Dad Made Things

My Dad was a pretty typical father of the 50s, 60s and beyond. He went to work while Mom stayed at home with the six kids. He earned the money. He was the provider.

Dad came home every evening right around 6pm. Dinner was just about ready, and we were around the table. A drink was made, Dad took a sip, then settled down for dinner with the brood.

He was a good provider. He was a breadwinner.

But that isn’t what I remember tonight, as I think about Father’s Day and what my Dad meant to me.

What I remember about my Dad was that he made things.

Just for fun, just for a sense of creativity, my Dad made things.

When I was a very little girl, he made pancakes. He did it every Saturday morning while encouraging my Mom to sleep in a bit. Dad would get up with all of us, and he’d make batch after batch of pancakes. We’d eat them up while watching “The Little Rascals” on tv.

As I got older, Dad made things like shelves, and picture frames and other small wooden items. On the weekend, Dad would go down to his workshop in the garage, where he’d make step-stools and Confirmation Crosses and bookshelves.

After his retirement, Dad made more decorative items, just for fun. My parents had a beautiful in-ground pool, and Dad made planters for the flowers that Mom placed around the patio.

When my family was young, and settling into our first and only home, Dad helped my husband to build a shed to store the garden tools.

Dad isn’t here with us anymore. He went on to the next step back in 2008.

But tonight, as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day without being able to hug our kids, I am thinking of my Dad and of his legacy of creation.

I’m thinking a lot about the fact that although I am his daughter, I don’t really take after my Dad. I don’t know how to hammer a nail or saw a board or make a shed. I’m not good at math, the way that he was. I don’t have Dad’s sense of detail and his ability to create logical, sequential plans. That skill is shared by my sister, but not by me.

That thought made me a little bit sad today.

Then I took a walk around my garden. And I thought a bit.

Maybe I’m stretching it, maybe I’m making it up, but it seems to me that in a different sense, I do share Dad’s ability to “make things.”

I have made a garden out of a yard that was once completely wild. Slowly, step by step, blossom by blossom, I have turned my wild property into a pretty, fragrant, welcoming space.

Making something out of nothing is perhaps a skill, or a desire, that I do share with my Dad.

Maybe the bread that I make from my own sourdough starter is a way for me to create something, too.

What I know is that I miss my Dad. I miss his smile, his humor, his hugs. I even miss his rigid sense of right and wrong. I miss his love. I miss the things that he made out of nothing.

So tomorrow morning I will walk in my garden. I’ll salute my Dad as I admire the coreopsis growing in the goose planter that he built. I’ll take a lawn chair out of the shed that he built in our yard.

And I’ll water the wild roses and irises and herbs that I have planted here in what was once a piece of woodland.

I’ll think of my Dad and I’ll treasure the small ways in which I am like him.

The Little Things

I miss my father.

I miss the fact of him, the sense that everything would be OK, just because he was in the world.

Dad left us ten years ago, or at least he left this earthly plane ten years ago. He hasn’t gone very far, though, even after all this time. I see him in the raised eyebrows of my baby grandson when I do something silly. I see him in the skeptical frown of my granddaughter when I try to fool her.

I hear him, right in my ear, as I reach up to his work bench to return a set of pliers that I have borrowed. His voice is so clear that I find myself answering out loud, “Of course I’m going to clean off the dirt before I hang them up!” I hear us laughing together as I do just that.

I miss so many of the little things about Dad. I miss the smell of his skin when I’d kiss his cheek. I miss the Old Spice on his shirts. I miss being called “little girl.”


I miss the way Dad would grin and rub his hands together to signal that it was time for a cocktail or a glass of wine. I miss sitting and sipping good Scotch together.

I miss how my Dad could make a bad day turn fun. I’ll never forget when he and my Mom and sister came to visit us during our graduate school days. Dad had come with a very good bottle of expensive Scotch, and we had promised to take them out for dinner. But it was a summer weekend, and every restaurant in town was booked solid. We ended up in our tiny apartment, crowded around the kitchen table. We dined on salami sandwiches, a bag of chips, and that excellent Scotch. We had so much fun laughing at ourselves, because my Dad set the tone.

I really miss seeing my children with their grandfather. He was the Grampa who played checkers and dominoes for hours. He taught them how to sand wood and hammer in a nail. He was the Grampa who sat on the floor and let the kids use him as a climbing toy.



He listened to the kids when they talked to him. He looked into their eyes. Grampa made them feel special, and so they were. I miss the sound of those high voices calling, “Grampa! Grampa!” as they came in the front door.

He wasn’t perfect, our Dad. He was just a regular, hard working family man who loved his wife, loved his kids, loved the life he lead. He laughed more than he frowned, and even when he was mad, he was never scary.

He was solid. Dependable in all ways. He was a man of black and white views about what was right and what was wrong, and so was not a man of nuances around truth and integrity.

But he was always compassionate, always generous, always true to himself.

I miss him.

I feel him in the room with me, even as I write this piece. But I miss him, so very much.

Happy Father’s Day to all the men who love and nurture families.

My Dad

My Dad could fix anything. He fixed pipes, cars, broken toys, cracked walkways.

He was a builder. He built shelves and storage sheds. He created furniture and toys and additions on the house. His hands were sure and capable. He frowned when he worked, puzzling over a problem, a pencil always over his left ear.

On Saturdays, he’d work in the yard. He would weed, screen loam, spread grass seed, prune the bushes. There always seemed to be something for him to be doing.

I remember him coming in for lunch, in a white t shirt or a sweatshirt, that pencil still on his ear. We would have Italian cold cuts. Mortadella, salami, capicola, provolone cheese. He’d put hot peppers on his sandwich if he had a cold.

On hot days, Dad would sprinkle salt into his beer. I never asked why, but in my childhood it seemed like a right of passage.

Dad could make pancakes. On Saturday mornings he’d let my Mom sleep in a bit, and he’d sit with his kids watching the Three Stooges and the Little Rascals. He’d sit on the floor, his back against the couch. We would perch on his legs and nestle into each side of him.

He’d laugh. Loud and exuberant, unrestrained, big open mouthed guffaws at the antics on TV.

Then he would make us pancakes.

Eventually, Mom would come down the hall, in her robe. Dad would always grab her and kiss her with the ardor of a teenager. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he’d ask his wide eyed children.  We readily agreed.

Dad was patient. He tried like a saint to teach me the concept of algebra. I never mastered it, but he never gave up.

Dad was generous. He was honest. He had more integrity than anyone I’ve ever known.

When my Father died, the line to get into his wake was so long that it wrapped around the building. People he’d known for years mixed with people he’d met in his job. They came with thanks, and they came with sadness. They came to tell us how much he’d meant to them.

Our Dad was loving. His adored our Mother, the love of his life. He loved all six of each children, and every one of his grandchildren. He made time for us. He listened.

I see him in the dark brown eyes of my granddaughter, and I see him in each of my children. I hear his voice as I walk in the quiet woods. I feel his breath on my cheek as I drift to sleep with a baby in my arms.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

I love you.

An Orange Juice Awakening

I have always had a pretty clear idea of what it means to be a great Dad.  I grew up with one of the best, and his model was always there for me to see.

When my own kids were little, though, I think that I took their father very much for granted.  He was always there, always involved in every aspect of their lives, always my partner.  He did laundry. He shopped.  He never hesitated to cope with the dirtiest of diapers or the worst midnight vomit eruptions.  He never made a fuss; he just quietly did what needed to be done.

Our kids always took Paul’s love and support as simply a part of the fabric of their lives. They didn’t ever question that love or worry that it might go away or somehow become less.  He was just there; he was Dad.

The sun rose in the sky, the earth turned and Dad was always there to help and guide in his understated way.

It wasn’t until all three of our children had grown up and moved out that I think they began to understand the depth of what their father has always given to them.  They started to realize what it takes to be a father; what it takes to be that man who is the foundation of his children’s life.

I remember one particular moment, when our youngest child had a revelation about his Dad.  Tim had come home from college for a weekend, and was pouring himself a glass of orange juice.  He made a little sound, and said, “Huh.  Why is there pulp in this juice?”  I answered, “Because Dad likes his juice with pulp.”

Tim stood still, the carton in his hand, his green eyes wide. I saw him thinking it over, and knew the moment when he understood.  “You mean, all these years, we had juice with no pulp just because we kids didn’t like it?  Dad never had the kind of juice he likes, for all these years?”

He was astounded, but I know that he wasn’t surprised.

I wanted to tell him that a father’s love comes with much bigger sacrifices than this one, but in a way, it was the power of all of the tiny actions that really define what it is to love your child.

Paul didn’t just teach our kids to drive; he taught them to check the oil and change a flat. He didn’t just give them an allowance, he taught them about saving and about credit cards and always paying yourself first.  He didn’t only read them books at night, he stayed in the room until they were safely asleep.

And he didn’t ever tell them that he was quietly giving up the pulp in his morning juice, just for them.

Happy Father’s Day, Paul! 

You've earned your time in the sun!

You’ve earned your time in the sun!

Just a boy

When I think of my Dad, I think of competence.   He was only 29 when I made my appearance in his life, but still, my every memory of him was of calm, assured competence.

I remember Dad in my earliest memories working in our yard. I have a clear image of him telling all of us, all of the neighborhood kids, to stand back.  He was going to kill a nest of ground wasps that had taken up painful residence in our yard.  We waited inside the house, where it was safe, while Dad took on the dangerous task of dealing with the enemy, so frightening to a five year old and her friends.

I remember Dad taking apart car engines, fixing lawn mowers, building shelves, turning our unfinished basement into three finished rooms, complete with carpeting, lights and  panelled walls.

Dad was never awkward, never at a loss in a social setting.  He was never loud, never boastful, but he was always at ease. I remember him at weddings, parties, neighborhood cookouts.  Always charming, always kind.

When I got married and had children and a home of my own, it was Dad who was always called upon to come to the rescue.  How to finance a new septic system?  Ask Dad. How to build a shed for all of our gardening supplies?  Dad again.

He was our compass point, our true North.  His was the voice that we heard in our hearts as we contemplated each youthful mistake.

Mom was home and hearth; Dad was the roadmap to adult life.

In his last years and months, my Dad faced a range of ailments that left him physically weakened and largely dependent on others for his daily care.  But he never lost his competence, his assurance, his dignity or his role as the family leader.  In a wheelchair, one side of his body made nearly useless by a stroke, Dad was still the one we went to for advice and guidance.

I have never thought of my father as anything but mature, able, confident and supremely in control.  Dad has been gone for almost five years now, and I still ask him for advice.

Last Thursday I was visiting my Mom, as I do most weeks.  She was busy at the stove, making a delicious dinner for the two of us, and I was seated in my usual place at the kitchen table.  I picked up my wine glass, and wandered into the dining room.  On the  table I found a large, faded manilla envelope with old fashioned type-writer lettering on the front.  It was addressed to my Dad.

As I opened the flap, my Mother came to my side.  “I was cleaning out a drawer, looking through some of these old things.”, she said.  “They were Dad’s.  From the war.”

We stood together, my Mother and I, looking down at the yellowed envelopes that lay on the tablecloth before us.  With a surprisingly unsteady hand, I slid each piece of paper out and read the words so carefully typed on each one.  An acceptance letter into the US Army, dated in 1944. A request for uniform and clothing supplies before reporting: pants, jackets, a “watch cap”, even socks.  A roster of names and addresses for the soldiers who had served in Dad’s Third Army unit.  A letter of thanks signed by Harry S. Truman.  A typed, faded reminder to sign up for health and life insurance from the Army before time ran out.

Mom and I smiled and talked about each document, touching them with reverence and love, commenting on the quaintly ancient look of each typed letter.

Then I reached for the last envelop.  I felt something solid inside, something that was clearly not made of paper.  I lifted the flap.  Something slipped into my hand, and I gasped.  I held two small tin dogtags, tied together with string.  There was my father’s name, Edward A. Merullo, and a number.  My fingers closed over them, holding them tight. My heart sped up, and I felt tears fill my eyes.

I had never seen these dogtags before, not ever.  I knew that my father had served in WWII, but that fact seemed like history, not reality.  It didn’t really register with me that Dad had been a soldier, for real.  Not until last Thursday.

There I stood, a mother of three children who are all older than Dad was when he wore those tags.  I stood perfectly still. I stood in tears.

I stood there, holding those little bits of metal, so much lighter and less substantial than I have always imagined them to be.  And I pictured them lying against a boy’s chest, moving with each beat of his heart.  Growing warm from his skin as he stood sentry duty in Germany in 1945.

And for the very first time, I thought of my father as an unsure, unformed boy of 19.  Going to war.  Wearing his army issue jacket, pants and “watch cap”, his dog tags clinking as he marched.  I thought of him in danger, afraid.  Missing his own parents.  Missing home.

And it made me love him and miss him even more.  I wish that I had seen those dogtags when he was still with us, when I could have asked him what he was feeling as he slipped them over his head for the first time.

Fathers day 2006

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.  We miss you.