happy birthday, dad.
happy birthday, dad.
Today is my dad's birthday. It has been a tradition on New Year's Eve, ever since my sisters and I were old enough to celebrate on our own, that my mother and father spend this night alone. When we lived at home, we were kicked out of the house by 6pm on that night, which was fine with us because when you are in your late teens the last thing you want to do on New Year's Eve is stay home with your parents. We are still forbidden from coming anywhere near the house after 6. We come over early to give dad his presents, and we sneak a peek at what gourmet dining experience he has planned for the evening. My dad is a stellar chef who once owned his own restaurant, and was known around the fire department for his culinary skills. He makes his own birthday meal because it gives him a lot of pleasure to do so. So we ooh and aaah at the lineup of shrimp and lobster and rack of lamb, and as it approaches 6:00 he gives us our warnings that it's time to go and we better not, under any circumstances, show up at their door tonight. (honestly, I think it's the only night of the year my mom gives him any action, and he doesn't want us to screw it up for him)
There were only two occassions when the tradition of leaving my parents alone for the new year was broken. One involved me, an overflowed toilet bowl, burned cookies, a sick child, and an absent husband.
Then there was last year, my dad's 60th birthday. We planned the mother of all surprise parties for him. We invited about 60 people to a party at his house. You have to understand, my father is a ball-buster of the highest degree. He has played so many jokes on people, pulled so many pranks and just needled and annoyed so many people (all in good nature of course) that we knew this would be the perfect way to get back at him. My sister and I did all the cooking and planning. We just asked a few relatives to bring a dessert. We bought decorations and champagne and beer. At 7pm, the time designated beforehand, 60 people met in my yard (I live across the street from my parents) and we all carried the traveling surprise party to my father's house. It had snowed that day, and the sound of 60 people plus kids trudging and crunching their way through the snow, all pulling wagons and carrying boxes, brought a few curious neighbors out of their houses. We stood in front of my father's house, knowing full well that inside that cozy little home, my parents were sitting in front of a roaring fire with a bottle of wine, anticipating a night alone - just them, the wine and a fine meal. We sent DJ to ring the bell and as soon as he did, we broke out into a chorus of "Happy Birthday." I know we must have looked like idiots standing out there in the snow, holding out trays of food and bottles of liquor, singing happy birthday in front of a house still decorated for Christmas. When my father answered the door, it took him a minute to realize what was going on. The look on his face was priceless. We barged our way into the house and in 5 minutes had set up all the food and drinks and decorations. Instant party. I think dad had a good time, but to this day, I'm still not sure.
In honor of my dad's birthday today, I'll give one good memory of him. When I was in high school, people were under the impression that my father was in the mafia. I don't know what it was. So we were Italian. And he drove a Lincoln. And he had a construction business. People just assumed that with those facts....and well, my sister and I never denied the rumors. It was too much fun to have people think that my dad could order a hit on them if they ever got on our wrong side. At some point, we realized that being associated with the mafia was probably not a good thing, and we set about dispelling the idea. No one believed us. By this time, my father had become this larger than life figure, a godfather or at least sidekick to godfather who made cement shoes for a living and sent enemies to sleep with the fishies. One night we were having some friends over, most of whom were conviced they would be able to find proof around our house that my father was indeed mafia. We told my father about this, asked him to please explain to our friends that he is a law-abiding citizen, that we had enough of the charade. Of course, my father said. Of course he would put an end to that disgusting rumor. Well, we went to the school play with our friends and when we all showed up at my house afterwards, my father answered the door in a pinstripe suit and guido hat. He looked like a cross between Al Pacino and Al from Happy Days. As my friends entered the house, he said loudly "I can't stay. Gotta go make some cement if ya know what I mean." He winked when he said this. My friends stared at him with wide eyes and slack jaws. Dad grabbed his car keys off the counter, put a scowl on his face and said "I catch anyone drinking in this house, I take ya for a ride, capisce?" We never were able to convince anyone after that act that my father was anything other than an ordinary, upstanding citizen.
(I already wrote something sappy about my father on father's day. unfortunately, those archives seem to have disappeared, so I had to use the wayback machine to find the post. It's under June 17). I could expand on that, I could write so many things about him since his life changed after September 11th. I could write about his strength and how he used that strength to get others through a tough time. I could write about the proclomation he received from the City of Los Angeles for his help in their relief efforts at the World Trade Center. I could write about his awards and accolades and all he has done for the volunteer fire service and our community as a whole. About what a good person he is to have as a friend, and how he would give anyone, even his worst enemy, the shirt off his back. I could write about the sacrifices he has made to give his children and his wife everything he thinks they deserve. I could write pages upon pages about the good qualities of my father. But I think his best quality is his sense of humor, so I'll stick with the above memories of jokes played by him and on him.
Happy Birthday, dad.