Editor’s Note: As part of our continuing series on exceptional fathers, we share this story written by Joe Zagorski. He is a lifelong New Jerseyan who parlayed four years as a stay at home dad into a preschool teaching career. His hobbies include cooking, Star Wars, and teaching his kids the finer points of lightsaber dueling.
This Dad’s Story
I can’t say I always wanted to be like my dad. We didn’t have a whole lot in common when I was growing up. We generally didn’t do very many things together. It took some time for him to acknowledge that I was no longer a pain in the ass teenager. That I had become an adult. And, then, he suddenly was no longer there.
It’s as if we had this great understanding and then he was gone. And, leaving me the man of the family.
February 25th, 2009 was my dad’s 59th birthday. We all went out to dinner to celebrate like we usually did when it was someone’s birthday. We then came back to my parents’ house to chill and have some cake. All part of the usual traditions.
We had a recently adopted custom. My dad and I shared a glass of port together. Beer was Dad’s drink of choice, but he enjoyed port as well. We chatted about nothing in particular. It was, for the most part, pretty unremarkable and unmemorable.
That was the last time I would see or even talk to my father.
A few weeks later, my dad took one of his many Sunday afternoon naps. He just didn’t wake up.
My father had throat cancer, but radiation a few years back had pretty much kept it under control. He’d even joke about his cannula as being his “third nipple.” He never stopped smoking though (and he caught A LOT of crap for it from me, my brothers, and my mom). That Sunday, his body just gave out.
It was the kind of thing that was a shock. But not really shocking, if that makes sense.
Losing a Life and Learning of a New One
Fate seems to play amazing tricks. We found out Kathy was pregnant the week after my Dad died.
Here I am, still trying to comprehend the fact that I’ve just lost my Dad. Now, I’m just nine months away from becoming a father.
Let me just tell you, that messes with your head like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t know why it happened this way, it just did. In the span of one week, everything turned upside down.
It wasn’t just that I was about to become a dad. I was also the oldest of the three sons. This meant I became the man of the family. I had so many questions, and no one to ask. Because I was mourning the person who had the answers.
The weeks and months went by. In December, our daughter Emmi was born. On that day, I jokingly stated that I officially had more experience with a daughter than my dad had!
My Father Lives On
Emmi grew older and became more adventurous. I found myself reflexively repeating things my dad would say to me. It was more than a little unnerving!
One day Emmi had soup for lunch. It was an ordinary day. And, it wasn’t the first time Emmi had soup, but it was significant.
The soup was caldo verde, a Portuguese soup made from collard greens. Again, not out of the ordinary. I have been eating it all my life. But, this batch was different. But, let me backtrack to explain why.
My father loved cooking. As my wife can tell you, I’ve picked up a lot of his mannerisms in the kitchen (most of which begin with loudly kicking people out of the kitchen). And, he was fond of making huge batches of delicious food and freezing them.
At any given time, you could find chili, spaghetti sauce, etc. and caldo verde in the family freezer. A few months before, I had found a batch of the soup in the freezer that he made before he died and had given to me. And, that brings us back to Emmi’s lunch.
The night before, we decided to have it for dinner. I knew what it was and what it represented. The next day when said I’d give some caldo verde to Emmi for lunch it really hit me.
Here she is, eating something made for her by her grandfather.
I’m not really too big on the sentimental stuff, but this just felt like a big deal to me. It was something my dad created that I can share with my daughter. It makes me feel like he is a part of her life, even though he isn’t here.
Emmi ate it and loved it. And so did I. It tasted better than any that I ever remembered.
Two weeks later, I noticed a second batch of caldo verde in the freezer. My dad’s familiar chicken scratch is written on the bag. Now, once they are ready, my son (as well as my niece and nephew) will also get a chance to have something made by my dad.
A simple bowl of soup acted as an appearance to the grandchildren he never met.
Father’s Day Celebrations
It was inevitable that my first Father’s Day would roll around. I have found that Father’s Day does not get nearly enough attention in society that Mother’s Day gets. This is not at all to discount what moms do. It just seems to me that, for the most part, Father’s Day is not that big a deal to a lot of people.
I mean, look at the stereotypical gifts: on Mother’s Day, moms get flowers, candy, dinner, etc. All kinds of cool stuff. What do dads get? A tie, or a tool of some sort. Chill out, Mom, relax! But Dad, you go get dressed for work or fix something! Just seems a little uneven.
Just a little rant on the inequities on celebrating equally important parental roles.
Father’s Day also makes me think about my relationship with my dad. We didn’t have a whole lot in common when I was growing up. We generally didn’t do very many things together. Rarely were there any real “father/son” type activities. He didn’t even like sports, and only went to baseball games if we were playing in them.
For a long time I resented the fact that he was such a hardass. It took me until the time Emmi was born to finally understand that fathers do what need to be done. Even, if it means playing the bad cop to the mom’s good cop.
In addition to Emmi, we now have a son, Logan. Will there be times when I will have to be the same type of hardass when they get older? I just don’t want them resenting me like I did with my dad.
Now that my kids are six and four, they are getting old enough to understand the stories I tell them about “my daddy.” They recognize him in pictures. I have told them about times I used to get in trouble. And, what he would say to me.
I’d like to think my dad would be happy with the job I’ve done so far. But, just once, I’d love to see how he would be with his grandkids. Something tells me he would be a whole lot softer with them.
But, I would also love the opportunity to finally tell him that he was right all along.
He taught me how to be a father, and I was just too stubborn to see it until after he was gone. Knowing my dad, something tells me that his response would be, “Of course I was. You think I was just making all that up, kiddo?”