In the Suburbs / Insight brings new level of respect for dad
My dad's 90th birthday party this past Sunday in Chicago was a truly beautiful tribute to a very special man. And I thought I knew my dad pretty well, but a couple of speeches from friends and cousins brought beautiful insights and made me that much more grateful to be his son.
Eighty five guests, including family and close friends, shared dad's special day and a band helped make things even more festive with dance music. I will have to say that not too many folks got up to dance, but no party for dad would ever be complete without music.
My two brothers and I delivered our own salutes to dad and we were all in synch publicly about the fact that none of us shared dad's engineering and mathematic acumen, athletic prowess and handyman abilities. But we could always count on dad to create our science fair projects, be a better fan than any of us for just about every sport, and repair just about anything. We shared that if anything broke down at home, we only needed to call "Dad-1-1" and the problem would be solved.
Because my dad remains a loyal Bears fan, I got him a letter from the Bears and one of their famous hats. He liked that a lot. Mayor Daley's office in Chicago provided a beautiful letter as well and I rounded out my gifts with a special T-shirt from my dad's favorite, 68-year-old deli, Manny's. I even got the shirt silk screened with the words, "Chester ... 90 ... and still enjoying Manny's Magic"
Dad's closest friend, Howie, who will be 90 next March and shares probably 85 years of wonderful memories and experience, always offers something new. This year he focused on the morning after a huge fire had destroyed my dad's nearly 50-year old package testing business. Howie explained that he had just learned about the fire and devastating loss when my dad called and asked whether he could use a desk at Howie's plumbing supply business to contact customers and sort out the few remaining pieces of the business. Eventually, the weeks turned into months and dad became a fixture, but Howie said that my dad stayed in touch with every customer. That was the kind of businessman he was.
Dad's other comrade in mischief, Red, passed away just a year ago in California. Red, Howie and dad were inseparable and Red's death left a real void for my dad, who is not a very talkative or emotional guy. In their heyday, they were athletes, good-time guys and friends who always had each other's backs.
For more years than I could count, Red kept in touch with my dad about once a week by phone. When Red's death was close, my dad flew to California alone to spend time with him and reminisce about all the good times.
That much I knew, but there were other things that Red's son incorporated into a beautiful testimonial which Red's son-in-law, Ford, read to all of us. Andy -- Red's son -- captured so much about the kind of man my dad is by sharing some wonderful vignettes. For instance, when an uncle of Red's, who was living in Chicago, lost his wife, my dad did his shopping, visited with him and took him to appointments, among other things.
On the morning of his Uncle's passing, Red called my dad to share that he had been trying to call his uncle's apartment and getting no answer. Instinctively knowing Red's concern, my dad drove to the apartment.
Andy also shared that there were times when his dad seemed distracted and concerned about various things and, inevitably, someone in the family would suggest that Red call my dad. And the moment he did that, everything seemed to brighten.
There were other touching anecdotes, but the one point that Andy made over and over about my dad was about his focus and insights. Howie and Red were happy-go-lucky and always affable, but dad was always intent on doing the best job, whether it came to sports or business. He was grounded and committed and remains that way today.
As others shared vignettes about my dad's caring and generosity, it helped me see how this quiet man with a great sense of humor has touched so many lives over the course of his 90 years. He has given so much of himself and helped others in ways I would never have known.
"How very special," I thought, "to have reached this milestone and be so rich because of deeds done and friendships held in such high esteem. I've always aspired to be half the man you are, dad, but now my aspirations are even greater. Here's to 90 more wonderful years!"
Steve Gaynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org