I usually opine on this blog on education issues but not today. Today’s post is dedicated to my dad who taught me to stand up for what you believe in. Rest in peace dad.
My father is a remarkable man who taught me to work for what I believed in, no matter what others thought or said and the importance of family. At times we misunderstood his stubbornness, and like all families we argued and disagreed. I am sure many of you know first-hand what I am talking about.
Yet despite those arguments at times, he was always there when his family needed him.
When we look back with today’s lens, at my father’s life, we see that he grew up in a time of unfathomable hardship, poverty and despair. Yet my father told us stories of his life through the eyes of a child who fondly looked at these times as one of good memories, and family.
He was born into a typical immigrant family that lived in the poorest tenement, where families and rats shared a toilet in the hall, took baths in the kitchen sink, and slept on fire escapes in the summer. Yet he always described these living conditions fondly to us.
At 8 yrs old he was sent to a Catholic orphanage with his brothers Augie and Carmine because his parents just couldn’t take care of them. Imagine what that must have been like. Living in a dormitory that wasn’t heated very well, wearing too thin of a uniform, in conditions that would never be allowed today. Yet when my dad described these times to us, he told us of good times with his brothers and Father Kenny teaching him to swim and looking forward to his mother’s visits.
At 10 yrs old he began working to help his family. He sold paper bags on Park Avenue, and the Daily News on the Subway at night. Can you even imagine sending your 10 year old to Times Square to sell newspapers on the subways? Even at 10 yrs old he helped support his family.
At 12 yrs old he was still working to help his family by delivering furniture on a pushcart, or delivering ice. He would shine shoes in the bars along 3rd avenue and would eventually make his way to central park where he would shine the shoes of sailors on leave after Pearl Harbor
He would always give his mother most of the money he earned, because even despite the hardships then he knew the importance of family. He eventually began working with his brothers in a printing shop, until he joined the army. Again family working together.
There were times when his home life was not a happy one. His father was a heavy drinker and often abusive to his mother and the family. So, he joined the army to escape that, yet he continued to send most of his pay home. After his service in Korea and Germany he returned home to find that things were not much better, so he went to live with his Army buddy Walter’s family in Ohio. In Ohio he once again scrapped together a living until finally coming back home. Because he knew deep down that family was important.
He may not have shown it all the time but he always remained loyal to family values despite times of bitter turmoil. His home was always open to family, whether you needed a place to live there for a while, stop in for a drink or 3, or just a place to sit and chat. My father’s door was always open to family.
As his own family started to grow he always taught us family came first. We never went without, even when he had to work two or more jobs to make sure my sisters and I had what we needed. He was always there when we needed him, whether it was fixing a pipe, painting a wall, or trying to fix our cars. He was a fixture at all of our children’s plays, concerts, and especially ball games. Even when his health was failing, he would be there, cheering and rooting for his grandchildren to give that ball a ride.
You see, spreading his love and joy for family was his life’s mission. In his last days he assured us that he will always be there for us, and I believe he is and always will.