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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Father's day

My dad was born on March 10, 1932. I suspect that the proximity of his birthday to the Irish national feast day was the reason his father named him Patrick. He was somewhere in the middle of six boys. I know that he had older brothers: Ted, Joe, and Jim, and I believe that Jake (Charles Jacob) and Bill were younger than he, and when his mother died and his father remarried (her sister), they had a daughter together named Mary Ellen. I know that Ted, Jim, Bill, and Mary Ellen preceded my dad in death, and as far as I know, Jake and Joe are still alive. I guess communication isn’t a strong point of the family!

Dad died in 1993, a couple of months before I moved from Phoenix to Chicago. He succumbed after a long battle with Pick's disease. All his life he had been the picture of health, and generally a man with a great sense of duty and a ready laugh. Both he and my mother were extraordinarily generous and sacrificing parents. I know that much of the time he was working two jobs to make ends meet, with seven children in the house in Phoenix. He was a lifer with the United States Postal Service, and also worked at a small grocery store some evenings and weekends. He and Mom would always have us lined up and ready for the 7:30 mass on Sunday mornings at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Phoenix.
Dad and I, in Ohio, probably 1955?

We had moved to the neighborhood of west Phoenix called Maryvale, near 51st Avenue between Thomas and Indian School Roads, in 1958 or so, my parents following my mother's parents to the Phoenix area. At the time, we lived on the edge of the desert, and it was not unusual at all to find horned toads, desert rodents and even snakes in the yard. Now, the old house is twenty miles or more from the western edge of the metropolitan area. On the positive side, I could pretty much throw a rock into the Milwaukee Brewers Spring Training facility on 51st Avenue from the old homestead, if only it had been built 50 years earlier.

Mom and Dad were founding members of St Vincent's; originally, we had been meeting at a Byzantine church on Sundays, which was little more than a quonset hut on 43rd Avenue and Indian School. But gradually, the community grew to a size where it could begin to support a building project, and they began to build a multi-purpose hall at what is now St. Vincent de Paul Church. My younger brother Terry and sister Cathy were in the school when it started. I started my career in the public system, and joined them there in the 5th grade. This is where I was profoundly influenced by the wonderful Daughters of Charity and the Vincentian Fathers, whose seminary I eventually joined in 1965 until leaving after three years of college in 1973.

My dad was a high school jock, so my younger brothers were more his kind of kids for most of his life, getting into football and baseball. I tried my hand at those things, but preferred not to get knocked out or, for that matter, run. I did find some athletic stride, eventually, in high school and college playing outdoor handball, but never got into the kinds of school sports that my brothers enjoyed. Later in his life, though, Dad became very interested in my writing, both my poetry and music. Often, he and Deedee, his second wife, would drive a lot more miles than they had to to come to church at St. Jerome or wherever I might be playing and have breakfast with my brother and me. When I was in college, he loved to read my poetry. I think he discovered that side of himself later in life.

It was very difficult watching disease waste him away for several years before the end. My brother David is a orthotist/prosthetist and has friends in the medical field who got Deedee to take him to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. Pick's disease is rare and hard to diagnose. In fact, it probably wasn't certain until after he passed away that that is what killed him. But he gradually fell deeper and deeper into dementia. Through all that, his beloved Deedee tended to him with the amazing love and mercy of an angel, and he never spent a day in the hospital until just before the end, when a series of seizures led to his rapid death. My brother Terry was really there for them a lot through those months and years, going to the house and giving Deedee time off to get some space away for a few hours at a time. I helped a few times, too, and learned quickly how hard the life must be for long-term caretakers of dementia patients. Sometimes Dad was listless, sometimes agitated, sometimes almost communicative, sometimes almost violent.

What endures in me about Dad is his sense of humor. I remember him laughing with us, watching Huckleberry Hound, Quickdraw McGraw, and other goofy cartoons of the era; I also remember him resenting the humor in Hogan's Heroes, because he felt that there was nothing to laugh about in the stalags. When I think of the difficulty of working as a mailman 8 or more hours a day in the Arizona sun, then coming home and going to work at a grocery store, stocking shelves and whatever else needed to be done, to make ends meet in the house, I'm amazed at the amount of commitment and sense of duty required to meet his own expectations. Later in life, when I was away, Mom and Dad kept his father and stepmother with them as they gradually succumbed to diabetes. It was during this time that he and my mother divorced, in 1972 or 73. As hard as that was on all of us, especially my younger siblings who were there at the time, Mom's love kept everyone healthy and together. We eventually came to accept my Dad as adults, and I certainly grew to love Deedee and appreciate their mutual love and her unfailing faithful devotion to him in sickness and in health. Now she herself is in an assisted living facility in Phoenix, dealing with the beginnings of dementia herself. Life is hard for everyone.

I guess I just wanted to remember him today. God bless you, Dad. May you rest in peace, in the shade somewhere. We all miss you. Deedee always said she would rather have you here as you were than be without you. May God give her the consolation shown to the merciful, and let her know that you are safe in the everlasting arms.

Now I have to deal with the reality that I'm a father too, and all my brothers are fathers, and my eldest son is a father, which makes me...(erase erase). Too much for one day! (And mom - thanks for holding it all together! xo. Your eldest and handsomest son, Rory)

2008 Gathering, L-R Aidan, Desi, Jeremy,
Joel (with Lenora) , Decko (with Amelia) , Me (with Chrissie)

Graduation week last month, L-R Desi, Claire, me, Decko

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