One of my dad’s favorite movies was the 1947 classic “Life With Father,” starring the great William Powell (coincidentally also born in Pittsburgh) as the stern but lovable family disciplinarian.
Dad liked to point out that one of the three sons was a 16-year-old actor named Martin Milner, later to gain fame on TV’s “Route 66” and “Adam-12.”
But I think the main appeal was that the film (and the play and the autobiography) were based on a real family, with Powell as “Father.”
I thought it might be cathartic to deviate from the movie title and discuss life after Father, or Dad. Father’s Day is just around the corner, and once again thoughts turn to memories of Dad.
This is my 12th Father’s Day without him. One would think it would get easier over time, but it does not. The fact remains that his family still misses him dearly, though they might not articulate it during the ensuing years.
Living in Atlanta during the three years after Dad passed was less painful than had I lived in Johnstown. While I still thought of Dad, I sometimes caught myself thinking of a news event I wanted to discuss with him, only to remember he was gone.
When I moved back in 2005, I immediately noticed Dad’s presence, or lack of presence here, specifically the family home. Dad helped to build our home, with help from relatives. I was just a baby when this occurred, so my memories are faint.
Other touchstones in the house bring Dad to mind. His workbench is passed every time we enter the basement from the garage. I can still see him performing a variety of tasks at the bench: sawing a pipe clamped in the vise, cleaning the blades of our upside-down lawn mower, painting any number of things. These days I feel like an archeologist searching ancient ruins on the workbench, which has been frozen in time since 2002.
Another place I felt Dad’s presence was in Giant Eagle. When I would visit from Atlanta during vacations, one of the few places I would spend time with Dad was Giant Eagle. Mom would send him on a trip there with the grocery list. While Dad looked over the list, Mom would ask me to go with him, with the humorous directive, “Don’t let your father get up there and start talking with guys from the mill; he will never get home.”
It seems that Dad would always run into his buddies while grocery shopping and catch up with them during their retirement. Dad was an extrovert and enjoyed chatting with folks about everything and anything, and Giant Eagle was a convenient place to chat.
If I had been a small child, I could see tugging on Dad’s sleeve to quit talking with his mill buddies. But as an adult, there was no way I would interrupt his chats. I just stood there and enjoyed the conversation. Two hours later, when we got back home, I would cover for Dad by saying the lines were packed. But I think Mom knew better and let us slide.
I have to say Dad’s habit of conversing is something I picked up. Thanks to him, I am a reformed introvert. Strangers who stop me to tell me they enjoy my columns, or friends of Dad who recognize me from the paper and tell me a story of two about my dad are welcome sidetracks to my day. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy talking to Dad’s friends about him. Through their memories, Dad comes alive for me again.
It makes me feel good to know there are so many folks in town who have warm, happy memories of Dad. Their memories become part of the puzzle I am assembling of him. Our fathers relate to us differently than to their friends, and it’s nice to see our fathers in a different light.
I feel I have been figuratively chasing Dad’s ghost since moving back here. He passed without warning, and I never had the closure I still seek. But Dad’s presence is still around me; I can feel it at times.
When I moved back in 2005, I was impressed by how well my family was coping. Brothers Tom and Tim were doing a wonderful job taking care of Mom, so much so that I felt irrelevant to their lives. Shortly thereafter I had a stroke and a few other health issues, and was grateful for Tim and Tom’s invaluable assistance with the family. The family presses on, honoring Dad’s commitment to us all.
As for me, I regret not spending more time with Dad. He saw his doctor regularly, took his medicine faithfully and did not smoke. I thought he might even break great-grandpap’s record of 102 years old.
But I was living in a fool’s paradise. Dad was taken from us at 74, and I had countless questions left unanswered.
Maybe that was the biggest lesson I learned from this: Never take life for granted. We know not the day or hour.
Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.