A tribute to my father.
|My father is a legend. I didn't really know him but, because he is legendary to me, his legend shaped who I am. I know him mainly through photographs and stories told to me by my mother, my aunts and uncles, and my older brothers who had a chance to know him better. I suspect that many of those stories were embellished or made more epic as there were told and retold over the years, and I often wonder what kind of man I would have become had dad been with me throughout my life
My father died when I was three years old so I have only vague memories of him. I remember playing 'peek-a-boo' with him on an old beige sofa my family once had. I remember sitting on the floor in front of him as he sat in an easy chair. Looking up at his six-foot four-inch stature he seemed gigantic to my then-tiny self. My clearest, and most treasured memory, is romping with dad and my brothers on my parent's bed.
We really weren't allowed to play on the bed, let alone roughhouse there, but mom was away and dad was alone with his boys. We would charge (or, in my case at the time, wobble with determination) at him and he would toss as onto the bed. A grand time was being had until mom was heard coming into the house upon her return. Without missing a beat dad went from hurling one of my brothers onto the thoroughly disordered bed to pretending to chastise my brothers and me for playing on the bed. I remember the conspiratorial grin dad had on his face as he whispered instructions to my brothers to help him make the bed before mom came upstairs and discovered the severity of our transgression against household rules.
The few other memories I have of him are murky at best, but I always knew I had had a father that loved me. Those memories combined with the stories and tall tales my family told me made my dad a legend to me. For me, dad was a personal legend: someone that I knew was real but whose fabled exploits and character could not have as stupendous as they had been portrayed to me. In my mind my dad is in the same category as Daniel Boone, Davy Crocket, and Jim Bowie: real historical figures whose exploits I later realized may have been exaggerated over years of retelling. Dad's legend gave me a standard of manliness and familial loyalty that I still aspire to.
Dad truly was an accomplished soldier. A veteran of the Korean War and winner of the Bronze Star, he was also an Army Ranger. He was captured by, and promptly escaped from, the North Korean Army. He also taught marksmanship to new soldiers. After the army, he labored in a Pennsylvania steel mill to provide for his family. He was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for marrying my protestant mother and refusing to take an oath saying that he would raise his children as Catholics. He was a man of courage, determination, and principles. Even after his death, he was a perfect role model for a growing boy.
There have been times when people have expressed sympathy for me because I grew up without a father. While I always appreciate such expressions, the truth is that there is no reason for them. Because I did, and do, have a father. He is always, always with me. His example, exaggerated or not, has always been a guidepost as I made decisions throughout my life. My memories of him, although few and blurred by time, are memories of his love. I would have loved to have known him as I grew up, but his essence is always with me. Sympathy for my lack of a patriarchal influence is misplaced. I didn't just have a father, I had my own, personal legend.