By Louis Cabrelli

There is seldom a day that goes by that I don’t think about my father. I remember the loss that I felt when he died almost 37 years ago. It was as though I was performing on a high wire for the first time in my life, without a net. Since then I’ve missed his love, encouragement, wisdom, sense of humor and strength.

If I had to decide on one trait that I missed the most, other than his love, it would have to be his strength.

My father was about 5-foot-5 standing on a step, but without a doubt was one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known. Physically, he believed in everything in moderation, taking long walks after meals, not putting garbage in your body and physical labor being God’s natural exercise. {{more}}

As a child, I always thought that my father was the strongest man in the world. But my father’s real strength was the strength from within. The strength that, together with my mother, helped him raise four children, sometimes on minimal income as a result of job layoffs. Dad set an honorable and ethical example for his children to emulate and exhibited an inner strength fostered by a deep faith in God and an appreciation for His blessings.

I remember as a child riding the bus to 69th Street with my father dressed in our Sunday best so that he could file for his unemployment benefits. My father was a man of great dignity and pride and explained to me the virtue of exhibiting those qualities even when picking up an unemployment check – thus the dress code.

After arriving at our destination we waited in line for what seemed to be one day longer than eternity before getting to the window. Even though I was a young boy I remember the condescending attitude of the caseworker that spoke to my dad. After going through the ritual of answering some inane questions, my father got his $40 or $50 for the month.

Years later my father confided to me that he was embarrassed and humiliated when he had to apply for unemployment compensation because he was young, had a strong willingness to work and that it was his responsibility to provide for his family.

Today, at the age of 64, I am deeply grateful to my father. He exemplified someone who loved his family and demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice whenever and however necessary.

As the end came near and my father was in the hospital, for what was supposed to be a routine procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat, I was fortunate enough to see him on a daily basis. Every inquiry that I made to the heart specialist resulted in the same answer, “Your father will be fine. He only has an irregular heartbeat which is expected to be corrected within a couple of days after which he will be released from the hospital.” But, every day while alone with my father he would say to me, “This is it, I’m not going home this time.”

The last night that I saw my father I was the last person to leave his room in intensive care. I looked at him, and for the first time in my life I realized that my father was neither a giant nor the strongest man in the world and in doing so came face to face with his mortality. There was also something in me that made me believe that my father knew more about himself than any doctor. Because of that, I became frightened and thought perhaps that this would be the last time that I would have a moment with him.

I had not kissed my father since I was a boy but suddenly felt the need to kiss him and tell him that I loved him. As I leaned over my father I saw my life encapsulated in his face and thought that my tower of strength had no more strength to give, but I was wrong. After I kissed my father for what was the last time, I told him that I loved him. He looked at me, and with a smile, said, “I know.”

On almost a daily basis since his death, I’ve thought about Dad’s response. Every time I hear his words I draw strength from the man that remains in my heart. How could he have known that rather than reaffirming his love for me, something that I’ve known all of my life without question, telling me that he knew that I loved him would become the core of my inner strength and give me so much joy?

Something else he gave me: the dress code. To this day I always polish my shoes or, at the very least, brush them to a high shine before leaving the house remembering my father’s advice and his dignity. I simultaneously say a prayer of thanks for the lessons he taught me.

Louis Cabrelli is a member of St. Eugene Parish, Primos.