EULOGY FOR DAD – 11-20-2009
I want to thank everyone for attending dad’s wake last night and today’s mass. It is such a tremendous tribute to him and a celebration of his successful life as a husband, dad, grandfather, Father-In-Law, uncle and friend. It is a true testament to the fact that he was loved by everyone who was lucky enough to know him.
To quote my good friend Frankie, Dad was a GREAT MAN. What is it to be a great man; to lead a country? Not necessarily; to develop a medicine to rid the world of an epidemic? Not necessarily; to invent something to change society as we know it? Not necessarily. For us as a family, being a great man is a special someone who was ALWAYS there for us no matter what the circumstances. He was there every night around the dinner table, interested in our day at school, how mom’s day was, playing word games, or talking about his day. He was at all of our school functions. He would volunteer to drive kids in our classes on field trips and music auditions. He would take my brother Tom and his friends to help them sell their furs and skins. He would take Danny as his flying partner at the R/C model airplane club. He was always there to help any of us with whatever our needs were. We could ALWAYS depend on Dad.
Growing up in Naugatuck, Dad had a trying childhood, helping his mother make ends meet. He attended Naugatuck High School, graduating in 1951. Around this time, many of Dad’s friends would frequently see him cruising around on his Indian Chief motorcycle. Following a few years of working for his uncle as a mechanic and learning the plumbing trade as an apprentice, Dad was drafted, and served his country as U.S. Army Military Police in Germany during the Korean War.
Dad and Mom were married for 53 years, and have a family of two sons; myself and my brother Tom; and two daughters, Sandi and Marilee. Dad worked for Anamet, formerly Anaconda American Brass for 37 years in a number of capacities including welding engineer until his retirement in 1994. During many of his working years and into his retirement, dad and mom enjoyed taking trips in their motorhome. Dad had been an avid radio-controlled airplane enthusiast and was a member of the CT Nutmeg Flyers club. He had about 20 large model airplanes displayed in the garage which we referred to as the hangar at Wilkas Airport.
As kids, we thought that all dads could do all the amazing things our Dad could do, until we later realized that Dad was truly a jack of all trades. He remodeled our entire house and turned it into a home which we loved. He did all of the carpentry, electrical, plumbing, flooring, wallpapering, stripping, staining and painting. At one point, we had 7 cars parked in the back yard, and I can’t think of a time when even one of those cars had to go to a garage. Dad fixed and serviced them all. Much of our beautiful Early American furniture was crafted by my Dad, using scrap wood from old pallets from work. He also made furniture pieces for friends and family members. I remember frequently going with my Dad to fix cars, motors or appliances, helping out many of his friends. I was honored to be his helper.
Dad taught us that anything could be fixed; cars, engines, washing machines, power tools, bridges, floors, walls, you name it. Even cats. We had a cat, named Quincy, who would come home torn up after a fight with other cats. After two visits to the vet and a few hefty vet bills, Quincy came home yet again with a broken leg. Dad knew that he could put a splint on his leg to immobilize it, but the cat was wriggling way too much to put on the splint, so Dad duck-taped the cat to the table. Granted, some fur flew during the incident, but a few weeks later, Quincy was fine. Dad had even fixed a cat.
Our whole family was very musical. Dad loved music…he played the guitar and the organ as long as I could remember and even worked a second job at the Hammond Organ Studio in Waterbury for some time.. One could always hear Chet Atkins and Walter Wanderly records playing in our house – two of his favorites. Christmas Eve around our house was filled with singing and piano and organ playing. We all were influenced by Dad’s love of music…he would sing funny songs for us like “The Fox Went Out On A Chilly Night” and “I Had But Fifty Cents”. We all sang together and had a wonderful time. When I was in the 3rd grade, instrumental music was offered, and knowing that my Dad loved the sound of the clarinet, I decided that I would take it up. Marilee discovered her singing voice, and music has been one of the most important things in our lives ever since. Tom, Sandi and my son Danny all possess musical ability as well, and I’m sure Dad’s musical love had something to do with it, even though Dad was a self-proclaimed ‘ham’n’egger’
I remember a particular personal moment in my life with my Dad when I was thinking of quitting music lessons. It was one of those first times when I realized that he acknowledged that I needed to make my own decisions. When I told him that I was upset and didn’t think I wanted to study music anymore, he sat with me and explained that he felt I had natural ability and had already invested a lot of time into learning music, but the decision was completely up to me, but I should really think about it thoughtfully before making my decision to stop. He made me feel important; that I was in charge. That was huge for me.
Just about anyone who knew my dad would agree that one of his best attributes was his sense of humor and his laugh, particularly his laughter at his own jokes. Boy, he thought he was funny. And, he was. Even when he wasn’t trying to be, many of his best stories sounded like a comedy sketch. Like the time Dad, my brother Tom and I were all laying belly-down on our backyard bridge, looking over the edge, inspecting the old support beams. Right then, the bridge collapsed and they wound up in the brook while I was hanging from the opposite side. And then there was the time when Dad was plowing the snow over the bank into the brook. The ice beneath the snow caused the tractor to slide into the brook, flipping it over into the frozen water, while dad hung from a tree branch above. Needless to say, Dad fixed the tractor.
Of course, there is the ‘carafe’ story. We had never heard the word carafe before, and I’m not so sure Dad knew what one was either…when we asked him what it was, he thoughtfully explained in detail that it was a special stick to beat rugs from India with. To this day, I think of that whenever I’m shaking out a rug.
Dad dealt with a lot as we were growing up…Putting up with me and my musician friends playing loud music in the living room, Tommy hanging dead animal carcasses and skins in the cellar along with all of his trapping paraphernalia to name only a couple. But he was with us every step of the way. He taught us a good set of morals and values. He taught us to think for ourselves. He taught us to LOVE what we do as a career. He taught us how to ride bikes, how to drive cars, how to take care of our cars, and most importantly how to be good, responsible, respectful and productive people.
In the past year, it made me sad to hear my dad say that he wished he could have provided us with grander vacations, a nicer home, a better life. I don’t think that he felt he was as successful a father as he wanted to be. The truth is, dad provided all of us with a family that was happy, filled with laughter, fun, caring and love. We always had good food on the table, nice clothes on our backs and a warm cozy home. Maybe he didn’t realize how much it meant to us to do something as simple as spend the day at Milford Beach, go to Riverside Park, go ice skating and tobogganing or go sailing and picnic at the lake. To us, that was EVERYTHING, and he and mom made it happen. Dad was a wonderful father. He went by many names; Honey, Dad, Grampie, Fadoo, Jimmy, Uncle Jimmy, Bubsie, The Kid, and Big W. He, together with mom, raised a good family of happy, productive and respectful children and to us, this is what it means to have been GREAT. My Dad WAS a GREAT MAN. We are so fortunate to have had such a great man as our father, Mom’s husband, Danny’s Grandfather, your Uncle and great friend. Dad, we all will love you forever and you will always be with us in our hearts and souls as long as we live.