thinking about my father

I remember how he almost stumbled
going down the aisle
in Our Lady of Peace
to pray the Sunday
before his operation
he seemed frail to me
that day
and I was embarrassed
as if I had a right to be
this man who won 26 fights
one summer
who raised 7 brothers and sisters
because he was the oldest son
after his stepfather died
and then his mother
took them all in
to his home with my mother
newly wed
counted out his tips
on the kitchen table
all those years of his life
those tips that kept us solvent
inflated his salary
to make us almost middle class
the glasses sliding down his proud nose
his hand brushing his hair
as he squinted at the line on boards
cut lumber
put up a new kitchen wall
put a roof on the garage
panelled the bedroom
worked every day of his weekends
to make my mother happy
the odd jobs around the house
that only vacation in East Hampton
when he found peace fishing
or the times we went crabbing
at Montauk Point
he tried to teach me to box
when I asked him what dago meant
and told me never to let anyone
call me that again
if they’re bigger than you
he said
put something in your hands
a stick, a rock
anything
but don’t let anyone
disrespect you
and he looked me in the eye
said there’s only two ways you leave a fight
on your feet
or being carried out
on your back
but you never back down
and when I told him of the picket line
at White Castle
of the things being said at school
he said never judge anyone
till you’ve stood in their shoes
sometimes
after he died
I’d have these conversations
with him in my head
and I’d see those eyes
the way his hands moved
when he talked
the glasses sliding down his nose
the sleeves rolled up
the tie loosened
his voice louder than the rest
and I want to say
Dad, I’d like to know
or
Dad, how is it that
or
Dad, what do you think of
or
how come I’m older
than you ever were
why is that so
and I’m sorry
so sorry I pretended
I didn’t see you on the bus
that night I was coming home
and you sat in the front
reading the paper
the lines in your face
deep from all those years
of work
why was I so stupid
in my teenage years
to let that opportunity
slip by
I’d give anything today
this night
to sit on that bus again
next to you
and talk the whole way home

42 thoughts on “thinking about my father

  1. A hymn most of us could write about our own fathers were we honest enough to celebrate the mystery at the heart of father/son son/father love . . . Your poem took me back so many years to acknowledge the moments wasted playing hide ‘n’seek with my the man’s shadow . . .

  2. Marvelous, Len. Your father and mine would have been great friends had circumstances made it possible. Like you, I often sit near Daddy’s grave and ask him what to do in those times when I’m confused and need his always helpful, confident opinion. I actually hear his voice and look forward to spending time with him. As anyone who reads my blog knows, he was a most extraordinary, ordinary man.

  3. Yesterday was my weekly conference with my dad’s hospice nurse. She said things like “increasing amounts of confusion” and “the coldness is creeping further up his legs” and in my head I was ticking off items on what I call the Death Checklist (which may not be the official term for it) and wondering how – and why – he was still hanging on.

    And first thing this morning I read this poem.

    Thank you.

  4. This is an amazing tribute and I understand the regrets left behind. I frightened my parents on more than one occasion, both involved staying the night at friends without permission. A girl with the same name as me, was hit by a car. This sent my parents rushing to the hospital, since they didn’t know where I was. I’m sure I said I was sorry, but being only 13, I look back and wish I’d apologized when I was older, before my father died.

    • Thank you. There is always regret when anyone loses a parent or even a sibling at an early age. We lose them before we really know them or truly appreciate them because we are still wrapped up in our own youth. It’s a regret we carry with us the rest of our lives but hopefully makes our dealings with other loved ones better. Again, thank you for appreciating & identifying with this.

  5. You know I could read this everyday and read something different every time,it a great piece
    You have express it so it brings tears to my eyes
    Just a really great piece
    Thank you for visiting
    As always Sheldon

  6. I was very moved with the gentle and poignant words you wrote about a father who really tried his best. What may give you comfort is most parents understand things we don’t and forgive us our mistakes, too.

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