My dad died 11 years ago today. I remember it like it was yesterday. I hadn’t been gone from the hospital long, my brothers were with him. I have absolutely no doubt that he waited until my mom, my sister and I left to let go. He protected me until the very end.

I also vividly remember, as I was on my way back to the hospital early that morning, realizing that my dad died on tax day. And that there had to be a joke in there…somewhere. Death and taxes. The only guarantees in life. And once again, he made me smile.

My dad wasn’t a big man…5’8″ is probably generous. But he had an infectious laugh, a booming voice, and his “just wait until I get you home” look could stop you in your tracks. He remains one of the hardest working people I have ever met. A pipefitter by trade, he was fiercely loyal to his family, his friends, his church and his beliefs. I was raised with a healthy fear of touching the thermostat and crossing picket lines and being taught that hard work is paramount.

He had terrible dad jokes (for example: What did the fish say when he swam into the wall? Dam. *groans*), but also had a string of sayings that I refer to as Frank-isms. A few of my favorites include:

  • It’s easier to keep up than to catch up. (So so true…hoping to figure out how to do that very soon.)
  • If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. (Truer words were never spoken.)
  • Nothing good happens after midnight. (Again…truer words…)
  • If you leave hungry, it’s your own fault. (A holiday favorite)

There are so many more, but I’ll save those for another time.

I have been a daddy’s girl for as long as I can remember. My parents did not plan to have a 4th child. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I was the result of a weekend trip to Vegas and the rhythm method. I remember going to the grocery store with him every Saturday morning and the people at the store would ask him, “Is that your granddaughter, Frank?” And he would always reply, “Nope, just a little girl I picked up on the side of the road.” And everyone would laugh (although I’m not sure how that would go over these days…). He retired when I was still in grade school and had his first heart attack in his late 50’s. The day after his hospitalization, he gave all the unhealthy stuff up cold turkey. He watched his diet like a hawk (sometimes annoyingly so), never smoked again (not even the occasional cigar that he used to enjoy), did everything the doctor told him to do to the letter, exercised religiously. At the time I didn’t truly appreciate it, but having been in medicine for awhile now, I realize that it was his discipline and sacrifices that gave me all those extra years with him.

I said goodbye to my dad when I was 38 and he was 88, eleven years ago today. He was not a perfect man, but he gave me some perfect examples of how to live my life. Do I agree with everything he did or said? Do I even understand why he did some of his decisions? No, but I have learned to appreciate why he did and said the things he did. And that was one of the biggest gifts he gave me. I am proud of the woman I have become (most days), and thankful that he always encouraged me to be the best I could be. Through that, he taught me to be an independent thinker and in charge of my own life. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but hopefully always true to myself.

And while I still have never crossed a picket line, I love having control of the thermostat.

One of my most favorite pictures of me and Dad…and yes, those are footie pajamas and plastic slipcovers. #growingupItalianinthe70’s

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