My dad was my rock! Shortly after my parents divorced, my sister and I moved in with my dad. My mom had custody, but it was getting harder and harder to stay with her. This is where I believe my panic attacks began.
My dad was a hardworking union man...a Teamster, in fact. He worked a lot and it meant not seeing him for days on end. He would stand out in the rain and/or heat on those picket lines right along with the members that he represented. He started out as a Business Agent for Local 315 in Martinez, California. He moved up the ranks quickly. He was elected as Secretary/Treasurer with highest amount of votes ever recorded in that local. I share that with you only to show you that my dad was well liked....by everyone! He ended up the Secretary/Treasurer for Local 78 in Oakland (they have since merged with local 853), as well as the President of Joint Council 7.
I guess I don't have to tell you that my dad was a die-hard Italian. The Teamsters and our Italian heritage pretty much ran our lives. This was just how we grew up, my sister and I...we didn't know any different. We grew up with framed pictures of Jimmy Hoffa in our home....right along with all the other family photos. As well as framed letters from the likes of Rudy Tham. I guess, back then (60's & 70's) it wasn't just a job, it was way of life.
While he was liked by most, there were those that didn't like him. I can remember times when we would be ready for school in the morning and he would ask my sister and I to stay in the house until he started the car. Once the car started, and there was no explosion, we got in the car and went on to school without an hesitation.
He was very involved with my sister and I. He always made teacher conferences and was a member of the Men's Club at our Church. I remember him always being in charge of the cooking at all of our Parish celebrations.
About the time I was in high school, he began to get sick. He was a big man (overweight) and lived life to the fullest. He ate what he wanted, and did what he wanted. He hunted duck, pheasant and deer. He smoked cigars and pipes...sometimes cigarettes too. He wasn't a drinker. As a matter of fact, I never remember him ever having a drink in front of my sister or I...except in the rare case of a glass of wine. His drink of choice was Perrier with a slice of lime.
He used to stay up late at night and watch TV in the living room. I would wait until my mom went to bed and then, I sneak into his lap! Our routine was that he would go to the kitchen and grab a can of something....usually fruit cocktail or corn. He would open the can and he would take turns giving me bites. He would always save the grapes and cherries from the fruit cocktail for me! Those are precious, precious memories to me.
When he was very small, he had an illness called Scarlett Fever. From what I can gather, this scarred his heart, specifically, his aortic valve. He knew that at some point in his life, this would become an issue and he would have to deal with it. I think his hard living (weight, smoking, rich food and a very high stressed job) finally came to a head in 1979. He had his first heart surgery in Palo Alto, California at Stanford Medical Center. The surgery was performed by Dr. Shumway, a pioneer in open heart surgery at the time.
My dad did well and recovered quickly from the surgery. Unfortunately, the were a myriad of other problems that began at that time also. In the end, he had his aortic valve replaced a total of 3 times. One mechanical and 2 porcine. He was on many experimental medications and suffered with depression towards the end.
Finally, on Monday, June 14 1982, he told my step mother that he couldn't breathe. With the help of some neighbors, we were able to get him out of bed, down the stairs and into our car. My step mother and I drove him to the ER at Herrick Hospital in Berkeley. What we didn't know then was that all of his organs were beginning to shut down. He had a cardiac arrest in the ER. They tried for quite some time to revive him. They couldn't. The nurses put the two of us in this little room. It looked like some one's office. I knew he was gone. His personal physician and the ER doctor came into the room with their heads facing the floor. Dr. Kawachi (his physician and friend) was crying. My step mother became hysterical. The only thing I kept thinking was "how am I going to get us home"? I was 17 and did not have a driver's license yet. As we were leaving, Dr. Kawachi asked us if we wanted to see him. I blurted out, "NO!" This is probably the biggest regret of my life. I should have taken a few minutes and touched him, kissed him, felt his warm body one more time. I didn't, I was scared.
My panic disorder started in earnest that year. He died during finals week of my junior year of high school. It was rough.
Over these past 30 years, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him. The pain is just as bad as it was then. It never goes away. I miss him so much. He is buried in California and since I now live in Florida....I have no where to go. Deep down, I know that I don't need a place to go in order to talk to him. But, to me, I knew his physical body. Only God knew his soul. I miss his physical body. I miss the hugs, the back scratches, the laughter, the look in his eyes. I miss the way he smelled and his deep protective voice. I miss how safe I felt with him. He was my daddy. He could take care of anything! He was my rock.
People always tell me that I look like him, and to tell you the truth, I do...I really do. We have the same mannerisms, we have the same body shape, the same skin. He loved the Church, even though he was away for a long time. He was proud of me, and I knew it, because he told me...often. I was "Daddy's Little Girl".
For those of you reading this that still have your dad....get down on your knees and thank God! Spend as much time as humanly possible with him. Ask questions about his childhood and early life. Write it all down so you'll never forget. Ask him his favorite color, his favorite movie and why. Make sure you know the story of how your parents met, how they courted and how their early married life was. Show him how much he matters to you. Tell him that you love him...and show him. Make sure your children are close with him too.
And then, one day, when he is no longer with you...you can look back on the time you shared and KNOW that you KNOW, that you KNOW that it was a precious GIFT from God!
Daddy, I love you so much. I miss you more today than ever. I'm so sorry that my children will never know you. I'm so sorry that my husband will never know you. I'm sorry sorry that Olivia doesn't like pasta! I know it would have killed you if you knew that! Thank you for being with me the day that Dan and I got married. I felt you. I felt your presence. I KNOW you were there. I'm so sorry you couldn't walk me down the aisle. I'm sorry that I couldn't dance with you. I know that someday, I'll get to see you again. Mom too. Thank you for being the best father in the whole world! Thank you for loving me, for taking care of me. You will NEVER, EVER be forgotten. You will ALWAYS be in my heart.