Had he lived, today would have been my father's 89th birthday. Time to post this rerun.
I've written a lot so far about my mother, and a little bit about them as a couple, but not too much about my dad. That's partly because while I have a lot of pretty horrific memories of him from my childhood, I know now that much of his bad behavior was driven by my mother and maybe even by clinical depression, and I have forgiven him.
At heart, he was a very warm guy. He really liked us as babies (good thing, because my mother handled us like we were radioactive), pretty much until we got big enough to block the TV. He had a really strong Brooklyn accent, which made me laugh even as a child. He said "Oil" when he meant "Earl", and "earl" when he meant "oil". I remember pointing it out to him once, but I think he clocked me one. He was a gadget freak. We didn't have a lot of money...he was a mailman afterall. But we always had new cars, air conditioning before anyone else, more than one TV before that was the norm, and electric EVERYTHING. Electric can opener, card shuffler, back scratcher...you name it, we had it. He even bought an electric cigarette-roller. That didn't work so well. (He didn't score the first COLOR TV on the block, though. My grandparents did! )
I think because I was the third girl and he was probably hoping for a son, he taught me everything I know about baseball, boxing, engines, and of course it was Sal who taught me how to handicap racehorses (a talent I displayed to a nun for Show & Tell in 6th grade). He even brought me to the track once and let me pick his horses, but I did a little too well and he thought it better not to bring me back.
One of the best things he left me with, although unknowingly, was a collection of bawdy 78rpm records by a singer named Ruth Wallis, the queen of the double-entendre. I found the records as a teenager, hidden at the back of his collection along with the Belle Starr ones. One was called "Johnny's Little Yo-Yo" ("Johnny's got the same little yo-yo...that he had when he was a kid") and "Loretta's a Sweater Girl" ("...how does she steal away each fella's heart? She's got two outstanding reasons...she's cute and she's smart!"). I played them, memorized them, and entertained the "troops" by belting them out on High School bus trips.
While his sense of "humor" could be mean (sending my sister to the hardware store for "elbow grease") and sadistic (burying hated lima beans in my ice cream), it has also provided us with running jokes that will live on through my kids. ("Sing by the window and I'll help you out.")
So, while there are a lot of mistakes he made that will stick with me forever (I cannot listen to the 10,000 Maniacs song, "What's the Matter Here?" without blubbering), I can also say that he gave me valuable gifts...humor, a penchant for trivia, a love for sports and movies and Soupy Sales...and he made his peace with me by loving my children.
A few years before he died, I found the perfect Father's Day card for him. On the outside it said: "Dad, you know how I drove you crazy for so long?" and on the inside..."I'm almost done."