My sister and I were late children, the second generation within the same Catholic family. He was 40 when I was born and even older when Lucia came along 2 ½ years later. My 2 older sisters and brother had escaped into marriage and families of their own by the time I was 6 or 7.

It was a long time before I understood that our family was different. After all, when your mother talks to herself and sits alone, acting as if you are not there, you just think that's how all mothers act. I learned differently when I started school. Shy and quiet, I had never learned the social skills needed to interact with others. I read Fairy Tales, watched lots of old movies on T.V. and dreamed of my Prince Charming.

      Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?
      Where's the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?
      Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
      Late at night I toss and turn and dream of what I need

It wasn't his fault. It was all he could do to be the father he was. He worked a blue collar job building tires in an unairconditioned factory. After 8 long hours of intense work he would come home and half the time prepare dinner for all of us. My mother, often in one of her fugue states, never got around to cooking. Did you know vegetables were grown in fields instead of from the Del Monte company? I didn't for a long time. He would go to the grocery store and take us along so we could each pick out our favorite TV dinner. Each night had a theme; hot dogs on Mondays, TV dinners on Tuesday maybe canned chili or occasionally spaghetti another night.

      I need a hero
      I'm holding out for a hero til the end of the night
      He's got to be strong and he's got to be fast
      And gotta be fresh from the fight

I first realized he was a courageous man when he stood quietly during one of my mother's raging, screaming fits. Paranoid schizophrenics turn on the ones closest to them. Later he said "your mother is sick, she can’t help the way she behaves." So we grew up accepting her as she was and learning not to complain.

He never asked for anything for himself. He only wanted to make us happy. In addition to cooking and shopping, he played games with us. Because we couldn't have playmates over, he became one. We learned soft ball, badminton, table tennis, putt putt golf and all sorts of card and board games. He was never too tired or busy to be there.

An unshakable faith carried him through life. The "Good Lord", Jesus Christ was with him every step of the path he trod. He didn't have to lecture me about loving my neighbor or stealing or any of The Ten Commandments because he lived them. Even when he lost one of his daughters, my older sister, at the age of 28 he never turned his back on God. He managed to pull himself through and go on. He knew there were still 2 young girls depending on him.

      I need a Hero
      I’m holding out for a hero til the end of the night
      He's gotta be sure and he's gotta be soon
      And he's gotta be larger than life
      Larger than life

His greatest gift was love. He always accepted me for who I was and didn’t give advice unless asked. Even when he was doling out punishment you really knew it hurt him more than us. While still in high school I told him I couldn't attend Sunday Mass anymore because I had lost my faith. Instead of becoming angry, his greatest concern was for my soul. He smiled and said "well at least you attended nine 1st Friday communions" meaning I might still make it into heaven.

As Lucia and I grew into teenagers we slipped further away and stupidly ignored all the things he had taught us. After all, we were the baby boomers and sex, drugs and rock'n'roll were our legacy.

When I was arrested and taken to Juvenile hall for fooling around in a public place he cried. Nothing could have been a more harsh punishment. Later when I was in college, he found my birth control device (horrors to a Catholic) but never said a word. I only found out much later when he let it slip during an argument.

At the end of my senior year in college we lost my mother. I never realized how much he loved her until she was gone. He had lived through the most hellacious marriage I could imagine and had never said an unkind word about her. After menopause she had become more normal and her hallucinations, few and far between. He once told me that he "had given us our mother back."

I must have been one of his greatest trials. After telling him that I planned to move into an apartment with my boyfriend sans marriage, he laughed saying "I 'm really glad you told me yourself and I didn't have to find out from your one of your friends." When it didn't work out, he helped me move into a new apartment of my own. I told you so was not part of his vocabulary.

      Somewhere after midnight
      In my wildest fantasies
      Somewhere just beyond my reach
      There’s someone reaching back for me
      Racing on the thunder and rising with the heat
      It's gonna take a Superman to sweep me off my feet

When I finally found my prince, my father walked me down the aisle as proud as could be. No matter that it was not in a church or a Catholic ceremony. I was his beloved daughter and thank God I was finally getting married at the age of 29.

Within a year I had became pregnant and my husband was promoted to a job that required traveling during the week. As my pregnancy progressed, I developed complications requiring hospitalization. You see, that little girl was a little too eager to come into the world.

      I need a hero
      I'm holding out for a hero til the end of the night
      He's gotta be strong and he's gotta be fast
      And gotta be fresh from the fight
      I need a hero

He came every day while I lay in that dreary hospital bed, IV drugs dripping into my veins in the hope of keeping her protected and safe for a few more weeks in my womb. He always had a corny story to tell that would make me laugh. A natural story teller, he spoke softly and with genuine good humor. He would always laugh too, no matter how many times he told that same story.

Later when Sarah finally arrived at 32 weeks of age, he went with me into the Neonatal ICU to see her. That’s a pretty scary experience for someone unaccustomed to the glaring lights and snaking tubes everywhere. After her birth, my husband had to resume his job duties. Since I was no longer able to work, he was the sole breadwinner. Once again my father stepped in to help me with anything I needed. Run an errand, fix something, feed the cat. No Problem.

We moved out of state when Sarah was 6 weeks old. I cried for several days to leave my home, my family and friends but most of all my father. I knew we would never be that close again.

      I'm holding out for a hero til the end of the night
      He's gotta be sure and he's gotta be soon
      And he's gotta be larger than life

Even though I firmly believe he has earned his wings, my "Sainted" father had a few chinks in his armor. To deal with the stress of his life he smoked, cigarettes for over 30 years then later a pipe and cigars. That with the combination of several glasses of wine in the evening fed the cancer which eventually took his life. He had already survived diseases that had killed many including a ruptured Aortic aneurysm, a bleeding ulcer and a heart attack. As one doctor put it he was "a tough old bird."

Through all his illnesses he stubbornly refused to bother any of us with his troubles. He drove himself to the doctor's office when he had his heart attack, later calling me from his hospital room just to let me know he was OK and not to worry. He didn't care much for doctors except when it concerned his kids. Then we were shuffled there at the first sign of a cold. As for himself he rarely went. After his heart attack he religiously took up a walking program, quit smoking cigarettes and tried to eat right.

But he finally met his match in throat cancer. One November my sister called and told me that he had a growth on his throat and he was going to have it checked out. The biopsy appeared to be negative.

We had a wonderful Christmas together that year. Sarah had just turned 3 and we spent Christmas Eve at my father’s house. That night we helped decorate the Christmas tree, something my Dad had not done in a long time. When we got up that next morning, Sarah was filled with the wonder and magic that only a child can experience at that time of year. My father had set up a little train under the tree and he watched with delight as she played with it and her little kitchen from Santa. He later told me that was the best Christmas he had spent in a long time.

Later in April my father was to have an operation to remove the "benign tumor." When the surgeon came to talk to us he said he was doing as well as could be expected for someone with that disease. Flabbergasted we learned the tumor was malignant. He had not wanted to spoil our Christmas so he had withheld the truth.

He fought a valiant battle. But the ulcer on his neck grew and he was forced to eat from a tube in his stomach. I know the pain must have been terrible but he never complained. He resolutely lived alone and independently. I felt helpless, living out of town and with a small child to care for.

The last summer of his life I arranged for someone to take care of Sarah while my husband worked and I spent a week with him. I cooked and cleaned and we talked and laughed together. He passed away that November quietly and peacefully after having said all his good byes.

I can't hear this song, sung by Bonnie Tyler, from the movie Footloose without thinking of him.

      In the mountains 'neath the heavens above
      Out where the lightning strikes the sea
      I can swear that there's someone somewhere watching me
      Through the wind and the chill and the rain
      And the storm and the flood
      I can feel his approach like a fire in my blood
      I need a hero

If there is a heaven I know he is there smiling and watching over me and all of my family. Thank you, Daddy, for all you did and showing me what a true hero is. I once asked what I could do to repay him for all he had done for me. He said "you don't owe me a thing. Just do the same for your kids." I'll do my best.

Holding Out For a Hero
Lyrics by Jim Steinman and Dean Pitchford
Footloose, 1984

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