J. Not Jay, Not John, “just J” is what I have heard him sometimes say. My Dad can do anything and fix anything and make anything and well, you see…I have not, as far as my memory goes, ever had an experience of needing help or something constructed or created or fixed or modified that he has not been able to fulfill the request. He is what some would call a “handy” man, be it engines, houses, plumbing, electrical, earth…he just does stuff. I have however never seen him throw or catch a ball. I saw him ride a bike once when we were little and rented bikes on Martha’s Vineyard. He is the least lazy person I have ever met and the most regimented in his habits that I will ever know. He wakes up at the same time every day, has his two breaks at the same time every day and eats the exact same food every day. We are VERY unlike in this way. He loves to work and does not relax well, at all. He does not do “recreational” activities. These are two of his traits that I am trying at this time in my life NOT to copy.
My father had no desire to go to college but the story goes that his father very much had a desire for him to go to Villanova, as was expected, and after one semester or one year, my Dad either quit or flunked out and the familial tale is that my BigDad shook my father’s hand and said, “John, we have fulfilled our obligation to society, you may go” and at 19 my Dad hitch-hiked to Florida and got a room to rent and a job as a mechanic in a garage and got on with the business of being a man. He lived and worked in Florida, was later drafted into the Army, and had the good fortune to be sent off to Germany and not Vietnam. When he got out of the Army is when he came back to Long Beach Island, where he had summered most of his life. My mom was a local and he was a city boy but they fell madly in love and that story is its very own tale…
My father is a master carpenter, a true craftsman, but is so humble that no one would really ever know his level of perfection and skill unless they worked with him. He has always made me want to be “better” and I am not sure what that means exactly, but it is what comes to mind when I think of that question, “what kind of feelings do you get when you think about your Dad?” …and my answer to that question always is that he makes me want to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be. I know how to do, or at least try to do well, a lot of things that are not traditionally “girl” things to do, and I am sure it is because I had a Dad who taught us ‘stuff’ and because we did not want to disappoint him, learned to do a lot of things that I guess sons would generally learn.
My only regret or wish about him and his parenting is that he had taught me to play the drums. He did throughout his youth and teens and I sure would have loved to know how. He did however instill in me a love of music and the knowledge that it is, more often than not, best played loud. There was ALWAYS music in our house growing up, speakers in every room and outside, and I find that that is the case here, in my dream house, that he helped me build, there is almost always music playing and there are speakers in every room and outside. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are associated with music; we had a jukebox filled with 45’s in our playroom and my Dad had a wall of albums and our house had more stereo equipment than any of our friend’s houses and whenever our mother was not home the music was WAY louder than when she was. That playroom with the giant Peter Max poster, wall of painted penguins, and checkerboard floor was a place where lots of joy was shared and my life long love of music begun.
What is interesting, to me I guess, is that in general my Dad and I seem to have so little in common…he lovingly refers to me as his ‘Lefty, Liberal, Pinko, Commie” daughter and I have said time after time that the only thing I have in common with any of my family is that we love many of the same people. We do not agree on social issues or fiscal issues or global issues of almost any topic, and yet, when I think about disappointing him, I feel a physical ache. But to be clear, no matter how much I love the man and dearly wish to make him proud, I will not vote Republican ever, will not willingly listen Rush or watch Fox, and will never ever ever NOT be pro-choice.
I know many people who no longer have a Dad, my Dad lost his own father just this past winter. I know many people who had a dad who was a total asshole or who was lazy or who treated their mom badly or well you know blah, blah, blah…lots of people have BAD DAD stories. I do not. Years ago I wrote a thank-you note to my Mimom and Bigdad for Father’s Day, thanking them for my Dad. It seemed like the only thing to do, to at least give thanks for a really great man who just so happened to be MY Dad! I read a quote decades ago that “the greatest gift a man can give to his children is to love their mother” and if this is one of those universal truths, then in addition to ALL the other WONDERFULNESS that is J, he has given my sister and I the greatest gift in the universe, because he sure does love her.