. 
Still in the game of modern fatherhood my Dad would have struck out.  He never read any of his six children a bedtime story or helped with homework. He never came to our school events although Dad was once blackmailed into attending my brother John’s high school graduation because he was valedictorian.  And later proclaimed it was the best speech given since the Gettysburg Address. And he should know!

Dad took care of us all . . . Mother, her mother, his mother and was a soft touch for all who knew him. His motto was “Never resist a generous impulse” which has infused his children and their children with their remarkable generosity. In his later years he was a millionaire and knew three presidents and dozens of celebrities.  He had friends in high places and not so high places and treated them all the same. And his faith demanded that no priest or nun ever got a dinner check and that the many groups of disadvantaged children who visited the park were guaranteed free drinks and ice cream.

He believed that to run a business there was only one rule . . . you had to be good to your customers and be good to your employees. His was one of the first corporations to offer profit sharing to employees who knew they could always come to him for help and advice. As the biggest venue in the area, the Inn specialized in huge banquets which made for a crushing work load for the employees. So at the end of every big event, when he knew his staff was bone weary, Dad would take off his tie and jacket, roll up his sleeves and  help mop the floors. I heard that when a union representative attempted to organize his employees the poor fellow was lucky to get out alive.

While he demanded that each of his children got a college education and insisted that the boys get advanced degrees from Ivy League universities, Dad brilliantly educated himself with books. And since he came to learning later in life he brought an unusual perspective. One night as he was immersed in the Greek classics he shouted to Mother, “That Socrates was one smart son of a bitch”. 

As a Father he was our gallant protector and bountiful provider. And he did the most important thing a man can do for his children . . . he loved their Mother. Not that they were a perfect couple. My Father was, to say the least, mercurial, and Mother’s patience was stretched.  But she often had occasion to look at him lovingly and say a line I used a lot in my own marriage.  “I’m so glad I didn’t murder him yesterday.”