My dad, a 5-foot-7-inch barrel-chested Italian, worked in a coal mine as a young man. When he found a higher-paying job in a steel mill in Sutersville, Pennsylvania (population 976), our family’s lives changed dramatically for the better.
However, the one thing I don’t remember my father ever saying is “I love you.” I had two younger brothers and a sister and I’m pretty sure Dad told my sister he loved her, but I never heard him utter the phrase to me or my brothers.
Because I was an avid reader in grade school, I started writing—short stories, articles and essays—and newspapers and magazines starting buying them to publish. Around 1956, one of my essays, “The American Way,” earned me a medal and an honorable mention from the Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge.
When the medal and a copy of a magazine containing the essay arrived, I ran from the post office to show it to my family. My mother was overjoyed. As for Dad, he retired to the living room to watch TV news.
I had just turned 18. This was the biggest event in my life, and my own father was acting as if it was nothing! That hurt, and I turned to my mother for comfort.
“Sometimes he acts like my talents and I don’t exist,” I complained. “I tried to show him my essay and he wouldn’t even look at it.”
“Have a seat,” she said. We talked for a long time, and when she was finished, I cried. “Your father can’t read, son,” was what she told me.
I went back to my room, wondering how I could have been so self-centered. I had the magazine with my essay in my hand. That’s when I knew what I had to do.
Dad was in the garage working on his car. He was wearing his red baseball cap and his face was grease-stained. I approached him quietly.
“Dad, I’d like to read you something, if you don’t mind. It’s an essay that I wrote for the Freedoms Foundation. They sent me a medal for it.”
“They sent you a medal for writing an essay?”
I showed him the medal. “Would you like to hear it?”
“Sure. Read it to me,” he said.
My dad listened attentively as I read the essay. When I was finished, he said he liked it.
“Can I take it to the guys down at the Moose Club to show it to them?” he said. “I think they’d like to hear what you say about patriotism and the American way.”
“Sure, Dad,” I said, handing him the magazine. “You can…you can show…” I’m afraid I didn’t finish the sentence. It’s pretty hard to talk with tears streaming down your face. But I know my father understood me perfectly.