A BIG PARTY? “WAIT UNTIL I HIT 100”
He was born and raised in South Philly.
He lived in a small apartment with FOUR other siblings, his parents, and two aunts “from the old country”.
His father was almost as wide as he was tall (54” waist), but my dad was slim and athletic his whole life.
He graduated from Drexel with a degree in Architecture.
He was training as a bombardier in New Mexico in 1945 when the war ended.
He worked as an architect for his whole career, for both private companies and eventually Jefferson University Hospital.
He once played racquetball with Charles Barkley and Moses Malone-and had no idea who they were.
He met my mother when they were children and were married just one month shy of 65 years
He had a major heart attack one month later, on what would have been their 65th anniversary. He had no heart problems prior to that.
THE STROKE OF FATE-OR GOD-OR WHATEVER YOU BELIEVE
It wasn’t until I was an adult that my father told me his “war story”. He was training as a bombardier in New Mexico in the last months of World War II. The crew flew every day as they were training. One day, my father fell ill with what was called “desert fever” and had to stay in the infirmary.
The rest of the crew flew their regular mission. The plane crashed and everyone was killed.
How did he go on without experiencing “survivor’s guilt? How could he not fear flying after that?
QUIET, UNEMOTIONAL, BUT INSPIRING
What do I remember about my dad growing up? He didn’t talk a lot, but often took work home. He would be drawing and reading while the rest of us were watching TV at night. But he loved what he did, and that was the best lesson he ever taught me-love what you do, and you won’t mind working hard.
He was a very good athlete, beating guys decades younger in racquetball. I followed his footsteps in this area (ask John Clark!). He loved to play ball, but not to watch it. How did I ever get my interest in watching sports? Or going to Phillies, Eagles, or Sixers games? One time he did take me to Convention Hall to see Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia Warriors vs. Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. The seats were great. The game was a classic. And he fell asleep in the middle of it!
If there was one thing he wanted me to remember, it was his favorite saying. And it was his main philosophy of dealing with the world. It is “The Serenity Prayer”, by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. You might know it as the slogan of Alcoholics Anonymous:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
It took a long time for me to take that saying to heart, but my father accomplished his mission: every time I faced a challenge, I thought of the prayer.
THE HONESTY LESSON
It’s one thing to tell your children to be honest and to do the right thing-it’s another thing to “practice what you preach”. I’ve told this story to others in front of him, but he didn’t remember it. It was just a part of his personality, so it was nothing special to him. It was to me.
Dad took my 13 year old cousin and me (same age) to a drive-in movie (yes, they actually did exist). It was just the three of us. As we reached the toll booth, the cashier looked into the car and said to my father: “One adult and two children?” My father looked at the sign that said “children 12 and under” and said: “No-three adults.” It was such a simple (and unnecessary) thing to do, but it was the lesson of a lifetime.
ANOTHER LESSON-HANDLING TRAGEDY
My mother was the emotional one of the family. My father was the opposite, and he had experience handling tragedy in his past. The crash of his crew’s bomber in 1945 was not the only one. His younger brother (“the charming and handsome one”, he would say) died of an overdose in the early 60s.
The other event happened out of the blue. His only daughter, my younger sister Debbie, died suddenly in 1996 at the age of 39. We saw her on a Sunday, perfectly fine. But she died a mere two days later, leaving children ages 2 and 4. Of course, my mother was devastated, and never fully recovered. But my father’s calm, and patience, and optimism got them through a horrible time. Their devotion to their precious granddaughters also kept them going. And his attitude helped me get through it, too.
My father says he is proud of me. It’s because he made me that way.