Like many veterans of World War II who lived through its conflicts and loss of life, my Dad didn’t talk a lot about what he witnessed. He was proud of his naval service as a boatswain’s mate on five battleships in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Occasionally, he’d mention battles in which his ships were engaged, among them Guadalcanal.
He enlisted at age 18 in 1941 shortly after Pearl Harbor and was honorably discharged in 1945, receiving one of the last citations issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt before his death. Although he never received a Purple Heart — something he’d occasionally mention with regret— he lost much of his hearing as a result of naval battles. His service in the U.S. Navy always meant a great deal to him and framed his life-long patriotism and love of country.
My Dad was a good man and a hardworking, great father. He loved my mother and his four sons. He was born before the Great Depression and was raised in poverty in what today we would call a “dysfunctional family.” Yet he remained attentive to his parents, buying coal for their furnace, turkeys for their Thanksgivings and trees for their Christmas celebrations. My Mom once told me that he had never celebrated Thanksgiving at home until they were married. I can’t imagine that!
He left school in fourth grade to help provide for his large family and never lost his sense of the importance of work, something he emphasized to his sons. After the navy, he found employment at the Budd Company in Philadelphia, a producer of metal products, and later took a second job as a bartender. He became a co-owner of a gas station and mechanic business in Feasterville, PA, “Flying A” sponsored by Tidewater Oil Company. In 1970, Tidewater was purchased by Getty Oil Company and the gas station took its name. He worked there building a successful business until retiring at age 62 in 1985.
My Dad was an athlete, playing baseball and golf. He especially loved “the 19th hole!” He played in the “Bing Crosby Pro-Am Open” in 1964, teaching my two older brothers to play, and continuing the game until a year before he died at age 83.
I have so many memories of my father. We didn’t have a lot of money but we never knew it. He was a quiet, self-made man who devoured the newspaper from cover to cover every day and was addicted to TV news. I marveled at his knowledge of the world. He asked a lot of questions. As I think back, I realize that those questions were his way of teaching and sharing his opinions rather than giving lectures or advice.
My most enduring memory is the way he took care of our home, planting flowers and working “in the yard.” As nighttime approached, he would sit in “his chair” out back with genuine contentment and watch the world go by. People jokingly referred to him as “the Mayor of Langhorne!”
All these thoughts and many more fill my mind and heart as Father’s Day comes around once more. Growing up, family life was not always easy but it is curious how the tough spots fade and only good memories take their place once you lose your Dad. Thanksgivings and Christmases, vacations at Ship Bottom or Barnegat, trips to Gettysburg, going out for spaghetti and meatballs, pancakes at the diner after Sunday morning Mass (6 am every Sunday!), working with him at the gas station or in the yard, driving to the seminary so many times, his tears of pride at family graduations, weddings, baptisms, my Ordination, sitting with him and Mom downstairs or outside and, then, being with him in his final moments. This is the story of “my Dad” … what would you write about yours?
Life really passes by quickly and our Dads can never be replaced. They deserve our gratitude for sure but much, much more. Father’s Day is not simply a holiday; it is an opportunity to express our love for them whether they are still with us or not. This year, we should not miss the opportunity to say thanks, Pop … I love you!