Today is Fathers Day and despite the fact that Frank Martin died seventeen years ago, I still miss him.
I was telling some friends yesterday that among the many things that my Dad taught me, one thing was how to tell a whopper convincingly. Not really how to lie - but, just for the harmless fun of it, to tell people a story where you will not see them again but they will leave with a little color for their day. As an example, one of my father's favorite ones was if he was at a cocktail party where he was largely unknown, perhaps coming with someone who had been invited (imagine, people did that back in the day, be invited to accompany a friend to a party and the host or hostess did not mind if an unexpected and unknown guest showed up), invariabley he would be asked, "So, what kind of work do you do, Mr. Martin?" He would answer, "I'm a salvage diver for the city of New York . . ." and regale his audience with stories of some of the more sensational things he had found in the East River, including the bodies of Mafiosi, still wearing their concrete shoes.
|Dad on Perry Avenue in the Bronx, circa 1977|
That was Dad. He always had a story or a joke to tell. Our family joke for years was this one:
There once was a lighthouse keeper. Every year, at midnight, a big bell would ring - BONG! One that it didn't ring and he woke up - "What was that?!"
Or my father would quote someone and ask, "And do you know who said that?" You had to play along. "No, Dad, who said that?" "Harvey Keck." "And who was Harvey Keck, Dad?" "Mrs. Keck's baby boy," he would intone, solemnly. At his wake, my brother slipped a little note into his breast pocket to be buried with him - "With condolences, Harvey Keck and his mother."
My Dad was not without sorrows. During World War II, he served with Darby's Rangers and was at three invasions as an infantryman - Normandy, Anzio, Sicily. Two Silver Stars, three Bronze. What he experienced during the war affected him severely, to the point where he was hospitalized when it was over for a brief time, for psychiatric treatment. The sad thing is that while Dad recovered, his marriage at the time did not and his young wife disappeared, along with their young son. I only know that the boy's name was Richard and the mother's name was Victoria, possibly with the surname "Kane." I only found out about this after Dad's death and if anyone has information, please contact me.
True story: when they were courting, my father slyly asked my mother, "Would you marry a divorced man?" "Certainly not!" said Mom, the good Catholic girl. So he waited until their 10th anniversary to tell her.
|The Digital Hairshirt and the DigiDad, in Copake, NY, circa 1964|
Dad loved us kids, madly and fiercely. When my older sister married her first husband, my father had a message for him: if you ever have a fight with your wife, that's your business - but if you ever hit my daughter, it becomes my business. He celebrated in our successes and was there to help in our failures. The greatest regret I have in life is that cancer took him too soon, so that his grandkids never had a chance to know him. My mother would say that he would have come out to California to help with my oldest's nursery . . . and probably never leave. I have no doubt that he would have seen t it that my son's nursery had a distinct motif - everything New York Giants, because Dad bled Jint blue.
Happy Fathers Day, Dad. I know your spirit is around. Call me crazy, but sometimes when I am at Mass, in my mind's eye I see him come in, usually in his GI fatigues with a few of his Ranger buddies. In his short retirement, Dad spent almost every day volunteering at the VA Hospital, specifically working with paraplegics and quadriplegics; he even joined a national association of volunteers who worked with veterans with those disabilities. I asked him why he chose that group. He explained: Most of these guys are Vietnam vets. They were young, some in their late teens when they went to war. I was 17 when I went. I know what it is like to lose your youth to war.
I think sometimes that God keeps Dad busy, sending his spirit to help in a war zone. And Dad is happy to serve.
It is getting hard now to type for the tears - Happy Fathers Day, Daddy. I miss you and love you.