Today would have been Dad’s 84th birthday. He died in 1999 from complications of congestive heart failure and diabetes.
Dad was one of the smartest people I’d ever known. The son of Italian immigrants, he worked his way up from office boy to the company president. He was a good friend to many people, and enlivened many, many parties and gatherings.
He loved food, especially the way his mother made it. Some of my earliest memories of cooking were ‘helping’ Grandma make pasta of all types, and listening to the stories of the old country – the farm, the huge family, how she used to keep rocks in her apron pockets to throw at the boys, that her husband (my grandfather) “e un principe,” a prince.
Over the years, Dad gained a lot of weight. Looking back on it, he had a lot of stress – 4 children, a long commute, community responsibilities. His way of coping was with good food, often eaten with friends.
As he aged, in fact, he’d often declare a weekend – any old weekend – as his birthday. He wanted an excuse for a party!
Diabetes was diagnosed when he was in his late 50’s or early 60’s. He didn’t take it seriously for a number of years, always trying to get around the rules. It wasn’t until he developed early signs of retinopathy (eye damage) that he shaped up. The fear of blindness drove him.
Dad became so focused on controlling his diabetes that he actually reversed the retinopathy. Unfortunately, the heart disease history on both sides of his family stepped in as well.
Why am I going on so much about it? Well, this is actually a tribute to a life well lived. But also an admission that he’d always been on me to control my weight. He was proud of me when I did, and not-so-proud of me when I didn’t. As I passed 400 pounds, and my health was starting to fail, he was spending more and more time in the hospital. My size upset him terribly.
Two weeks after he died, the beginning of the end for me started up. I was admitted to the same hospital he’d died in – with many of the same nurses – with a bad leg infection and septicemia.
With 20-20 hindsight, I think he not only knew what was happening to me, but also helping it along. I obviously needed a major disaster.
Surgery is probably not the route he would have preferred to see, but I can’t help but feel that he’s watching, and is happy that I’ve had a second chance. He’s proud of me. REALLY proud of me.
So, happy birthday, Dad. Hope you’re up there with your buddies, having an endless barbecue, and singing the old stupid songs.