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A Sense of Duty

Read at Dad's funeral service, December 31, 2007

In the first year after Dad’s stroke in 1997, I was visiting him in the VA hospital. He was slowly regaining some control over his body and was starting to feed himself. He needed a lot of help at what had been a previously simple task. As I was cutting up his food, he said to me that he was sorry that he couldn’t do these things for himself, and that he felt so embarrassed that his children had to help him. I reminded him that there were plenty of times while he was raising the six of us that he must have had to do many unpleasant things for us, and that we did not mind doing what we could to help him and make him feel more comfortable. He answered, "It was my duty", and that he was doing what he had to do. I said it was now our time to be dutiful towards him, and not one of us minded.

Duty was the watchword Dad lived by.

There was his duty to his country:  Late in 1944 as an 18 year old infantry soldier fresh out of boot camp, Dad was sent to Germany. While serving his country, he was wounded twice. The first time he was slightly wounded, spent a little time in a field hospital and was sent back to the front. The second time, in the last full month of the war – on April 12, 1945, the same day Franklin Roosevelt died – he told me that’s how he remembered -- he was much more seriously wounded. His injuries were so serious that the doctors at the field hospital told him he shouldn’t be alive. But he survived all right, returning to the states to attend school on the GI bill, get married, and raise 6 baby boomers.  Those same oxen genes that helped him survive WWII (and that he passed on to all of us) provided him with enough strength to survive 10 years after a very serious stroke – long enough to see two more grandchildren join the previous five, and two great grandchildren join them.

There was his duty to his church:  Dad served a term as president of the Serra club at St. Therese’s church. (still Tur-ee'-sa’s to me and NOT Tare'-ase). And anyone who attended St. Therese’s festival in the 50’s and 60’s will remember him at the Color Wheel – year after year after year – always helping to set up the festival, erect the booths and then volunteering to work a week of long nights, after already full days at work. [Here] At Mt. Carmel, he served his church for many years as a lector, eucharistic minister, and on the parish advisory board.

And of course, duty to his family: Through plant closings, layoffs, and medical problems and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his war experiences (that none of us except mom knew of at the time), I can’t remember ever wanting for basic necessities. Somehow, he and mom managed to get six children raised and out into the world. Oh, he could be tough, and sometimes very rawly angry – I was talking to a cousin at the viewing and she said, “I was so scared of him” I replied,“So were we!” --  but you knew that he cared whether you passed or failed, whether you were well-behaved and whether you were good at heart. We weren’t rich for sure, but we were far from poor, and even further from poor in spirit. Dad instilled in each of us a sense of hard work and perserverence. All six of us went to college at some point in our lives, with little financial assistance. Some sooner, some later, but the work ethic we learned from him and mom enabled all of us to pursue our dreams.

Dad was in essence a simple man. He liked routine and ritual and was comforted and guided by both. Whether it was organizing his shop into little boxes and jars, attending mass at Garvey every day, going down for a nap before 2 o’clock, or the order he drank his juice, milk and coffee at meals (coffee with ice cubes and exactly three and a half splendas).

To see him with his grandchildren was a treat. I know he reveled in them – playing with them, chauferring them here and there, going to baseball games and birthday parties and graduations and first communions and confirmations, much as he did with his children, but with a much lighter spirit . I’m the grandfather of those two great-grandchildren and I was just about the same age as dad was when my first grandchild – his first great-grandchild -- was born. I can only hope to have thirty years of time to enjoy and treasure my children and grandchildren as he did.

And he was always there for us. If you know anything about our family, you’ll know its not an understatement that we tend to the quiet side. There aren’t often a lot of words spoken, however, there is always very much said. Though I can probably recall most of the times he told me that he loved me, I was never in doubt that he did. Even through all the teenage battles and differences of opinions on many subjects that went on until his death, that was one thing I knew I could count on. For me, anyway, dad led by example and when one of us needed him, or any of his family or mom’s family needed help, he was there.

Of course, there were the jokes. Sometimes awful, well, mostly awful, but always playful. The jokes themselves were so unmemorable that when I asked people if they remembered any of them, they came up blank. They did, though, always cause a chuckle.

Yes, duty was the watchword Dad lived by, and there are many more examples I could give here, and many, many more than I never knew of.  I’m sure that each of you can add something to the list. So, in closing, what really can show you what Joe was all about is to look around the room. Look at his family – mom, his children, his grandchildren. His goodness, his strength, his stubborness, his faith, his humor, his light, his blessings -- live on in all of us. Thank goodness for duty. It is not a stretch to say his duty was more like devotion, and that devotion was really love.

Paul

ps. Uh, dad, it was me that stuffed the paper in the toilet when the drain overflowed and filled the basement with sewage in the house on 4th st. Sorry.