He smoked from the time he was 18, sometimes elevating his cigarette intake to four packs per day. Upon his honorable discharge from naval service after World War II, he became an apprentice butcher, eventually working himself through the ranks until he reached an executive position in the main office of a chain of supermarkets. Despite a pretty decent salary, my father — the world's worst handler of money — always seemed to be behind the eight ball. He never saved a dime. He left bills unopened and ignored. I remember my mother meeting a workman from the gas company on our front lawn, as she scribbled out a satisfying check, thus stopping him and his giant wrench from shutting off our heat.
My father took us on our last family vacation in 1968. After that, save for the occasional one-day jaunts to Atlantic City, my brother and I were on our own. It wasn't until we were in our teens that we went on what could be considered a proper vacation... at our expense, of course. At 18, we also paid our own way to further our education, wandering unprepared into a bank and arranging for our own student loans.
The once-successful supermarket chain that was my father's employer eventually went bankrupt and he found himself, once again, with a cleaver in his gnarled fist, back in a refrigerated workroom, surrounded by sides of beef. His life and career had gone full circle. After experiencing "stomach pains" that his incredibly high threshold for pain could no longer tolerate, he checked himself into a hospital. He fully intended to "take care of it" and get back to work in a few days. He was well aware that his illness was more severe than what a couple of swigs of Pepto Bismol could allay. However, he just ignored it, like he did all of those bills. And soon enough, just like the utility companies, death came to bite him on the ass. He passed away in 1993. He was in debt and his house was in a dreadful state of disrepair.
And, boy, what he has missed.
My son was six years old when my father died. My nephew was just seven months. They were small children with their entire lives ahead of them. Lives that — and I believe I speak for my brother as well — would be better than ours. Isn't that every parents' dream?
I spoke to my nephew at length last Friday and then my son came over for a visit on Sunday morning. I began to reflect upon the conversation that I had with these two remarkable young men. I thought back to when they were born. They both had great childhoods, each filled with toys and birthday parties and travel and family. They excelled in their school careers, each emerging with enviable intellect and sharp wit. With voracious passion for their chosen profession, they each headed out into the world determined and destined to make their mark, no matter how large or small. My nephew entered the realm of politics in a position that has him hobnobbing in and around Capitol Hill with the likes of senators, congressmen and the occasional Vice President. My son is a disc jockey on a local Philadelphia radio station or, as he modestly states, "a minor local celebrity." In addition to on-air duties, he produces broadcast segments, mixes sound for performances and seeks out that elusive song just bubbling under the surface, waiting to break out. For fun, he pals around with members of local and nationally-recognized bands.
My father didn't quite grasp what my brother (at the time, editor-in-chief of a newspaper) and I (graphic designer) did for a living. And he would have been totally baffled by the career paths of his grandchildren. But I do believe he would have been proud.
It makes me sad that he's not here to offer confirmation.