In the Suburbs: Sharing my dad’s legacy this Fathers Day
My dad passed away at nearly 97 two years ago. But we were so blessed to have visited him in Chicago just three days before his death. Ironically, we had come to Chicago to surprise our close friend Alan, who had lost his wife barely a week before, and we spent nearly 3 hours with dad before driving to the suburbs to see Alan. Dad looked wonderful and while he was a little tired, he was talkative and full of questions about our trip to China (we had just returned the week before with our new grandson, Lucas). Regrettably, Lucas was home with his mom and they were planning to visit dad later that summer.
We had barely unpacked from our trip when the phone rang that following Tuesday morning. When my brother shared the news that dad had gone so fast with no long goodbyes, I was shocked but not surprised. That was dad. He was never sick, never suffered and never lost his boundless energy.
In a word, dad was an amazing guy. His creative juices were flowing to the moment of his death and my brother joked about finding plans for a new invention on dad’s desk. None of us were surprised.
In the mid-50’s, Dad was a pioneer in the package engineering field and a perpetual inventor of machines to make package testing more efficient; Thanks to his efforts, the various package testing societies became more and more successful and he and mom were often planning, directing and coordinating conferences throughout the United States and Canada.
Dad was a wonderful speaker and author and we used to call him Mr. Seminar. That was because when he and mom traveled to Connecticut, Dad always put together a traveling seminar program for packaging engineers. Sometimes the programs involved engineers from Fairfield County and he developed many other conferences in the states between Connecticut and Chicago. He and mom would book a hotel near Route 80, research engineers in various areas and send out invitations. His attendance was usually very high.
Until his last days, Dad just loved being busy and made the most of every minute. Whether he was creating some new process or invention related to the packaging industry or dreaming up a new idea for a piece of testing equipment, dad put all his energy into the creative effort.
He definitely left my brothers and me the gift of great health. I honestly can’t remember more than one period of time when he was ever hospitalized or seriously ill and his wonderful sense of humor helped him recover that much more quickly. I remember when he had a blockage removed while he was in Florida just a few years ago. His girlfriend Berenice had all she could do to convince Dad to get to the hospital and once he was admitted, he couldn’t wait to get out. After the surgery, he and Berenice passed the time by playing two-handed Bridge or just talking.
What really impressed me about Dad’s successful aging was his love of reading. I can’t remember a time, when we were growing up, that he didn’t have a book in his hands. Once dinner ended, Dad plopped into his easy chair with a book about military history, his favorite subject and read almost until bed time.
Over the last five years before he died, Dad faithfully put in his order for at least 3-4 large print books with my bookstore discount. Our shipping guy Patrick got to know his address in Lincolnwood, Illinois by heart. And during Dad’s last visit to Connecticut in 2016, he racked up an order of over $100 in books and read them all.
I honestly spent the early stages of mourning for my dad, walking back and forth, almost in a daze, among the military history and political science bookshelves at the store and holding the piece of paper I had used to write down his last book order. That order came on the day we visited dad in Chicago in mid-July 2017. I remember how excited I was to take the order, because Dad had shared several months before that he believed he was losing his interest in reading. I still have that piece of paper.
My dad left me the legacy of his zest for life, boundless energy, creativity, successful and ethical business practices amazing sense of humor and, of course, his love of reading. I can only hope I’ll measure up.
But most of all, especially as we approach this Father’s Day, I will never forget the love that Dad had for my brothers and me and the encouragement and support he always gave us. My deepest regret is that Dad never got to meet our wonderful grandson Lucas and be a mentor to him. But I will always treasure my memories and the years we had.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org