My memories of him come alive when I think of my dad and see photos of him both as a young man and older. Because so much time has passed since his death, I have to spend more time processing memories of him.
My dad, mój tatuś, in Polish, was a larger than life person when I was a child, as most fathers are. My dad was not tall, but was a large man, a steel worker. He was strong and able to do manual labor in a steel mill. He was also a survivor of World War II and was the head of our household; so he ruled the roost. My brother and I knew that and we knew our place.
This time of year brings a flood of memories back because his Feast Day has come and gone, November 28, 1979, and the anniversary of his death is coming up. As is the custom for many older Polish people, and it certainly was when I was growing up, feast days or name days were more important than birthdays. It was on your feast day that you received presents. Feast Days in Poland, imieniny in Polish, were the days on the Catholic calendar commemorating the day of a saint for which you were named. Dad’s was St. Zdzisław, his patron saint. Now on a non-Polish calendar, Zdzisław, would not be there, but on a Polish Catholic calendar, it’s there. And it’s important to note that on any given day on a saints’ calendar, your name may share the day with other names. Living in the United States, my brother and I did not celebrate our feast days, but our parents did.
I do remember when dad was very sick, a few days before he died, which was also a week after Thanksgiving that year, he only wanted turkey and rice for his feast day meal. He used to have quite an appetite, but not that year. He was so sick from receiving weekly dialysis treatments, and he was getting weaker every day. I also remember the morning of December 4, 1979, which was the feast of St. Barbara, my feast day. Since my husband and I lived near my parents they often watched our little miniature Schnauzer during the day. I don’t remember the circumstances, but it was agreed upon that Spanky, the dog, would go down to grandma’s house that day and I would go on to work. I vividly remember that morning when dropping off the dog. My dad was on the second floor at the top of the landing in his pajamas and robe, saying that he was not doing well and that my mom needed to call an ambulance to take him to the hospital where his doctors were. Now the beauty of where my parents lived was that they were a block from the local hospital, but the hospital where he needed to go was in the city, on the north side of Pittsburgh. The morning traffic was a problem and complicated because one of the bridges was under re-construction, consequently the ambulance had to make a detour.
Going on to work, I stood by the phone to get a status call from my mom about dad’s condition. The hospital from downtown where I worked was very close and I would go over at a moment’s notice.
Well the call came but it was with mortal news that dad had died and I needed to get over there right away.
I immediately prayed to St. Barbara, my patron saint, to welcome dad into the afterlife. When I got to the hospital, I found him lying on the emergency room table, no life left in his body, as I walked over to say good-bye. This indeed was a surreal experience. He needed to get up off the table and tell everyone that he wanted to go home. But I realized that was not going to happen. The whole experience was awkward. I did not know what to do or say or think. I had never had anyone close to me, especially someone I loved, die before. I did realize I needed to say good-bye, feeling that his spirit was still in the room. I do think I was numb to what had just happened.
So as I think of my dad these days, not having him in my life for 38 years, what could have been had he lived? He would have been around for the birth of my first child, Christopher, who was born three months after his death. He could have been around for his two other grandchildren, granddaughters, Stephanie and Samantha. There would have been so many other events, but none of that was to be.
He was my father and he was the only dad he knew how to be during his time on earth. He loved me, that I know. Was he hands on? No. He would get reports from my mom about what was going on in my life, but actually asking me? No. Was that normal when I was growing up? Maybe. I feel that is totally immaterial, since he was my dad and that’s the way he fathered. He put food on the table, paid his mortgage, and walked me down the aisle. And he loved me.