Remembering my Father

 “His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN!” 
 ─ William Shakespeare

John L. Ferrari in Italy during WWII

I loved my father. “Huh? Doesn’t everyone?” You ask?  The answer is no, they don’t. Discovering this was probably the biggest shock of my college orientation week, when I heard more than once, “I hate my father.” Or, “My old man is such a jerk.”  It was a foreign concept to me and I thought less of the people who were saying it, no matter how cool they otherwise seemed.

My father was always larger than life to me. His star never dimmed in the twenty-two years that I was privileged to share the world with him. You may find this surprising when I tell you that he lived an unremarkable life, typical of his class and his time. He was a first-generation American whose Italian father and Irish mother were both dead by the time he was five.  He grew up hard, money and opportunities were in short supply as he came of age in the heart the Great Depression. He left high school to find work, as so many others did, because money was needed, not for pleasure, but to eat. His formal education ended and he began a life of self-education, and inquiry.  He excelled at critical thinking and usually taught himself what skills he needed to accomplish what he was trying to do.

He went to war in 1943 like thousands of other American men because he was asked to.  He was not a hero and he never claimed to be one seeing what he did as fulfilling an obligation to his country and nothing more. Landing in North Africa and then going on to Italy, he followed the old Roman road and fought at Monte Cassino, running communication lines up the mountain. He served with the occupation forces in Vienna returning home in 1946.  He gave three years of his life, was thankful to have made it back in one piece and rarely talked about it.

He was thirty-eight when I born, coming to fatherhood late for his generation. I don’t think he gave much thought to the kind of father he was or worried about it. Unlike parents of today, who seem to be obsessed with how lucky they are to have their children, he understood only too well how lucky my sister and I were to have him. His values were old-fashioned ones, he practiced his faith quietly but ended each night on his knees. He gave us what I have read is the greatest gift a father can give his children; he loved our mother. He was a good man.

He was a high school custodian the last ten years of his life. He ran what today would be called outreach or intervention informally from the janitor’s room. Keeping his eyes on boys he thought were going to end up in trouble, he found small jobs for them, provided a place to hangout and let them know what he thought of certain types of behavior. His impact is unknown but some years after his death when one of these boys, grown to manhood, did some house repairs for my mother, he refused payment for his work saying, “If it wasn’t for Bud, I would be in jail today.”

My father was a dreamer who loved to read, both traits he passed to me.  He believed that I would be a writer and he told me so often, saying things like “You can use this when you’re a writer.” I am glad I have lived up to his expectations.  He was the classiest man that I ever knew. He never let me down. I can’t imagine a better father and I miss him.

4 thoughts on “Remembering my Father

  1. I remember them all: Mom and Dad, Mamie and Walter, Theresa and Tom and Joanie and Punchy and Pa, too. That is the one of the blessings of being the oldest.

  2. Kathleen, don’t know if you remember me. I am Rusty & Joe’s mom. Met you when you & Karen were small. Nancy & your husband have helped me with info from Ferrari & Smith families. So happy she included me in her email about your book. I definitely want to read it, when it comes out in hard copy, don’t have an e-reader, maybe “Santa” will help with that.
    I will be watching for the copy to come out. Best to you and your good work!!

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