25 Years

My older brother Steve just turned 59. During the birthday phone conversation he said, “I’ve passed Dad.” He said exactly what I was thinking but didn’t want to say. He said it like he’d been wondering about it, and of course he had been, because what surviving son doesn’t.

We sons inevitably compare ourselves against our fathers, and that continues long after our fathers are gone. Steve said what he said in a soft voice, but there also was a tone of – not disbelief, but muted triumph. He’d eclipsed our father’s final milestone.

“I’ve passed Dad.”

Dad was five months short of 59 when he died, 25 years ago today, the low point of a year that could be called A Tale of Two Extremes. That year, 1987, is transcribed in jumbotron red in my mind’s eye, accompanied by a stadium horn, marking the end of youth and the beginning of all this.

My daughter Sam was born in April that year. The best of times. Dad died in August. The worst of times. It seemed like every one of Dad’s depressing visits to the oncologist or radiation therapist was countered by a good prenatal report about our bun in the oven, and eventually, her arrival.

She was born on a Monday night. Tuesday morning, Dad got to the hospital to meet the fulfillment of his dreams. This was a man whose father abandoned him before he was born. So, for Tony Grillo, being a father and then a grandfather were two of the three most important things in life – being my mother’s husband was the other.

I was in the hospital hall talking with someone on the payphone – remember those? Here came my old man, limping with the aid of a cane, lips tight to ward off the pain, not the usual whistle, like when he was healthy and could take one step for every two of yours and still leave you in the dust. His walk was fast and nimble with a rhythm.

On this day, his gait was shambling and clunky, but forthright. I hung up the phone and he embraced me, one hand open, the other clutching the cane. By then, I’d learned not to hug Dad too hard, because it hurt him. Then he met his granddaughter, and here was something lovely and small, and obviously his progeny.

In those last few months, I think Dad found a fair measure of contentment and happiness thanks to that tiny, grabby, high-pitched and sometimes stinky human bundle.

So yeah, 1987 was a bipolar year, not an emotional rollercoaster, more like a wormhole, space bending itself in half, a breakneck shortcut between unfathomable gloom and unfettered joy.

Birth and death are the dramatic entrances and exits we keep tabs of, but the real story is everything in between. That’s the main course, and Dad never went hungry. It’s been 25 laps around the sun since he left the table. I’ve missed him every day since, and that makes me a very lucky man. Much obliged, Pop. Hope we are together again, in some form or fashion, one of these days. But not until I’ve passed you.

11 thoughts on “25 Years

  1. I remember the joy your father had when he had bought that truck and we all rode around in it. I always enjoyed speaking with him and still remember some of the advice he had given me about children. I feel very fortunate that my Dad is still alive and I still rely on him for advice. We were very lucky Jerry being raised the way we were. I think we are better men as a result and someday we will all meet up at the great dinner table in the sky and swap results. Steve turning 59 is a mind blow to me as well. Where has time gone?

  2. Mark, we’ll also be swapping food, as in, “Hey, pass me the meatballs and I’ll pass you the gravy.” Notice, I said “gravy,” not “sauce.” That’s how we were both raised.

  3. Dad wants nothing more than for all his boys to “pass him”. Hopefully he wants the same for the girls (haha). I depend on you to share memories of dad. You always make me smile and laugh when you point out dad’s funny habits. I think I hear him whistling for me now. Thanks Gerard, for the memories.

    • Your welcome, sistuh … and we haven’t even scratched the surface of some of the stuff he did (and said he did).

  4. When I called my Dad on his 88th birthday, he remarked that young and old had their uses, but all the good times are in the middle. Your dad’s middle was short and yours is long. But however long it lasts, you’re right, it’s the in-between that matters.

  5. I just love what you wrote. It brought tears to my eyes. You know just how to bring the memories back and express what a wonderful Dad you had. I can see how special he was in your sister Tonette and brother Steve. I am bleased to know your family. Thank you for giving me a glimpse of the very special Tony Grillo.

  6. I’m so thankful we have the memory of this man to share, and for your beautiful expression of those memories. What a powerful year of joy and sorrow! I don’t think I could have made it through each day if little baby Sam wasn’t there to remind us of the miraculous cycle of life.

  7. Thanks for writing this Jerry. It is so hard for me to believe that 25 years has past since Dad has died. That was on our 17th wedding anniversary, we just past our 42nd. The story made me laugh out loud thinking of all the “Tony Grillo” time I was so fortunate to be able to share with your Dad. The stories are both endless and treasured, he definitely goes into the “favorites” column when Uncles are discussed. There is only one person I would ever stay up with past midnight putting mortar on a homemade cinder block barbeque grill all in the glow of the starkest blue light bulb I have ever seen.

    • Thanks, Frank. Dad kept me up around a few blue lights over the years, too. For all the kvetching I did, I really, really miss those times.

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