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The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch
  • Alice Coyle: A Father’s Day tribute to my dad

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  • I passed the Father’s Day cards in the Walgreen’s last weekend and felt a lump in my throat.
    Ordinarily I’d be poring over the selection – the funny ones of course because we’re a funny card family – not a mushy card clan. I’d seek out something with Lucy from the Peanuts gang making some sort of wisecrack, and then maybe another more sentimental one too, I never seem to be able to pick just one card to send to my dad.
    I’ll have to get it in the mail by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest to get it to Pennsylvania in time for Father’s Day. It seems ridiculous but if I don’t send it priority mail, it can take five or more days to get there, I’d be thinking.
    If this was last year.
    My dad died Jan. 30, two weeks exactly after his 82nd birthday. Melanoma ultimately took my dad from us but he had been slipping away bit by bit for a couple of years due to dementia. He knew who we were, but had lost his words in the end, making it hard for him to tell us what he wanted to say.
    And my dad always had so much to say, so many stories to tell (many of them over and over) of his younger days as a Boy Scout, Eagle Scout and Scoutmaster. And of his time in the Navy as a young officer aboard the U.S.S. Randolph. He loved the Navy, and after his active duty served more than 30 years in the reserves as a supply officer rising to the rank of captain. He never wanted to retire from the Navy or from his civilian job as chief executive officer for the Kidney Centers of Delaware and Chester Counties. I remember in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks how much he wanted to help, to volunteer, to get back involved with the Navy – at 69 years old.
    My dad worked hard and led by example. And he was reliable. If he said he was going to do something he got it done and went above and beyond in its execution.
    He was not just handy, he was able to design, engineer and build anything. My dad could convert a garage into a library, construct an outbuilding and a backyard pavilion complete with a cupola, a front porch, and my favorite – our cabin in the Poconos.
    A stickler for details, these projects took months to complete but they were done right, everything level and always ship shape. He set a good example for us all in his work ethic and desire to do things the right way, not the easy way.
    My dad was generous and kind not only to his family and friends but even to strangers or those down on their luck. He related to and rooted for the underdog and was willing to lend a helping hand.
    Page 2 of 3 - On one occasion, my dad and mom were out with a friend they took to dinner weekly. On the way home from the restaurant they came to a railroad crossing and saw a man lying perilously close to the tracks. He looked sick or disabled in some way and my father simply wasn’t going to drive by or let a tragedy unfold on his watch. They managed to get the man up off the tracks and into the backseat of my dad’s car. The man was clearly inebriated and it took some time to ascertain where he lived but eventually my dad got him home safely, very likely saving his life.
    Another example of his generosity came during a visit to Massachusetts. We were out for dinner early before heading to a concert and there weren’t many diners in the restaurant except one large table filled with special needs adults and their chaperones from an area group home. We were seated right next to them and they were noisy and I was thinking, “Oh Lord, this won’t be good.” They were finishing up their dessert when my father called our waitress over; I held my breath.
    What came next surprised me completely. My dad told the waitress he wanted to pay the tab for the group at the table next to us but expressly told her not to let the chaperones know who was picking up the check. The waitress gave in and told the chaperones after they asked repeatedly who was behind this act of kindness. My dad was furious the waitress had given him away – he wanted his generosity to be anonymous.
    He often seemed gruff or intimidating, but my dad’s bark was always worse than his bite. He could be quick to anger, but was faster to forgive.
    Family was so important to my dad and he always wanted us with him; wanted the people he knew or worked with to know us. So we were on board for a business trip to Boston or a Navy trip to Norfolk or Newport, all five of us for eight hours packed into the back seat of the Volkswagen or the Oldsmobile with a cooler full of sandwiches and apples and the stern warning – “Hit the head before we leave, because we’re not stopping!”
    As the youngest and the only girl in our family, I had a special relationship with my father as dads and daughters often do. When my older brothers or cousins picked on me, my dad was my champion. When I was a little girl he called me “honey-bunch” and when I got older I called him “Daddy-O,” which drove him crazy.
    He was not outwardly affectionate or effusive with praise, but my dad was always proud of us. When I worked at his company for a few summers as a teenager, his colleagues would tell me how he bragged about us constantly. And he wanted the best for us always.
    Page 3 of 3 - I miss my dad and think of him daily. While I have lived several states away from my family since heading off to Boston College, the miles have never truly separated us or severed the closeness we shared.
    Last month all of the first cousins on my dad’s side came together for a reunion cookout – a plan devised the day of my dad’s funeral. My cousin Joanne noted the only time we all got together was for funerals, and that our children don’t even know their cousins. This would be a chance to gather for a happy occasion.
    And it was happy, and sad. My dad was very much with us in our thoughts, amid laughter and tears, and in the funny stories remembered and retold on a sunny afternoon in May.
    We plan to make it an annual get-together.
    I know my dad would be pleased.
    Alice Coyle is the managing editor of GateHouse Media New England’s Marshfield, Massachusetts, office. She can be reached at acoyle@wickedlocal.com and followed on Twitter at @accoyleWL.

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