My dad always saw me. He rescued me from my evil grandmother, but that’s a story for another day. I was born in the 50s, grew up in the 60s, and came of age in the 70s. My dad taught me how to be a good human. He told me that at that time in history most women didn’t look men in the eyes unless they were sex workers (he used a word more of that era) or ruthless business women, usually widows who had inherited their company from their dead husbands. He said he wanted me to always look everyone in the eyes, men and women alike. He talked to me about politics when I was in primary school. He taught me about the tiniest lines on a ruler, how to use a T-square, and how to fix just about anything with seemingly useless stuff lying around the house. He also went on-and-on about the benefits of having and maintaining a good junk drawer. I swear he attempted to pass on most of the fundamentals of his mechanical engineering training to me by the time I was ten.
My dad was not only brilliant but wise in remarkable ways, especially for a man who attended a one-room schoolhouse in a mining town in western Pennsylvania. His sense of humor was also smart, and it was kind. He was always ready to learn, from anyone. He had very little patience with himself and that could at times bleed over into an intolerance for errors of omission. “Who’d you ask?” was his favorite question. He did happy dances and bragged for days whenever I thought for myself. He really liked it when I figured out a creative solution to a problem. He encouraged this type of thinking, guiding me to understand that there were many aspects of any system that people failed to consider when they were looking for the cause of a problem or for a possible solution.
Long before cellphones he would call, from the office landline, to find out if a visiting business associate’s flight had left on time. He would then drive the 30 minutes to Pittsburgh’s airport and ride around the circle where arriving passengers came out of the building to grab a cab. This was right outside the luggage claim area. He had a large sign behind his windshield bearing the name of his company and had given the make, model, and color of his car to the person he was meeting. One time when he had already left for the airport, the secretary of the person he was supposed to meet called our office and told us that he had missed his flight. I knew my dad would drive around frustrated for quite some time before he finally parked the car in the most expensive lot closest to the airport’s entry and then walked into the airport to check on the flight or to use his credit card to make a long distance call to the man’s office. I called the airport and asked to speak to one of the departure skycaps, the men who were tipped to hail taxies, carry the travelers’ luggage, and put it into the taxies or waiting cars. The airport connected me and I described my father’s car to the man on the other end of the phone. I asked him to flag down my dad and tell him that the person he was waiting for had missed his flight. The skycap knew my dad would tip him, which of course he did. The plan worked perfectly. I think my dad was more impressed by that than anything I’ve ever done except to give him a grandchild.
My dad saw life. He drank it in. He modeled this for me and anyone else who witnessed it, including my son. One time when my dad was in his 60s, and not as spry as he used to be due to having had cancer previously, he was sitting in a coffeeshop located inside of a large department store in Florida. My mother and the young couple they were visiting were off looking for furniture for the couple’s new vacation condo. My father was not a fan of shopping, so he opted to hang in the coffeeshop. He always drank his coffee with sugar and milk. I was the only one who could make it the way he liked it. It wasn’t about how much milk I put in but rather about the final color of the coffee. Dad was sitting drinking his coffee and drumming on the table to some cool music playing over the loudspeakers. There was the usual counter and array of tables in the shop but there was also a large open space. The floor was covered with big squares of checkered linoleum. My dad told me that a woman walked over to him. “Cinse, she was gorgeous,” he said. “Her skin was the exact color of the way I like my coffee.” The woman asked him if he wanted to dance. He said yes. They danced. She looked surprised and impressed. My mom and dad had done a lot of ballroom dancing in their day. My dad was a drummer in the Merchant Marine Core and very into jazz. When the song was over, my dad asked, “Want to go again?” She smiled and replied, “Don’t push it, Daddio.” My dad laughed as he told me this part of the story because “Daddio” is what I called him too.
My dad always saw every person and every situation as another chance to experience life. His sense of wonder was phenomenal. He felt joy deeply. He was grateful for every gift in his life. That big open heart never really learned to protect itself though. But because my dad taught me to see, because he could see me, I saw that and I learned from it. In my dad’s words I have tried in his honor to be “the new improved generation” and I smile each time I see my own child surpass me.