by BILL FREZZA
Summing up my father’s life, I keep coming back to one thought. Never will you meet a man who more faithfully lived his values.
My father was a teacher of all things. His method was simple. He taught by example. At any age, when faced with an ethical dilemma, after reflection, study, or even rationalization, I find myself coming back to one simple question. What would Dad do? His character is the foundation of my conscience.
My father’s teachings are endless. Let me share a few.
My father was strong in body, in spirit, and in commitment. He never missed a single day of class from kindergarten through high school graduation, his perfect attendance award being the one honor he remembers receiving as a child.
My father never let another man down. He fulfilled every obligation he ever undertook. His word was his bond, and everyone knew it. I never heard him utter a lie, nor intentionally deceive.
My father was self-made and self-reliant. From his education to his career, from his skill with every kind of tool that could fashion wood or metal, brick or cement, my Dad engaged with the world as a man who would be its master.
My father was proud to be an engineer. In his office, on the wall next to the shop production schedule and the tool and die calendars, was a framed quote from Herbert Hoover praising the virtues of the engineer. That quote hangs on my wall today. I imagine it will one day hang on the wall of my son Brian, who carries the engineer’s spirit into the world of science.
My father relished the good things in life including art and music, travel and photography, food and wine, and friends and family. While he never cultivated the intense relationship of a best buddy, or hunt or fish or play poker with the boys, the number of people who called my Dad friend was legion.
My father never made an enemy. Not one. While he most surely came across a few people he couldn’t countenance, he solved the problem by simply avoiding them. He always insisted that violence never solved any problem. He never once hit another man in anger.
My father was loyal. His faithfulness to the important people in his life could be seen in the way he steadfastly maintained ties with his childhood friends. From the streets of Manhattan in the ethnic ghetto where they grew up through the weddings, christenings, holidays, and now wakes and funerals that mark the arc of life, my Dad could always be counted on to be there.
My father was never stingy. Though he was a child of the depression who understood the value of a dollar and the importance of saving, the generosity he expressed with his money matched his generosity of spirit.
My father loved his martinis, teaching me to mix them for him when I was 12 years old. Yet I’ve never seen him visibly drunk, nor did he ever let strong drink cause him embarrassment, nor did he ever once get behind the wheel impaired. Moderation was his byword in all things.
My father was responsible to the very end. How many elderly people do you know who put down their car keys and voluntarily announce that they are no longer fit to drive?
My father loved a good joke, including every imaginable kind of ethnic joke. Yet his humor was never mean spirited, nor designed to hurt or humiliate. I never once heard him utter a racial slur, nor did he ever treat anyone of any station with anything other than respect and kindness.
My father spoke openly of his admiration for the female figure, yet as far as I know he never kissed another woman besides my mother. And he loved my mother with every bone in his body, his visible affection overcoming his usual reserve. Dad’s unflagging support for Mom’s personal development in her career and in life created the perfect balance creating a childhood for me and my sister that today seems like a lost American dream.
My father provided a home for his widowed mother from the time he and Mom were newlyweds, letting grandma build a second life filled with the joy of her grandchildren. While Mom carried the burden of sharing a roof with her mother-in-law, Dad did his best to foster domestic tranquility.
My father took in his in-laws when they became old and infirm, taking his turn changing his father-in-law’s diapers. He and Mom took in his elderly sister when she neared the end. And responsible man that he was, as Dad faced imminent infirmity he made sure that he and Mom were well situated so that when he was gone she would be well cared for in a community of their choosing.
Only twice did I ever see my father cry. The first time was in November 1963 when president Kennedy was shot. The second was in December 2001 when my son, his grandson and namesake, was taken from us shortly before his 22nd birthday. And while I knew Dad was as torn up inside as I was, his crying ceased long before mine did. Because he knew it was his job to be the rock for me to lean on.
My father had a quiet dignity, respecting himself the way he respected others. As he faced his final days, his body ravaged with the cancer that ate his bones, he occasionally lost his good humor. But he never had one moment of self-pity. The day before he passed when the hospice nurse asked him how he was doing, he gave the same answer he gave every day. I’m fine.
My father gave me a parting gift. He waited for me before he passed, to be sure his son would be there to comfort his beloved wife when his time came. The last words I was blessed to be able to share with him as I caressed his withered brow the night before he died were the same words we said to each other every night for the past year when we finished our daily phone call. I love you.
Farewell, Pop. You did good. You did real good.