Source: The Independent


by Jerry Della Femina

June 12, 2013

Sunday is Father’s Day, and while it’s not as big a deal as Mother’s Day, it is a day that should be more than a gift of a bottle of Old Spice After Shave lotion — every little kid’s favorite Father’s Day gift for their Dad.

If your Dad is alive, go see him. Take him out for a great dinner and tell him you love him.

If your Dad has passed, do what I’m doing now. Remember him.

My Dad was 92 when he died and he was the product of a generation that came to this country without a penny and worked like hell so that their families could make a life here.

There were Italians, Jews, Irish, Poles. They had one thing in common – they worked to survive.

All of them were looked down upon and treated badly by whoever got here before them. But, in the end, they worked and slaved and finally got their families many of the things that the “Promised Land” promised.

My Dad worked three, sometimes four, jobs at a time. He worked for 49 years as a printing press operator at The New York Times. He never once brought home a copy of The Times. He read The News, The Mirror, The Journal – “They’re papers for us,” he would explain.

Mornings at 6 AM he would show up at the Sea Beach Station at 86th Street. He would sell newspapers and cigarettes at the newsstand until 8 AM. Then he would take the subway to 42nd Street for his job at The Times.

Starting when I was seven years old, I would run to the 86th Street station to wait for his subway so I could walk him home. He would be home exactly at 7 PM every night. The one-block walk home was when we talked. He would gulp his dinner down and rush to Hi and Ann’s Candy Store on Avenue U and make egg creams and malteds and serve tables until 10 PM. Then, in the summer, he would take a trolley car to Coney Island where he would run amusement park rides until after midnight. He was home by 1 AM and out the door by 6 AM the next morning. That’s what’s called a work ethic. It’s what made this country so special.

Weekends were spent with my Dad searching for and finding wood on the Brooklyn streets. He would spend hours in our basement sawing wood to put into our coal-burning stove. I don’t know if we couldn’t afford coal or if finding wood to burn was something he did to relax.

He was quiet and a little remote and it was clear that he had it easier relating to children than grown-ups. My kids Donna, Jodi, and Michael loved their “Papa” and he loved them right back right until the end.

When my Dad was nine his father died and, as was common in those days, my Dad was put into an orphanage by his mother, who couldn’t afford to feed all of her children.

The experience scarred him for life and he spent his life searching for God-knows-what. He would walk the streets for miles at a time, head down, searching for wood or coins. He would find coins, a penny . . . a dime . . . a quarter.

My Dad looked for and found coin treasures every day of his life. He never passed a public phone or vending machine without reaching into the change return to search for a coin that had been left.

I remember walking with him and hearing him shout “YOOOO” as he reached down and picked up a penny.

Once I remember saying, “Daddy it’s just a penny,” and he said, “Yes, but it was heads up and that makes it a lucky penny.”

My Dad’s grave is at Gates of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester.

When he passed away 10 years ago, the procession of funeral cars pulled up to the bottom of the quiet sunny hill where my Mom is buried. All the mourners walked up the hill and we all paused as we passed the grave of a hero fireman who perished on 9/11. He was just 32 years old and we all shook our heads in sadness for his family and his children, who had left little toy mementos at their Dad’s grave.

The ceremony was brief. A priest mechanically read off words about a man he never knew or saw. When it was over I was the last to walk down the hill. I looked down before I stepped into the funeral limousine and there it was – a nickel, just resting there on the ground. I picked it up and trotted back up the hill.

“It was heads up for luck, Papa,” I said and I dropped the coin into the grave.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I miss you.

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