I’ve been sitting here for three hours or so, trying to figure out what to say about Father’s Day. Should I say that there are over seventy places that celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June (including Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States)? Should I mention the fifty-some other places that celebrate Father’s Day on other days, like Australia and New Zealand, who celebrate it on the first Sunday in September? Should I talk about doing what your dad wants to do? In Canada and the U.S. you might take him to a baseball game. What about having a backyard cookout? You could have hot dogs and hamburgers for the guests, but maybe a steak for Dad and Granddad. If you can’t get to a baseball game, how about just letting Dad watch whatever he wants to watch on the TV on his day?
I suppose I could mention that the number one gift to give your dad is still a tie, although my dad only wore ties to wakes and funerals, so a festive one would be out of the question. I could mention that while Mother’s Day has the highest number of phone calls, the most Collect Calls are made on Father’s Day.
You see, the reason I’m having trouble is that my father and I have been estranged for forty-six years and he’s been dead for forty-five of those years. No matter what I did, it didn’t please him. Finally, he gave me permission to leave when he said, “The front door closes from both sides and there are suitcases in the basement.”
I went down in the basement and got a suitcase, I filled it and I left. I never looked back. He died of a heart attack a year later. Naturally, I attended the wake and funeral, but I never missed him. I still don’t.
So you can see why I’m having difficulty writing an article that would praise the man who ‘allowed’ me to leave my home. I don’t know… maybe there are several of you out there who don’t want to read about how to celebrate Father’s Day.
But when I think back, I had a surrogate father. He was the custodian at a Chicago Public School playground. He gave me more in three hours a week than my dad gave me in all the years of my life. He gave me his attention; he listened to me and let me finish any point I was trying to make. He cussed like a sailor, but wouldn’t let me get away with so much as a ‘hell’ or ‘damn’. (“Pete, stop your fuckin’ swearing!”) But most of all, he gave me guidance and approval. His name was Ed Albano.
Ed worked five days a week, including Saturday nights. Since I was thirteen, every Saturday night that Ed was there I went to see him and listen to his stories about growing up in the 1930s. Ed had a great singing voice and taught me so many of the old songs from his youth. He played ukulele and taught me to play as well. That’s a gift that I’ll never give up.
He died a few years later while I was in the Army. By the time I got the notice, he was already buried. Ed and his wife never had any kids, but Ed ‘adopted’ many of us over the years. Now on Father’s Day I have a reason to celebrate. I hope all of you who are estranged from your fathers will find a mentor, as I did. With any luck, that mentor might be your surrogate father as well. Be sure to wish him a Happy Father’s Day!