Today is my father’s 82nd birthday. I am the only daughter and the oldest of his five children. My parents have been married now 55 years.
I wasn’t especially close to my Dad while I was growing up because he was self-employed and he worked a lot of hours. He owned and operated his own plumbing, heating and air conditioning company. The company employed a steady stream of plumbing and heating professionals and at one point Dad was the President of the Plumbing and Heating Contractors Association of Western New York. All this led to his being out of the home for long hours of every day including Saturday’s.
My parents had little money when they first got married and the family recounts stories of the pink truck they owned which only had one door that opened, the passenger’s door.
Somewhere around my freshman year in high school I began to realize how expensive it was to have five children and to be responsible for bringing in the money to take care of us all. My Dad sent me and two of my brothers to private school, which even back in 1970 cost a pretty penny. I began working at the age of 15 so that I could be less of a financial burden to the family. I wasn’t asked to do this, but I figured I could make some money and buy my own clothes and spend it on buying those things that I needed instead of asking my Dad to work harder to get it for me.
I do not ever remember wanting for anything while growing up. There was always food on the table, heat on in the winter and clothes on our backs. My parents did without a lot of things, like when they drove around in a car with holes in the floor board because they couldn’t afford to buy a new car, or when my Dad worked on Sundays when a client had a need.
My Dad wasn’t an especially demonstrative person toward me or my mother. He never held my mother’s hand when they walked anywhere, and they never had any open displays of affection. He was very much a conservative, Catholic Italian man.
Because my Dad owned his own business, he would employ family members who found themselves unemployed for whatever reason. He often had uncles, cousins, nephews and sons working for him when they needed to make ends meet. My Dad is thought of highly in my family.
All of us children were taught to get up early to go to work. If Dad had to get up we all had to get up, even if it was 6:00 a.m. If there was no school, my brothers would head off to work with my Dad where they would learn to dig trenches or fix toilets. They worked alongside somewhat salty men who all worked hard, but my dad taught my brothers how to work harder. They are all stronger for it today.
I know my dad is responsible for the incredibly strong work ethic I and my brothers have. We watched him work hard to provide us with a middle-class life style in a nice middle class neighborhood. At one time or another, Dad’s plumbing business employed every one of his children, including me.
Over twenty years ago Dad got hurt while on the job and it ended his working life. My two older brothers jumped in to keep the business going to help Mom pay the bills and they did an admirable job. When it became clear that Dad could no longer work the way he had for all those years, he moved with my Mom to California. My brothers kept the business going for a short time. They had dreams of their own and places they wanted to go, so eventually the business was closed.
My parents now live in California and are quite happy there. They have one son and his family who live nearby. They also have lots of nieces, nephews and cousins around. I have one brother in Nevada and two who still reside in Buffalo. We will all be calling Dad to wish him Happy Birthday and another year of good health with many more to come. I thought this year I would also say, “Thanks for everything you did for me while I was growing up and I love you, Dad.”