he older we get the more routine life seems to become – until mortality jumps out at us and throws everything into chaos. This happened to our family a few weeks ago after my father had his second heart attack and, for a few days, we were forced to confront the worse. My cozy, organized little life was turned upside down.
As I watched my father in his hospital bed, resting with wires protruding from his chest and arms, I remembered how much my life revolved around his. I couldn’t say what my first memory of my father was because he was always part of my life but one of my fondest memories of him was when he took my two sisters and me to the drive-in theater. This semi-weekly event was anticipated by all of us because it represented a family bond that we all still have to this day.
remember, when I was a little boy of perhaps seven, my parents loading us into our red and black 1956 Ford Galaxy. The two colors were separated by the thickest and shiniest chrome strip I had every seen and the car seats were covered with a thick plastic shield with bubbles in it so you would not stick when you sat down. We were never sure which Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy we would be watching. I remember how we had to wait in line in order to pay one price for the whole car.
My mother always directed my father to the middle of the lot, in front of the screen. We never drove to the front row because my mother said that if you got too close you would damage your eyesight. We always put the speaker in my father’s window. I could never talk my mother into letting my father place the speaker in my window because she said that if you sat too close you would damage your hearing.
hatever the movie was I never saw it all because I always fell asleep in the middle and so did my sisters. I would sleep all the way home until the rattle of the car hitting our driveway woke me up. I would still fake being asleep because I loved to be carried to my bedroom by my father. There was no better feeling of security in the whole world than having your father tuck you into bed and kiss you goodnight. The drive-in became one of my favorite memories of my childhood.
My father was a great athlete in his time. I know that most boys say this about their fathers but I have many scrapbooks to prove it. Right before World War Two he played for the Boston Braves and worked with people like Casey Stengle and Chuck Connors who went on to become the star of the television show “The Rifleman.” Then the war came and, like so many others, my father’s life took him down a different road. He spent his war years in the Navy and fought in Europe. I am just glad that my father’s road brought him back to me.
y father was also my little league baseball coach and I remember how proud I was that my teammates thought it was so incredibly cool to be coached by an ex-major league ball player. My popularity rose every time my father coached us to victory. In fact, I don’t remember a game we lost. I was never made to work harder than the rest of my friends just because my father was the coach. Thinking back I see that he not only taught me how to enjoy winning in life but also taught me the importance of teamwork and that it was impossible to succeed in anything without a plan and without a team. I don’t even think about this philosophy anymore because it became part of what I am.
A couple of times my father took me to work with him. In all of history he was the greatest salesman that ever sold a General tire. At least that is what I said. He sat in a large room with other men working the phone and taking orders while I sat quietly by his desk watching his every move. One thing I remember about those visits was the smell of the tires. I still love that smell. It may mean nothing to others but to me it brings back a memory I will never forget.
ometimes my father would ask one of the shop guys to show me around and I would marvel at the sight of a huge room filled with tires of every imaginable size, from the smallest that were used on forklifts to the giants that went on trucks that were bigger than a house. I remember the room where the shop guys hung out, where the walls were decorated with pictures of women who promoted some kind of auto part by wearing little or no clothes. The older I got the more I struggled to remember those pictures.
Watching my father in his hospital bed, I remembered a giant of a man I not only loved but also feared. I remember once when he chased me around the house after I had done something to make him mad and I slipped under the bed knowing that he was too big to follow me there. I actually thought I had won until the bed was lifted above my head and then dropped down again with a bang that shook the whole house. He did it again a few more times until I thought he would knock a hole in the floor and both the bed and me would fall through into the basement.
fter a few seconds that felt like hours he stopped but I stayed there and wouldn’t move until my mother made me come out for dinner. At the dinner table nothing was said about what had happened but the one thing I was sure of was that whatever I had done to make him mad I would never do again. During my teenage years some of my friends held a party at the house of another boy whose parents were away for the weekend. I never told my parents where I was going. The party was great and the house was wrecked. I was having such a great time I had no idea how late it was. Driving home at about three in the morning I knew I had a price to pay for this lack of consideration for my parents.
When I drove into the driveway I noticed that all the lights were out. As I walked up the front steps and ever so quietly opened the door I actually thought my parents knew I would come home when I thought it best. For a microsecond I became arrogant in the knowledge that I could go anywhere I wanted and come home anytime I thought best. Then, just as I stepped into the hallway, my father grabbed me and jammed me against the wall. He had me by my shirt collar and my feet dangling at least a foot above the floor.
e said nothing. He just stared into my wide-open eyes and held me there for what seemed like an eternity but must have been only seconds. He then let me fall to the floor and went upstairs to his bedroom. I learned another important lesson from my father that night. I learned that concern for others was synonymous with respect. I was never late for another curfew or deadline for the rest of my life.
As I watched my father in his hospital bed, with wires protruding from his chest and arms, all I could remember was how much he has given me.
A son’s tribute; to be half the man my father is.
By J. G. Fabiano.
James Fabiano is a teacher and a writer living in York, Maine, USA
e-mail him at: james.fabiano60@gmail