Finding Dad in Cyberspace

My dad, Guy Cipolla, died from cancer in March of 1998. All of us who were fortunate enough to know him and love him will never forget him.

Around my home and on my computer desktop are many photos of him, doing the things he loved the most: holding his grandchildren, picking peaches, fishing, and mostly just enjoying himself with his family.

I thought I had seen every photo of Dad until I got a message from my brother Dan last night. Dan, who is passionate about family history, has been looking online for information about the Cipollas. Last night he sent this message to my mom, my sisters Julie and Maria, and me:

“In commemoration of Veteran’s Day, I always look on line for information on Dad’s unit in the service. He was part of the 47th Bombardment Group, 84th Bombardment Squadron. I happened to stumble on some old pictures from a guy in his unit, and I starting looking. I found this—Does the guy with rolled-up sleeves look familiar? The hairline looks right, and the ears and eyebrows. It came under the title of ‘payday.’”

While much of his face isn’t visible, we instantly knew the handsome soldier second from the left in the photo was Dad. We instantly recognized his jawline and his habit of standing with his shoulders slightly forward and his hands in his pocket. It would be Dad’s official stance for the rest of his life.

While we had seen photos of him as a young man before, seeing this one felt different. It felt strange to pluck the photo from cyberspace rather than a family collection, and to realize it was a random photo taken by a stranger rather than somebody he knew. If his comrade had not decided to post his pictures online, and if Dan had not looked in the right place, we would have totally missed this photo, taken when Dad was about the same age as our sons are now.

It also felt strange to peer in from the future on this moment when we were not yet part of Dad’s life. Where was he in this photo? What was he talking about with the guy on the left? Who was he thinking about right then? Did he have any idea that within the next two decades he would have four children; within five decades he’d have a dozen grandchildren; and that 67 years later we would be looking wistfully at this photo on a computer screen?

Could he have known back then, as he bantered with his fellow squadron member, how much greatness was in store for him?

The man in the photo eventually became the father who loved us; showed us the primacy of family and loyalty; taught us to fish, to choose a ripe peach and to build things; and who was there for us always, at our greatest celebrations and lowest moments. He became the husband who fiercely protected his wife and his children (even from themselves); the coworker who was universally respected over more than three decades with the same company; the grandfather, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, neighbor and friend who inspired both respect and affection; and, more than 13 years after his death, the dad we miss every single day.