Dad’s Top 10 Greatest Hits

As dad grew older, he could find Nirvana in the perfect peach, but when we were growing up his tastes were more macho, like watching “Combat” on TV.

My Dad passed away 14 years ago and I think about him every day, and especially now as we get close to Father’s Day.

Dad was a stoic man who was not a touchy-feely type. He would not have been cast in a MetLife commercial, giving his son a bear-hug and being misty-eyed as he watched his kids play. He was not in touch with his feminine side. He grew up with a macho Italian sensibility about manhood; his dinnertime conversation consisted of pointing at the dish that he wanted the women in the household to serve to him. The meal would always end with him complaining about how full he was. “I’m bufaad (full belly), he would say, just before he lit up the day’s tenth Pall Mall.

He was tough; he yelled and pointed a finger when he was angry. He watched “Combat” on our small black and white TV and we knew better than to whine about not being able to watch “The Flintstones.” He bowled. He didn’t use flowery language to show his love for us. We would have felt foolish getting him one of those sappy Father’s Day cards – the ones that have “What is a Father?” printed on the front and enough mushy verses for a Longfellow poem inside.

Yet as we grew up and became more mature and independent, we learned to appreciate the depth of Dad’s wordless love. We continue to marvel at it, 14 years after he’s gone.

Here are my 10 favorite times that he proved his love without saying a word.

1. When I was in fourth grade Dad stayed up all night to put together my Barbie Dream House, which I had bought myself with five weeks of allowance money. I woke up and came downstairs to see my Barbies lounging on their cardboard chairs the tiny Vogue record albums on Barbie’s coffee table nearby.  What I would have given to see him picking up my Barbies and deciding where to pose them!

2. He drove us all the way out to Montauk Point, Long Island, for one night – which was still a financial stretch — because he loved that place so much. Six of us stayed in a place called the Ronjo, which probably isn’t there any more. It is still one of my favorite memories of our family.

3. Dad built the world’s best air hockey table for my brother. Dad was never an engineer but he could figure out how to put together anything, especially if somebody he loved wanted it.

4. Dad was a terrific photographer who taught us how to develop film and print photos in his darkroom, which he built in the basement of our home. When I was my high school yearbook editor he became my photographer, taking great photos like this one from our school’s homecoming win in 1971.

5. Dad dropped me off at college at Penn State. I was the oldest and when he said goodbye it was one of only a handful of times I saw him tear up. Over a five-year period he shuttled my sister, my brother and I back and forth to Penn State every fall and spring, a total of eight hours for the round trip, which he always made in one day.

6. When my Mom was still working, Dad helped her entire office set up their computers, a volunteer effort that probably would have cost thousands in fees for paid techies.

7. Dad, who had never cooked, discovered a genius for cooking after he retired. We started coming home to wonderful pastas with fragrant sauces, homemade bread, and beautiful fruit tarts the size of bicycle wheels. He computerized many of the family recipes, and I still have some of those printouts, with perforated holes on each side, from his 80s-era dot matrix printer.

8. In my late 30s I smoked for a few years. One day Dad washed and vacuumed out my car and when I got back into it, I found a pack of Newport Lites that I thought had been missing on my front seat. Dad had probably found them under the seat but chose not to lecture me. Nor did he throw them away. After that I knew that he knew.

9. Dad loved picking his own fruit and he and my mom loved taking their kids and grand-kids along with them. He couldn’t wait to share his pickings with family, friends and coworkers. On a hot summer day he’d put the just-picked fruit in cushioned containers leftover from a Harry and David gift, then put it in the air-conditioned part of the car (never the trunk.)  The air conditioner kept churning, through traffic and pit stops, all the way home.

10. Dad showed us how to find the biggest strawberry in each cluster on the vine. I’ve since learned that this is called “the king berry.”

11. When I was a single mom my parents lived 20 minutes away. Dad often came over to my house with his toolbox in one hand and with a brown bag holding a loaf of his wonderful homemade bread – which my children called “Pop-Pop Bread” in the other.

[Well this is 11 things, but Dad was a 10-plus! Love you and miss you, Dad!]