Sunday, June 19, 2011

Remembering a Dad's Love

I lost my dad 41 years ago when I was 15.

With each passing year, my appreciation for his love and sacrifice grows deeper.

Here's a tribute to him that I penned a few years ago.

I hope you enjoy it and make sure to give your pops a hug on this day even if he is gone from this realm and is only with you in spirit.


He grew up during the Great Depression and dropped out of school in the eighth grade.

It wasn't something he wanted to do, but rather something he had to do. See, his father had just died, and, as the oldest in the family, it became his responsibility to put food on the table for his mother and his younger siblings.

So, he found work at a local service station and became an auto mechanic. The hours were long, the work was backbreaking and the money wasn't great. But he never complained about his lot in life. He just did what he had to do.

Not long after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was drafted into the Army, and fought in the European Theater.

Like many from the Greatest Generation, he rarely talked about the war. But there was a Saturday morning years later when he told his barber about how traumatized he was when he and his fellow soldiers stumbled upon a Nazi concentration camp and saw scores of dead bodies strewn about. There were tears in his eyes as he recounted the moment. You wondered how many years he had suppressed those horrible memories.

He wound up falling in love with a British woman while stationed in England. The two were married, and headed to this side of the Atlantic in those pre-airliner days aboard the Queen Mary.

They wound up having three boys, and they did their best to raise them right and teach them about the importance of hard work and the limitless possibilities of the American dream. They were flawed parents and they raised flawed kids, but their hearts were in the right place.

He wasn't much of a sports fan, but his youngest son was, so even though money was tight, the father somehow always found a way to scrape together enough nickels and dimes to buy his boy that new football or baseball glove.

He knew how much his youngest loved the Yankees, and one mid-September day he suggested to the 11-year-old that they take a Sunday drive to The House That Ruth Built.

Four hours later, they were walking into Yankee Stadium, and the greenness and vastness of the ballpark proved overwhelming. As the boy watched Mickey Mantle launch batting practice pitches into the upper deck, he couldn't help but feel as if he had died and gone to heaven. In his mind, Disney had nothing on this place.

During the next four summers, the father and son would make pilgrimages to the big ballpark in the South Bronx. And although the dad never really understood his son's fascination with the game, he loved seeing the joy it brought him.

One of their most memorable trips occurred in August of 1970 when they attended an Oldtimers' Day in which former manager Casey Stengel's jersey was retired.
As they drove north up the Major Deegan Expressway toward the Tappan Zee Bridge and the New York State Thruway, the boy gazed out the window and day-dreamed about their next father-son excursion to Yankee Stadium.

But, sadly, there would be no more shared journeys after this one because five months later the father's heart beat a final time at age 58.

Eight years would pass before the youngest son mustered enough gumption to attend another game there.

On July 4, 1998 more than three decades after the boy's first visit to the stadium he would take his daughter and son to the famous ballpark.

They didn't appear to be as enthralled as he had been, but that didn't bother him in the least. For this trip was as much about him connecting with his dad as it was about them falling in love with the place he fell in love with back in the summer of '66.

Each time he returns to the soon-to-be extinct stadium, he feels his dad's presence. He wishes his pops had lived long enough for him to repay the favor and take him out to the ballgame.

But he's thankful for the memories they did share. And on this Father's Day, he'll be sure to reflect on the many sacrifices Andrew Pitoniak made for him, and tell his late dad how much he loves him.

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