When I finished writing about Mom it occurred to me that readers might wonder about my dad. At the time that he passed, I was not yet fully into blogging or writing. I had just scratched the surface. So without further ado, here is a little bit about dad.
While Mom was born into a Jewish family, Dad entered the world an Italian. His own dad, my paternal grandfather had actually entered this country as a stowaway onboard a ship. I always thought it was a made up story until I found the Ellis Island records and discovered it to be true. Dad was the only boy in the family and had 8 sisters. He would have had about 4 more siblings but they did not survive birth. Apparently twins ran rampant in that family.
Like Mom, Dad was born in Brooklyn. His name at birth was Gennaro, but he preferred Jerry. I thought it was cool to have an ethnic name but he didn’t seem to really embrace his Italian heritage, at least not while I was a kid. I’d ask him what nationality we were and he always told me “American”.
While we enjoyed Mom taking us to the beach, we were especially thrilled when Dad was off because we were able to go as a family. He loved to come running out of the ocean and throw himself onto the hot sand, then run back into the waves again. Even as a kid I didn’t like to do that but it was fun to watch him. Often after the beach we would go on a few rides at Coney Island or play penny arcade games. Dad seemed to love Coney Island. Even in the dead of winter he would take me and my brother down to Nathan’s Famous. We would get a pizza, take it down to the beach where we would shiver while eating and watch the Polar bear club take a dip in the icy cold Atlantic. Then would go back for Nathan’s fries and to the arcade until he ran out of dimes.
Long after we kids were grown up, whenever I could make my way to Brooklyn for a visit, we continued to make pilgrimages to Coney Island.
Although we were not sports enthusiast Dad tried his best to teach us a few athletic skills. He tried showing us how to catch and throw a baseball and football. It was to no avail. Eventually my brother and I got the hang of handball and were not too bad at it. He even tried to teach us how to box, buying us gloves and a punching bag.
Down the street from where we lived was a pizzeria. A slice cost 15 cents and it was huge. One day after handing me a dime and nickel, I returned defeated and downcast. The price of a slice had gone up to twenty cents. I was certain my pizza eating days had come to an abrupt and cruel end. I assumed we were wealthy when he handed me the additional nickel and promised that pizza would remain in my diet.
Much of my sense of humor comes from my dad. His language tended to be very colorful and I’m glad I did not inherit that quality, but his dry wit carried over to me and I am thankful for it. Often I see him in some of my facial expressions, voice and mannerisms.
On Saturday mornings we would watch cartoons and he was right there watching them with us. He always liked cartoons. He loved comedy and would laugh out loud at episodes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. He was an artist in his own right and could draw effortlessly. Although he denied his talent, he often illustrated his photo albums with caricatures that appeared professionally drawn. I wish he would have turned that talent into a vocation as along with his sense of humor he would have made a great cartoonist.
Dad was not particularly handy. He had a few tools for working on his car. He would do very minor repairs like changing oil. It seemed every car he owned copped an attitude and went out of its way to malfunction. He would drive down to a lonely part of town, not far from where he tried to teach Mom how to drive. Then he would pull the car halfway onto the sidewalk so that he would have room to crawl underneath. These car maintainance sessions never went very well. He would take me with him and I’d hand him tools or play with the radio. It was when he would work on his car that I learned how proficient he could be at swearing. His language covered the full spectrum and included some words I think he made up on his own and some even in Italian!
I’m not sure how bilingual Dad was. His mother spoke broken English and sometimes they would communicate briefly in their native language. I wish they would have taught me.
I was not a very good student. When I was in elementary school, Dad would try to help me with Math. Even though he did not make it through high school, Dad was very smart. He dropped out not because he didn’t do well but because he could come up with answers without showing his work. Having to work problems out the long way frustrated him. He would do all the calculations in his head. So when it came time to help me it was difficult for both of us. While I was required to show all the steps it took to reach a solution, he knew the answer just by glancing at the problem. I wish I’d inherited that one! Later on he attended night classes and earned his GED. We were all very proud as was he.
Dad served in the Army for a couple of years. He hated hats. In this photograph, he is the only one without his cap on.
He also did not wear ties but I convinced him to wear a tie and jacket to my wedding which I had loaned to him. After that I often saw him wear that same jacket and tie for no reason. I guess he realized how good it made him look.
In his younger days I think my dad was a handsome guy.
Mom did most of the cooking but later on when I was a teenager, Dad liked to prepare something for me if I was hungry. He liked to see the refrigerator and dinner table full even if it meant serving things that did not necessarily go together. Once when I was looking for something to eat he offered to make me something. Whenever he could not find enough food to make what he considered to be a complete meal, he would add hot dogs. He could fill any vacant spot on the table with hot dogs, much to Mom’s chagrin. If there were no hot dogs, he would make toast. Lot’s of toast.
Well that’s just a few of my remembrances of Dad. Feel free to comment, ask questions or add your own interesting Dad stories.