Today, March 4, is my father’s birthday. He was born 105 years ago. I only knew him for 12 years of my life, but with all the stories from family and interactions with his colleagues where he worked, I feel as if I know him more than my childhood recollections.
My Dad was an incredible person and contributed a lasting legacy that everyone in modern-day Europe is benefiting from. Yep, my Dad was…
… an incredibly gifted man. I sorely regret that he died before I had a chance to really know him.
My Dad was one of 22 children. Yep… when I have said on this blog that I have a large family, I mean it! I have 69 first cousins, 14 siblings, and many more who compose family.
My Dad was born on the boat. That’s a family expression, but also true. His mother was in an arranged marriage. She and her husband sailed from Sicily to America in 1911. Nonna was quite pregnant with my Dad on that trip, but also had one other child with her — my uncle Charlie who I cared for in the winter of his life — on that trip, too.
My Dad was born March 4, 1911, two days before the boat arrived in New York Harbor.
Dad, his brother, mother, and father were processed through Ellis Island and settled in New York City. My nonno (grandfather) quickly opened a grocery store which, as I have heard from family, also served as a bakery and mini-restaurant.
Dad went to public school with his siblings and helped his father at the store after school and on weekends. He had a rather normal life as a child. He interacted in the melting pot of New York City with many other immigrants (his peers in school and on the playground/streets of his youth). My Dad was naturally good with languages. I learned that by the time he graduated from high school, he could speak at least a dozen languages that he learned naturally through immersion.
When he was looking for work after The Great Depression, he was offered a job in Washington DC as a printer. He quickly found jobs for his brothers and half of his family moved to the DC area in the mid-30s.
My Mom was working for a Member of Congress from her district in Oklahoma at the time. One day my Dad was rushing into the U.S. Capitol Building with piles of printed papers and my Mom was rushing out, and they literally bumped into each other. A year later, they married (after a year of courtship.)
Dad served in World War II in the U.S. Army. He got assigned to work with units who were involved with diplomatic mission support because he spoke so many languages.
When he returned home, his employer asked him to take an assignment to support a fledgling international organization that was engaged in restoring post-war Europe, and as he said it, “mostly because I spoke languages; not because I was a diplomat.”
As I hear it, my Dad was a natural diplomat. I remember, even at home as a kid, my Dad employed diplomacy to break up sibling fights. He was a natural.
My Dad went to night school (college) on the G.I. Bill, and soon enough, earned a bachelor’s degree, then a Masters. He continued to learn even more languages by working with people from all over the world.
By the late 40s and through the 50s, Dad was working half-time in Europe and half-time in the U.S. (That’s why 12 of my siblings and I call ourselves “Christmas Presents.” Dad would return from Europe in mid-December. Twelve of us were born from mid-August through early September. You do the math :-))
At home, I always remember my Dad passionately showing his wife, my Mom, how much he loved her. In so many ways, he would do and say things that demonstrated his deep love for Mom. I guess some of that passion rubbed off on me, because I feel the same way about my spouse.
Dad also was passionate about his children as well as his family. When Dad was home (in Maryland), many evenings and weekend days were filled with my cousins, aunts, uncles, and … well … family! My Dad would play, laugh, and love so very much.
At the family dinner table, we were all required to behave and show our manners. No tossing rolls at your sister you made a face! Because my Dad loved our family so much, he made sure our dining room had a table large enough to seat all of us at the same time. Dad would have conversations with us around the table where we learned about life, current events, our Mom’s work, and his work. Nothing like learning current events from a man who made them.
Dad would read to us, listen, explain, and demonstrate how to do things. He was pretty good at repairing things and electrical work — which explains why I am good with those activities, too.
What I remember most about Dad is that he was very patient and a great listener. He never seemed to get mad. He was thoughtful and a man of action. He got things done.
I really did not know who I had in my life until he died when I was 12 years old. The lineup of visitors to the wake (viewing) was incredible. Well over 500 people came (so shows the guest book.) Diplomats, heads-of-state and Government, ambassadors, as well as regular workers — they all loved my Dad.
A few years later, I worked four summers during my undergraduate years at the same organization for which my Dad worked. I can’t tell you how many people sought me out to tell me stories about my Dad. What he did, how he did it, and how he was so successful as a multilingual diplomat on the world stage.
Eventually, by the way, my twin brother worked for the same organization and sat in the same office as my Dad (for about the last five years of my brother’s working career.) Small worlds… and quite the legacy.
Anyway, thanks for scrolling through these memories with me and learning more about a man I still cherish and hold closely in my heart. I strive each day to live a life that he would support and approve. I think he does. I feel it through my faith.
Life is short: cherish your Dad.