My dad was a WWII Veteran. My mother and he married in a quickie court house ceremony before he was shipped overseas, where he served as a sergeant in the European theater. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery. He had no middle name. My mother called him Nicky after his father, Nicholas, an immigrant from Yugoslavia. My oldest brother nicknamed him Big Al.
Because of the war, and because I am the baby of the family, my father was 38 years old when I was born. He lived to the age of 85, giving me 47 years of his care. Despite being born later in his life, it’s not inconceivable that I could still have my father with me; his own father lived well into his 90s. I can’t help but wonder in what ways the past 12 years of my life might have been different.
I think about that often, in fact, there’s barely a week that goes by that I am not given some small reminder of my father, and that I don’t wish he was still alive, but mostly I think about how much I miss the wise, gentle and humorous man he matured into. It wasn’t always so.
As a father to my siblings and I growing up, he was a strict disciplinarian, with heavy dictatorial tendencies. When Big Al talked, everybody listened. His word was not to be questioned and he could be short tempered more often than not. He and my oldest brother had a love-hate relationship, I think because my father wanted so many things for his first-born son and my brother wanted so much to live up to the high expectations, but often fell short. In my twenties and early thirties, I was convinced I’d grown up in the worst of dysfunctional families—until I learned the horrors of real dysfunction. We were flawed and there was certainly room for improvement, but in the big picture, it turns out I had some pretty fine parents.
I think an era of less drama in our family came with my father’s Master’s Degree in Educational Counseling, earned at the age of 50; he mellowed considerably after that. Also, with the degree came a white collar 9 to 5 job as a Veterans’ Job Counselor, relieving the pressure of working both a full-time and part-time job, while going to school (one or two courses a semester because that was all he could handle). There was more time for leisure and a lot more laughter in our house. As the baby of the brood, I realize I benefitted from this the most, my experiences growing up are not the experience of my siblings.
I haven’t forgotten the rigid rules, the temper that could flare with little warning or the fear in the pit of my stomach on hearing my father’s voice raised in anger, even if it wasn’t directed at me. But I have far more years filled with memories of my father teaching me what I needed to know about life and about myself; this is what I remember about my father and the thing I miss the most. My father taught me what I was made of.
My father encouraged both my older sister and I in every path we chose, and later my three daughters. Never was there the slightest hint that as girls we should think or accept we were less advantaged, less bright, or less capable than males. In a time when women had not long been pursuing professions outside of teaching, nursing and secretarial work, my father wanted me to be a lawyer. Not listening to him that time is but one of the many times I should have.
When, at the ripe old age of young-twenty-something, I told my father I wanted to be a writer, he chuckled and said, “You can’t just decide to be a writer, besides you’re spelling is atrocious.”
Not a very supportive sounding encouragement on the face of it, but my father knew me well. I could never resist a challenge, nor would I rest until I achieved the desired outcome, a tenacity that is the direct result of having two older brothers I never let best me. With no formal education at the time, a wife and full-time mother of two, I triumphantly handed my father my first published work within a year. The fact that it was but the first installment of an Erma Bombeck styled column in a local newspaper was the cherry on top of my I’ll show you sundae.
There has not been a single stretch of time since that initial column, that I have not been regularly publishing in a periodical (and my father relished and saved every one until the day he died), but my true dream was always to be a published book author.
To my great surprise, but also by virtue of my nudging him, my father beat me to that punch when he wrote a short book of memoirs about his time as police officer, Stop in the Name of the Law: True Confessions of a Superior Cop. Superior was the name of the town we lived in and his book was a local hit, so much so he followed up with two more. The Waterfront, covered another of his trades as a Longshoreman in the port town, and Beyond the Law was a more raucous look at life as a small town cop.
There are two things I wish my father had lived to see, the day I finally walked across a stage to accept a diploma, and the day my first novel was published, both after I’d passed my 50th birthday (and then some).
Miss you dad. Your legacy lives on.
Sins of the Fathers, a crime novel by Judith Liebaert was inspired by a true cold case homicide that occurred in her small midwestern town in 1966, one year after her father resigned from the local police department. Published by Tellectual Press, available in paperback and Kindle versions from Amazon.