On Father’s Day: An Homage To ‘The Great One’

 On Fathers Day: An Homage To The Great OneI really love the company of men.  I love to laugh with them and argue politics with them and fuss on them.  I love the physicality of men, love touching them to make a point or to squeeze their arms with affection. I especially love men who make me laugh.

Thank you, Dad.  I owe that all to you.

My father Peter (‘Pete’) Jones was a Living Legend in my neighborhood growing up, where he was known as ‘the Godfather’ because of his imposing presence and remarkable ability to deliver for those fallen on hard times.  He worked at a felt mill, Albany Felt Company to be exact, now morphed into Albany International.  He started in the 1930s as a blue collar worker, a guy who jumped into bags of cotton to mush it all down.  Over time he headed up their Physical Plant, creating pristine and even tranquil grounds that included great lawns and a huge pond complete with fountain in the center and white swans that looked angelic and graceful but who would hiss and attack if approached too closely.  Eventually, Dad was promoted to head up the Personnel Office where he hired the workers that made Albany Felt thrive.  It was a family there.

At one time Dad oversaw teams of maintenance workers, most of whom were ‘displaced persons’, European men and women who immigrated to the US after World War 2 after their homes, families and sometimes countries disappeared or were subsumed into the Eastern Bloc.  I imagine they were a disperate lot, speaking many different languages but excellent workers all despite doing the humblest of work.  My father had great respect for them and the feelings were mutual it seems, for many times one of us kids would find a fresh bottle of booze (which no one in my house ever drank) or homemade brownies by the German lady, or baklava from the Lebanese man, or the finest hand-crocheted table cloth from the gay man who hated my mother and wanted Dad all to himself, or cigarettes, or fresh bread left at the front door, dropped off by grateful people for my father.  We had no idea what he actually did for them,

but he had his iconic 3″x5″ index cards and a pen in his shirt pocket, always jotting notes in his unique scrawl about someone needing something.

Sometimes I went along when he dropped off a bag of groceries or medicine or even some cash to a shut-in down on their luck.

Everyone in North Albany, NY where I grew up knew Pete Jones and that we were his kids.  He was extremely charming and funny and it helped that he literally looked like George Reeves (TV’s Superman), tall and built solid like a mountain, no one to be messed with.  When one of the neighbor boys up the street was playing with a real rifle, my father went out, retrieved it and walked the boy home to his no-nonsense parents.  When my little brother’s bike was stolen by tough kids from the local housing project, my father went out in his car and got it back.  God help those kids, I thought, because as good as my father was, he was an impressively violent man, triggered, I’m sure, by post traumatic stress disorder acquired by his experience as a medic in WW2.  When there was any trouble within blocks of my working class neighborhood, people came to the door or called for Dad’s help.  He would disappear into the night and somehow all was well in the end.

Everywhere we went, people seemed to know that we were his kids and so we were always on our best behavior, not wanting to let him down.

He taught us to take care of our neighbors, to automatically shovel their sidewalks when it snowed, to check in on the elderly from time to time or meet them at the bus and walk them home, to ask if they needed anything before we went grocery shopping.

My father was a man of honor and service.  I was always so proud that he was my Dad and I still am.  Though he passed on 22 yrs ago (how could it be that long?), I feel his presence often, most recently on my birthday when Nora and I were at lunch at Eataly and suddenly, out of the blue, the ambiant music background went from classical to Elvis Presley’s “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog”.  AT first I was shocked – Elvis??  And then I burst out laughing, knowing that it was my father wishing me happy birthday.  “Hound Dog” was the song he sang a lot when I was a kid and he made fun of rock and roll music.  It was his idea, in fact, to dress me as Elvis for Halloween when I was a 5 yr old kindergartner.  I still remember him teaching me the hip wiggling and that one line “you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time” that morning as my mother dressed me in costume for school.  Other times, Dad shows up as a red bird (cardinal) when I’m most in need.  My sister Kate experiences this as well.

I could write books about my father and his complicated quirkiness, about his dignity and wisdom, his practical jokes and gag Christmas presents, about his ace story telling, crazy costumes and strong political beliefs.  To be clear, he was no saint.  Many times I was sure that he was literally going to kill me with his violence and truth be told, he probably came close.  I had concussions, a broken nose, saw ‘stars’ many times and had the breath kicked out of me.  (And you wonder why I work with traumatized people so often?) Those were different days with a different standard of behavior back then.  We had it better than most kids in No. Albany where so many dads returned broken men from the war. In fact, most Baby Boomers would tell you that their parents did things to them that they could be arrested for now.  But Dad also changed with the times.  Though he was one tough father, he grew to become the best grandfather I ever saw, loving and fun.  His entire family – 5 children, our spouses and kids – all adored him.  And still do.

So thank you, Dad, for being my father.  I love you so and I miss you every day!  You made me want to get out there into the big world and be of service to others.  I could never live up to the likes of you, though I’ve tried.  And I’m laughing now as I think about what I slipped into your suit pocket at the last minute before they closed the casket and buried your body.  On the back of one of my business cards, I wrote,

“Here lies The Great One.  Don’t mess with him or there will be hell to pay.”     On Fathers Day: An Homage To The Great One

Happy Father’s Day.

 

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