Mobster, Prankster, Father, Saint.
Dad may not have been a saint by definition, but he did his share of good deeds.
There was a side to my father that was almost childlike. He would giggle at Saturday morning cartoons, The Three Stooges, and Abbott and Costello. If a kid was around, he’d get on the floor and play like he was five. He would roll around, wrestle, make silly noises and insert himself into their world.
His sense of humor was a combination of Jerry Lewis and Ashton Kutcher. He was doing his own version of Punk’d before it became a part of the American lexicon. And his pranks were as elaborate, without the big budget . He would make pouches and fill them with ketchup to put in his pockets and rig his own sound effects made from paper bags and fireworks.
Once, when mom was walking up the driveway of our house, dad began walking toward her to help carry the groceries. He had set up a loud shot to go off, at which time he clutched his chest causing the ketchup to explode into a volcano of “blood” oozing from his chest. He fell to the ground as mom dropped her groceries, leaving her pale and speechless. He did this kind of prank so many times in so many variations that my mother eventually just walked by him. That only made him up his game.
And the pranks didn’t stop with our mother.
My bedroom was a Florida room surrounded by windows with a landing beneath that was covered in gravel. At 13, I loved the freedom of having my own bedroom after years of sharing with my little sister, but when night came, I hated being alone. We lived on an ocean waterway and Dad set me up by telling me there was a sighting of some kind of water beast. This wasn’t as unusual as it sounds because we once saw a sea cow leap out of the water looking like a gigantic monster.
I remember sitting in my room that night terrified. Every sound caused me to look out of the windows in fear. Dad returned later that night dressed up with an orange basketball strapped to his head and palm leaves taped to his arms. He quietly climbed up on the landing and began walking slowly, causing the gravel to crunch. I sidled over to the jalousie windows to peek out at the ocean, and there it was staring straight into the window — what looked like an orange headed scaly beast growling at the top of its lungs.
I screamed and ran upstairs into my mother’s arms and told her that the beast was on top of our landing. She said I had to be imagining things and came downstairs to see for herself. It was gone.
I didn’t sleep in that room for weeks until my father got tired of me sleeping in their bed and confessed that the beast was him.
And then there was the soft side.
Dad loved animals and would bring home any strays that he’d find wandering around. This included a dog, a rabbit and a duck that he worried about so much he kept it in our bathtub so it would have water to swim in. Mom was not amused and eventually made him release Mike the Duck back into the wild.
If we wanted something, we would get it. It didn’t matter if Dad was flush or broke. Maybe he had to pay his bookie or he didn’t get his piece of the action for the week. Dad would still find a way to make it happen. I was the kid that always treated everyone. I was raised that way. Dad would stuff twenties in my purse or pocket and tell me to take my friends out.
And it didn’t stop there. If we went out to dinner, he’d tip everyone from the maitre d’ to the bus boys. “These people work their asses off,” he’d say. This may be why everyone knew us when we walked into a restaurant. We were always treated specially and in turn, I felt special.
He couldn’t stand to see a kid struggling and he would make sure he practiced his own kind of charity. If a kid was selling flowers on the street corner on a holiday, Dad would pull over, buy every last flower he or she had, and tell them to go home where they belonged.
He’d also put money in people’s pockets who looked down and out, even if he was short on cash. “Go get yourself some lunch,” he’d say.
There were times during my early teenage years that I would get angry at him for being so overprotective and complain to my mother.
“Your father is a saint,” Mom would say.
It would be years later that I would learn what she meant by this. The extremes that my father went through to give a little boy a life, a family. The love, security and protection he offered a young woman, alone and vulnerable. Those are stories yet to be told.