My dad was a cowboy.
My dad was strong and brave and he was a man of his word.
My dad answered to no one and followed the advice of his own experience and intuition.
He always did what he thought was the right thing and was disgusted when others did not.
He held himself and everyone he cared about to the highest of standards and for that reason, unfortunately, he was often disappointed. He was very sensitive. He didn’t like to show that, or even feel it, but he hated to be disappointed.
He saw no gray in life, there was a right way and a wrong way to do things and he had no interest in hearing about or patience for dealing with things that were not being done the right way.
Whether we were raking leaves or pulling weeds or painting a room or planning a vacation – there was an order, a process that needed to be followed.
He loved my mom. He knew, as we all did, that he could not have handled most of what life dealt him if he didn’t have her, having his back. They loved each other and stood by each other when most people would have quit. He lived with his actions and consequences and used courage and honor to move past them, and she allowed him to do that. He admired her. He respected her. And they were a team that many of us can take a lesson from.
My dad had honor. He had a strict moral compass. He was macho and handsome and loved to flirt, well past the years that women loved flirting back.
He liked vacation. Vacation was the one week of the year that he calmed down and let the rules slide a bit.
I remember arriving at the hotel on a beach vacation one time – we had just walked into our room, put our stuff down and my dad went to the balcony and looked down at the beach and the waves hitting the sand. He told us kids to get our bathing suits on and within minutes the 5 of us were in the ocean, jumping and riding waves and enjoying our vacation, only 10 minutes in. My mom was setting up house, likely just as happy to be alone to tend to things as we were to be at the beach.
I remember watching the 1986 play-offs and world series with him. Every game. I remember Jesse Orosco’s last pitch and Gary Carter’s leap from the ground to the mound when we won.
I remember feeling like me and my dad were the only people in the world during those games.
I’ll never forget the feeling of hitting my first (and only) grand slam in Little League around that same time period and telling him and my grandfather about that. They were home watching the Mets, my mom and I got home and I ran into the family room to find my dad and grandparents and I said “I hit a grand slam!”
I remember martinis, peanuts, Vienna sausages and pepperoni with provolone cut into tiny angles.
I remember quadding in the woods with my dad. Ice skating on the lake. The raft test.
“If you can’t climb up on it, you’re not big enough to play with it.”
“Do the right thing.”
I remember the feel of his hand when I held it. Warm and rough.
I remember getting the Novocain shots and the stitches in my leg after I fell off the rope swing. It hurt like hell but he held my hands and I felt like I was tying his arms in knots, pulling and screaming and crying. But he stayed steady and strong for me.
I remember him walking me down the aisle on my wedding day and how we made fun of Deborah for crying before she went down the aisle, laughed so hard that my stomach hurt, but as soon as I turned the corner to go down the aisle, I lost it and he said “holy shit” under his breath and held my hand tighter and passed me to Jay.
I knew that he loved Jay and was so proud of us for finding each other and doing the right thing.
I remember struggling to nurse Abby when she was first born while my dad sat in the hospital room with me. He never flinched and I know it was not a pretty sight.
I knew my dad really well. Not just because he was my dad but because he and I talked. We were friends.
We talked about life and relationships and money and family and houses and politics. We talked about his life and the things that he did and faced and lived through. He never said what I should or should not do, but he did tell me things like “I’ve been there, I understand that.” And I knew he did, because I knew him, and that was enough for me to figure out what to do.
I tell the truth.
I work hard.
I treat others as I would like to be treated.
That is what my dad taught me.
We didn’t always agree. There were a lot of times that I completely, flat-out, whole-heartedly disagreed with him. And I would be scared to say it, but I did say it. And that usually ended the conversation. We had to agree to disagree because no one was changing either of our minds. And neither of us wanted to stop talking to the other one.
But sometimes it would blow that conversation up and we would yell. And that was good, too. Because you need to yell and be heard sometimes.
When we were kids my dad never came upstairs. Upstairs, in our rooms, that was our refuge. Because downstairs we might get in trouble for not having something on our feet, or leaving the tv on for 15 seconds while we went pee. Or having more than one lamp on or drinking in the family room or, god forbid, eating in there.
Once or twice a year, he did come upstairs. Maybe he timed it for when we were all up there. It was like an inspection. One of us would hear his first foot hit the first stair and it was like slow-motion. “Dad’s Coming Up!” And we would all snap into action. Decorations came down off walls, radios got turned down or off, school books spread out as if we were all cramming for finals, food or drinks got stowed, doors that were open got closed and vice versa. It was amazing the transformation that could take place in the seconds it took my dad to climb the stairs, deliberate, heavy breathing step after deliberate, heavy breathing step.
And then it would hit you – as you were sitting on your bed, studying with no drink, no radio and only 1 lamp on – you left a tack in your wall. And you knew he would see it. And you knew you were about to be grounded.
We had to let the phone ring twice before we answered it.
We had to use proper phone manners as well as demand it from whomever may be calling us.
No one could ever beep in the driveway to pick up us, and we had to be in by 6 on school nights, 10 on the weekends… until we were all in our twenties.
Not everyone got my dad. People liked him or disliked him, but not everyone understood him.
He was a complicated man who tried to live very simply. He tried to do the right things and he always did his best.
I loved my dad so much and I will miss him every single day for the rest of my life.