Note: This post was originally published on 6/18/06. Have received so many emails from folks about it, have decided to publish it again. Happy Father's Day, Dad. You are missed.
It is terribly ironic that, in 1972, Richard Nixon established the third Sunday of June as the permanent national observance of Father's Day.
My father hated Richard Nixon.
Frank J. would yell at the TV whenever Tricky Dick's big face appeared. Funny. I find myself doing the same when I see Dubya.
Some say life is a numbers game. You do your own math with what you've been given. My father had one working eye, two degrees, an all-his-life wife, four kids, 62 years of living, and a laugh that was 100% Irish bar room.
His nickname was "Chaunce", given to him by his grandfather, a tall Irish character named Michael Jeremiah Sullivan, who talked his way through Ellis Island without papers, dragging along two Italian barbers he'd met on the dock who didn't speak a syllable of English. Those three remained friends 'till their dying day.
My father loved the story. One he told me was about the time he and his grandfather were persuading the cows towards the barn for the evening milking when a man with a scythe walked towards them through the field. "My grandfather threw down his stick, ran and embraced the man," Dad said. "It was his brother, Paddy, from Ireland."
Paddy the Slasher.
Seems Paddy was passing through, having heard that gold was available in every field in American, and was on his way west. His worldly belongings were strapped to his back, his livelihood contained in a long, curved single-edged blade. "My grandfather needed a field hayed," my father told me. "Paddy's power was astounding. He was a berserker with that blade." Seems he could clear a field faster than you could think about it.
But Paddy understood the need to get paid, and the instinct to move on. He did. No member of his family ever saw him again.
And then there was the Miss Rheingold incident.
Seems Frank J., with friends and relatives in tow, was out at a New York bar one evening in the late 1940s. When the bill came, everyone turned pockets inside out to discover there was not enough dough to pay the tab.
So my father, in his Irishness, got the attention of the bar owner and told him, "Do you know that you have Miss Rheingold here in your bar this very evening?" Rheingold was a popular beer in those parts at the time, and the competition to be chosen as Miss Rheingold was a coveted nugget. In this case, "Miss Rheingold" was really my father's younger sister, our beloved Aunt Cookie, who was hauled up on the bar's stage, passing the test with her Irish cuteness, and who was goodnatured enough to endure the wolf whistles so the bill could be covered by management, in full.
There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss my father's story. As a human, he was not without his foibles. He wandered from my mother, drank himself to death, and receded from most of humanity by the time he left this world.
After his death, I found a small flint tin in the box upon his dresser. It held a small curl of my blond baby hair. I have it to this day. It reminds me of the last advice he ever gave me, "to accept what the world hands you. And deal. Just deal."
I am told that I write about him a lot. Others so much "wiser" than I, with raised eyebrows, tell me that I only seek the father figure.
Well, on this very humid Virginia night, I say to hell with them, their theories and all the ships at sea.
The reality is I really liked him. And I don't want him to be forgotten.