My father was larger than life. Standing 6′ 3″, with striking good looks and a more than outgoing personality, he was the center of attention everywhere he went. Seriously, people were drawn to him like a moth to the flame, which makes a lot a sense because there was a fire in him. This week on Facebook, Steve Sponcia said to me, “When Bob came into my nightclub, it came to LIFE!” You could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. He had an unbridled enthusiasm for life and the endless possibilities it possessed.
Born to first generation Italian parents and growing up in the rough and tumble city of Brooklyn, New York, my father was a survivor. As a kid he played stickball in the streets of Flatbush Avenue, and, as a teen, adorned a leather jacket and dropped out of high school. There is a 1974 movie staring Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler called “The Lords of Flatbush” that so closely resembles my fathers life, he would say it was like watching home movies.
Maybe it was because he grew up in the streets of New York and learned life lessons the hard way, but, my father was the smartest man I have ever known. I am sure every Daddy’s Girl thinks that about their father, but, it only took meeting him once and you would have agreed with me. My father also had a restless spirit. One that he never seemed to quench.
Despite the fact that he dropped out of high school, he went on to be a self made man. Of course, he credited the love of a good woman with inspiring him to do well, but, the fact remained he did do well. It started with driving a donut truck. By the time my father retired at the age of 49, he had been the owner of a linen service, a corrections officer, worked for the board of elections in New York, a dental technician, a restaurant owner, owner of a hair salon and finally, a hearing aid specialist. After he retired and my mother passed, my father, at the age of fifty, became a bit actor in movies and television. He was in TV shows like CSI, Ellen, Drew Carey, and Grace Under Fire. and in movies like Vegas Vacation, Fools Rush In and Mars Attacks were some of the movies he had fun working on.
When my brother and I were growing up, his career choices had us moving all over the country. We lived in New York City; Tucson, Arizona; Dublin, Georgia; Clearwater, Florida; Inverness, Florida; and, finally, Greeneville, Tennessee, where I ultimately made my home. He then went on to live in Virginia Beach, where my brother resides, and then Charleston, South Carolina; Las Vegas, Nevada; Crestview, Florida, and finally Clayton, North Carolina.
Life with my father was never boring to say the least. We moved a lot and he changed careers often. He was always searching for the perfect profession or location to live, but that is not the only thing he was seeking. He was on a quest for spiritual knowledge and he took us to virtually every denomination under the sun. My brother and mother sat out of most of my father’s spiritual soul searching, but, I was right by his side loving every second of it.
Aside from extensively studying and going to different Christian denominations, we sat with Indian Shaman on their reservation, attended Jewish Temple services, and studied with a Buddhist Martial Arts instructor, just to name a few.
Maybe it was his restless spirit that kept my father filled with compassion, but, I never remember him judging anyone. In fact, I want to share one of the lessons he taught me.
I was around eight or nine years old and my father and I were walking on the Jersey boardwalk when we stopped to get an ice cream cone. Standing behind us was a young couple in love. My father told the ice cream man that he wanted to pre-pay for their ice cream, which he did. We did not stay to see their reaction and as soon as we got our cones we left the shop. Resuming our walk on the beach only to have this couple catch up to us and thank my father for what he had done. It was nothing, said my dad.
Then I remember him saying to them it was just good to see two people in love. The couple almost had tears in their eyes as they thanked my Dad. I knew what my dad did was nice, but, I really did not understand why my father did it or why the couple chased us down to thank him. Naturally I asked my dad why he bought them their ice cream cones. My father simply said that he wanted to do something nice for them because not everyone would be nice to them. He wanted them to know that good people are out there. It was 1973 and I didn’t understand it at the time, but, the couple my father bought the ice cream cones for were an interracial young couple and at that time, our country was still very divided over race. What my father did was revolutionary.
How to Judge
My father did have a way of judging people. An old friend of my brother Lisa Ramsey wrote this in response to a picture on my Facebook. Speaking of my father, she wrote:
“One of the first things he said to me: ‘What kind of girl are you? Less garlic, more garlic, or never too much garlic?’ I said never too much garlic and he was very very pleased! He was so much fun!”
Maybe my father’s changing careers, moving a lot and seeking out different religious practices made him wiser than most. Or maybe he was wiser than most and unsatisfied with imperfection and that is what made him so restless. Whatever the reason, I like the way my father judged people. “Are you a less garlic, more garlic or never too much garlic person?”