My father passed away last Monday, August 10th at about 1AM. I had been expecting the call since early Sunday morning when he was taken off the respirator, but he rested quietly for nearly a full day before passing peacefully. My mother and brother were with him at the end. I am only now able to write about him without losing all semblance of control.
My father set the standard for fatherhood. The driving force in his life was the welfare of his family. He was a truck driver and later dispatcher and supervisor at a large trucking company. The same company for 28 years. Despite rather meager earnings, he made sure my Mom and we five kids had a home to live in, clothes on our backs, food to eat, and whenever possible, a vacation to the campgrounds of New Hampshire and beyond. I thoroughly enjoyed my younger years. We lived in a nice neighborhood full of kids our age and spent every minute possible outdoors either playing sports or exploring the woods surrounding our neighborhood. When we were old enough, my Dad scraped together the money to buy us an aboveground pool for the backyard. We had a pop-up tent trailer camper we used as our home away from home on countless camping trips. After winter storms Dad would come home from a long day at work and spend hours digging out bobsled runs down the hill in our backyard. He’d drag out the hose and ice the runs for us so we could have a ball racing down them for days after the storm. When we started to outgrow our house, he had an addition added to accomodate upstairs rooms. He had the addition framed and roofed professionally, but did all the interior finish work himself, again, after long hard days at work.
My father also set the standard for employees. He believed you gave a full day’s work for a full day’s pay every single day. He had no patience for anyone who slacked off or had a bad attitude at work. His feeling was, if you don’t like it, go work somewhere else. The following quote is from a truck driver who worked with my Dad for many years. He wrote us a letter last week to tell us how he felt about Dad. He related a story of how he was angry with management one day and intentionally failed to finish his route. My father jumped all over him:
He then told me that this is a company and you’re being paid to do your best work every day regardless of what differences you might have with certain management. He said, if you want my respect you better go out and do the job you were paid to do!
That was my father’s work ethic. Do the job you get paid to do. If you didn’t know how, he’d show you. If you were doing it wrong, he show you the right way. If you were goofing off or had a bad attitude, he’d show you the door.
Despite being tough as nails at the office, my father was gentle and quiet at home. When he had to occasionally work weekends, we’d sometimes go to work with him to give my Mom a break and to have fun pushing each other around the docks in freight dollies. One day I overheard my Dad talking with one of the mechanics and I was shocked to hear him swear. I had never heard so much as a “damn” from him. Later in life I met folks who had worked for him and they told me of his fearful rants at people who were screwing up. It was an image of my father I had never seen. My father was the guy who gladly allowed himself to be hauled up on stage at Disney World so the performers there could dress him in a tutu. He was the guy leading the chain of air mattresses down the Saco River in New Hampshire. He was the gentle giant who would always be there to protect us. He was the man who never raised his voice to my Mom.
My Dad was also the consummate driver. He started driving in his early teens, moving trucks around the yards for a local trucking company. After enlisting in the Marines and fighting in the Korean War, he returned to trucking and drove for years until a loading dock accident resulted in a badly broken leg. He drove us all over the country on camping trips and made a dozen round trips to Florida from Massachusetts to visit my sister. And in 64 years of driving, he had no accidents and his only ticket was a parking ticket. During his convalescence from the broken leg, we earned extra money to make up for his lack of overtime by assembling those black pens that come with most desk sets. We’d sit watching Batman on TV and eating popcorn while we screwed together those pens. To this day whenever I see a black pen pointed on both ends with a silver band in the middle, I can smell the plastic and hear Batman. Fond memories, though.
Once my Dad retired he and my Mom would spend their time with the Swim With a Special Child program. They’d spend hours every week helping disabled or autistic kids learn to swim. My Mom had already been doing it for years and spent 15 years in all helping kids; often the same kids. She saw many of them grow to adulthood.
Last October my Dad started having problems breathing. His heart valves were failing and were unable to remove the water building up in his lungs. They needed to be replaced. The surgery was difficult and he nearly died in the OR, but he fought the odds and survived. For a while it looked like he might be able to return to a less active lifestyle at home, but infections and pneumonia teamed up against him. He fought a valiant fight. No one who knew him would have expected anything less.
On the eve of their wedding, my Mom read a poem to my dad that she had written earlier in the day. It was about their future life together. Exactly 54 years later, on the eve of their 54th anniversary, my sister read that same poem at my Dad’s funeral. It was the saddest day of my life.