My father, Frank Salerno Jr., died 38 years ago today. In the wee hours of February 13, 1978. I was always an eccentric kid/man, the oddest of ducks for sure, but Dad's steadying influence prevented my eccentricities from leading me into marginal areas of behavior where I'd be dangerous (physically or emotionally) to myself and others. Also, inasmuch as I had managed to get through my first 28 years without ever making a friend—certainly not a best friend in the familiar sense of the term—it never occurred to me that when my father died, I'd have no one else to talk to about my innermost thoughts and feelings, many of which were too bizarre to confess even to wives and/or lovers.
|Dad (right) and his brother on their semipro team. C. 1940|
Exhaustion set in as I walked to my car and slumped in the seat—none of us had slept much in awhile as the death watch continued. There had already been a significant snowfall that week, and the drifts flanking my car were filthy and unappetizing as only days-old urban snow can be. What a grim setting, I thought, for the funeral that seemed imminent. It sounds sappy but as I looked up at the higher-floor window of my father's room and started the engine, the radio blared to life with Billy Joel's I Love You Just The Way You Are. It was not a song written for fathers and sons, of course, but it felt personally relevant at the moment because I was struck by the idea that my Dad was the only person who loved me exactly as I was. I doubted there would ever be another. I drove home and, without undressing, crawled into bed next to my sleeping wife, who'd had to stay back to take care of the kids. At 2 a.m. the phone rang.