Saturday, February 13, 2016

A tribute to my Dad.

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 friendcertainly not a best friend in the familiar sense of the termit 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
It was snowing when I left the hospital for the last time that night, after giving what-for to the nurses who kept yanking Dad upright in bed to perform tests and other mundane tasks that seemed utterly pointless: all of his organs were failing and we'd been told it was "just a matter of time." Although my father had been comatose for days, he'd wince and groan softly from somewhere deep inside his unconsciousness each time they lifted him up and/or poked at him. Whether it was actual pain or just a startle reflex, I'd had enough of it. "Leave my father in peace, dammit," I finally ordered. When the nurses looked at me skeptically, I added, "Don't make me tear this place up." And I would have. I was a volatile man in those days, and would grow far more so in the weeks and months following my father's death. A story for another day.

Exhaustion set in as I walked to my car and slumped in the seatnone 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.


Jenny said...

Looking forward to more of this story, Steve. Your dad sounds like an amazing guy; please continue.

Your comment about bizarre thoughts reminds me of perhaps my favorite short story, "The Second Tree From the Corner," by E.B. White.

Happy Valentine's Day. :)

Here is a little haiku (amusement verse) I wrote this morning:

Human opponents,
fault and beauty together—
like hungry lovers.

RevRon's Rants said...

You were indeed fortunate to have such a father, Steve, but you know that. My own experience of my father's passing was somewhat different. By the time the Red Cross found where I was, he had already passed. A chopper ride, followed by a hop on a casket-laden C-130 and a commercial flight found me sitting in the Baptist church of my youth, listening to glowing testimonials about a man who had effectively hidden from the orators his pattern of verbal, emotional, physical, and - as I later learned - sexual abuse. Standing there in my dress blues, it was all I could do not to scream out that the man they were praising was nothing more than a sham, a role played for others' benefit. Frankly, I was glad when it was over, so I could get back to the place where my rage would be welcomed.

I did weep for my father's passing, years later, when I realized that he had missed out on the chance to know his grandchildren. The tears dried when it occurred to me that his grandchildren would never know him.

One thing I hope you realize has changed for you - you do have friends now.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, my friend, you've given me snippets of insight into your family history before, and though I know from experience that my childhood was a rare blessing among my generation--at least to hear my football teammates tell it--that doesn't take away the sting of your descriptions. You use the word "rage" as a convenient placeholder for what must be a complex constellation of feelings I cannot begin to relate to, given my privileged upbringing. I believe I've said once or twice that I must've been the last man in America to have a "functional" (which is to say, not dysfunctional) relationship with his Dad. Although, the complaints I'd hear from my teammates--perhaps regarding a chronically sharp tongue or an occasional smack across the face--pall before what the kind of home life you depict here.

What powerful and lyrical lines regarding your grandchildren. My man...

These days I tend to fall back on the old Jim Morrisonism: Nobody gets outta here alive. We do the best we can--which is also the worst we can--because it's all we can--and then it's over. We look back at the end of it and see who we were.

Anonymous said...

A moving post, Steve.

Ron, wow. I had no idea.