41 years ago I met a man. He was pretty impressive to me at 14. Over the years he became even more impressive. His real name was "Caspio Caprio." Most of his friends called him "Doc" because he was the neighborhood pharmacist. I called him "Dad."
He was a strong man, both physically and morally. Raised in Newark, NJ, the son of a pharmacist and a say-at-home mother who was also a gourmet cook, Doc was a bit of a playboy in his youth. Good-looking. Smart. Gentle, in a masculine way. He attracted the attention of most of the young women in Essex County. When he found Carole Magliaro, a beautiful Betty Grable look-alike, his playboy days were over.
It took Dad a long time to find Carole. He felt rushed when people asked him when he was going to get married, even at the age of 30. He enjoyed his friends (most of whom are sadly already gone now) and his life.
He boxed. His father never really approved of his boxing. His father had worked hard to ensure that he would have a good life, an education and a career as a pharmacist, taking over the family business. Dad was heart-broken about this. But was intent on trying to box when his father wouldn't discover it.
He boxed for his college. He boxed for the love of it. And he was good. He was good enough that there was talk about his turning pro.
One of the top boxing coaches in those days, who had trained a world-champion, pulled him aside and told him so. He desperately wanted to see if he had what it took to be a champion himself. While he won most of his matches in the college inter-murals, boxing professionally was something else.
He would box in a match and then rush home to change before his father would arrive home. He still hid his boxing form his father, fearing his wrath. Dad managed to avoid getting punched anywhere that would show. He feared that his father would see the bruise or cut and know he was boxing behind his back. One day, though, the cat was out of the bag when Dad left his gym bag where his father could find it.
Sadly, his boxing days were behind him. He would always wonder if he could have been a champion. It was his one serious regret. I wonder if he knew that in our hearts and minds, he would always be a champion.
When I met him, I was a leader in student council and he was the PTA president. I was attending and serving at a parent event and met him. I was immediately impressed and spent the evening scurrying around getting him something to drink, making sure that his plate was full and the best desserts were saved for when he was ready. I prepared his coffee the way he said he liked it. He noticed. I hoped he would.
Years later, I realized that he thought I had done this to impress him because I liked his son. I didn't. Frankly, I had no idea he had a son at that point in time. I was a brown-nose. :-) And, I thought he was wonderful.
My parents were newly divorced. My jet-setting father was never around and even when he was, rarely did what fathers on TV did. He wasn't the type to sit down for a family dinner. He wouldn't review my speech for re-election. He didn't know what or whom I liked. My father was impressive in his own right. He flew jets, drove fast cars and dated young women. But I saw in Dad a man who did the things I yearned my own father to do. So I adopted him.
And he adopted me. I will always be grateful for that.
His son came later. And in many ways, I looked to find Dad in his son. I never did.
Dad stood alone.
Many years ago, when he was still in his prime, we were all vacationing together in Mexico. This was before my kids were born, so he was about 59 years old or so. We were at a resort in Puerto Vallarta. Dad and I were swimming out to a raft they had off-shore.
Anyone who knows him, knows that Dad has a forest of hair covering his arms, chest and back. He was muscular and tried to keep in shape. He saw the hair as a sign of his masculinity. Apparently, he wasn't alone in that regard.
I was sitting on the raft, waiting for him to swim out. Several french women were sitting on the raft sunning themselves at the same time. They ere all wearing skimpy bathing suits and were whispering among themselves in English. "Look at that man! Look at that incredible hairy man!" one of them said, pointing at my then father-in-law. "Now that's a real man!" said one of her friends. Then they giggled.
I couldn't wait to tell him, but it had to wait until the girls had finally had enough of oggling him on the raft. He was totally oblivious to their admiration, having put his ladies-man days behind him long before. But when they had left for shore, I shared their secret with him.
He grinned from ear to ear. Then, when he saw that they were standing on the sand and watching out to sea in his direction, he stood and expanded his chest. Then, after giving them time to drink in the view, he dove in stretching his arms wide as he did. He meant to give them a show. And he did.
He gave others a show too. In the days when his son was attending medical school in Mexico, Dad and Mom would fly down to visit. He would arise every morning at dawn, don his powder-blue bermuda shorts and his yellow socks and his size 13 Converse sneakers and go "for his walk."
This wasn't normally something deserving comment, but remember that this was in Guadalajara, Mexico. And the mornings there were cool. The natives would be wrapped tightly in their sarapes, shivering until the sun had warmed the air. And this gringo would be strolling by, pumping his arms and waving at them all...in his powder-blue bermudas and yellow socks.
Once, donned in this same outfit in a Mexican exclusive department store, he was riding the escalator to the next floor. I was standing there, facing the escalator, looking at lipsticks. I noticed that the salesperson had stopped in her tracks, along with every customer and salesperson on that floor, all looking and pointing at Dad, his shorts and his socks.
When he saw them, he waved.
That was Dad. A warm smile for everyone. A welcome addition to any conversation. And a colorful reminder of warm Floridian summers, even in cool Mexican winters. :-)
I will miss him. So will so many others.
But we are lucky for what we have had. A chance to know a real man, with a love for life and his family...
for you, Dad.
I dedicate this blog.
I hope that others will share their memories here and that this time, although sad, will be used to help celebrate his life. Please e-mail it to others for them to read and comment as well.