Ads for almost everything continually remind us that Sunday is Father’s Day. On that day dads will enjoy an exemption usually reserved for the dead: We won’t speak ill of them. We might even exaggerate their virtues.
But being an old man myself I hereby exempt myself from that custom. I will tell some truth about my father. He was generally a good dad, but my first memory of him is painful.
I was 3 or 4. My father was busy that night in the cellar, so on my way to bed I detoured down the stairs to share our customary goodnight kiss. But he said something like, “I think you’re too old now to be kissing me.” I can’t remember if I was stunned, but I’ve never forgotten it.
I guess he was worried about my masculinity. Masculinity was important to him. Maybe he feared caressing and caring for children detracted from his masculinity. But in his later years he became the neighborhood grandfather. His paperboy had tears in his eyes when he asked me, “How’s Tony?”
A few years after we stopped kissing, I decided I was also too old to call him “Daddy.” In those days the Sunday comics had a strip titled, “That’s My Pop,” so I started calling him Pop, and did so all the rest of his life. So did my wife, Mamie, and our two children. He seemed to like it.
On the whole, Pop was a good man. We never went to bed hungry or cold, which many Americans did in the 1930s.
We always ate our evening meal around the dining-room table. I think that was Mother’s idea. All our plates were stacked in front of Pop. He filled them and passed them to us. I don’t know whose idea that was.
We had lively discussions around that table. If the topic was sports, Pop and my sister, Mary, had the most to offer. She was nine years older than me and athletically talented. If the topic was history, Mother and I did most of the talking.
Now fast-forward to December 1981. I’d been living in California 29 years. My cousin, Leo, called to say Pop was in the hospital with severe heart disease. Pop had been taking care of his oldest sister, Ann, whose mind was ravaged by dementia. Leo and his wife stayed with her until Mamie and I could fly to Rochester.
In a few days we succeeded in placing Ann in a nursing home, where another cousin’s mother-in-law was already living. Pop said, “You handled that as well as any lawyer could.” I was deeply pleased.
He died three months and two hospital-stays later but not before I offered one day to shave him. He let me. It was an electric razor so no blood was shed. He seemed pleased.