Here I am with my father on Revere Beach. There’s no date on the back of the photo, but from the white shoes on Joe, you know it’s between Memorial day and Labor Day. I was born in June; so I’d say this was taken the summer I turned 1 or 2. I’m not great at guessing kids’ ages.
Check out Joe’s biceps and pecs, straining against his shirt! My father started every day with two hours in a very exclusive gym.
He was a laborer and came by those muscles the hard way—in construction and literally digging ditches. He had no formal schooling. Every morning he went out to the corner and stood with his buddies, all waiting for work. A truck would come by; the foreman would alight and ask, “Who can use a skill saw?”
My father would raise his hand and hope the guy next to him really did know how to use a skill saw so he could learn. If it rained, he found “inside work,” as he called it, fixing a stairway, painting a wall. At the end of the week, he brought home cash in a little brown envelope.
I didn’t know it then, but he modeled a work ethic that still means a lot to me: You do what you have to do to earn your own way in life.
It’s probably a good thing that I thought of him as the strongest man in the world. Only five feet tall, but he could lift anything and open the tightest jar lid. He’d grip a bigger man’s hand until they cried uncle.
My father was weak in one area only. He let my mother rule the house. I knew if just the two of us were home, there’d be no hitting, no screaming, no insults, but he didn’t do anything to stop her, either.
Much later in life, after my mother had died, he told me, “Your mother was very hard on you. I should have stopped her.”
But there’s only so much one man can do, and I still remember him with love.
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