Why is it that media stereotypes of fathers focus almost entirely on the lovable but bumbling dolts, such as the character of Phil Dunphy on Modern Family, or uber-patriarchs, such as the police commissioner played by the very chiseled Tom Selleck on CBS’s hit series, Blue Bloods?
In this era when we’re swamped with shallow caricatures of fathers, I’m even more grateful that my father, Gus DiMarco, who passed away ten years ago, was the epitome of the genuine, ethical, moral and inspirational father. Not only that, he was madly in love with my mother from the time he was 18 years old until his death nearly 65 years later. And, I do mean madly; they bickered passionately and endlessly, but my mother’s joyful memories of him seem to be the most vivid ones she has now as she faces the end of her life in a nursing home.
Gus – an Italian immigrant who served in the Italian army in World War II, and was imprisoned by the Germans before his ultimate rescue by American servicemen – could be as serious as the Selleck character, but with true gravity and wisdom. Conversely, while Gus was nowhere near as goofy as Phil Dunphy, he relished entertaining us all on holidays and birthdays with outrageous practical jokes and stunts. Even our neighbors talked about them affectionately for decades, including stories at his funeral.
My father’s most powerful legacy was his positive approach to life’s great lessons in general, and his capacity for self-improvement via hard work in particular. Relative to my own life, he inspired me to work my way through college. Most importantly, while Gus never dictated to me who I should or should not date, I don’t discount as happenstance the fact that the man I ultimately married is as supremely genuine, ethical, moral and decent a human being as I could imagine.
Relative to work, Gus was not one to count on “entitled employment forever” as many American workers do today. Instead, Gus was a charismatic entrepreneur from the get-go, and especially when finances dictated, all the while working a full day job in the garment factories, as did many Italian immigrants in the 1950s. Gus invested in English-language classes, read a daily newspaper from cover to cover, did the food shopping with a list and coupons in hand, and learned more revenue-producing crafts than most fathers with more formal education would ever attempt.
As a result, our family benefited from such perks as free stylish haircuts (Gus’s barber license); expertly-executed home remodeling (Gus’s apprenticeship to a builder); and precise tailoring, which Gus bartered for from his talented friends. On top of all that, he helped my mother with the cooking, cleaning and laundry – duties many so-called “enlightened” dads do grudgingly today and with great media posturing.
Gus’s death was a huge loss for me and, like many boomers who have lost a beloved parent, I presume my father is still watching over me. I often pray to him, especially when I have anxieties I can’t extinguish, or I’m struggling with a decision. Considering that “Gus” can form many words, from gusto to august, to gust of wind, I look out for “signs” from Dad that my hunches are correct. Usually I forget that I’ve “summoned” him, and then suddenly, the word “Gus” appears somewhere, and I’m confident I have my answer.
I’m most grateful for my father now, when my career, and that of so many boomers, is about individual creativity, confidence, conviction and commitment to dealing constructively with change. In fact, I’m astonished at how many people my age expect they’ll sustain their careers indefinitely without demonstrating concrete evidence of their potential contributions and economic value.
My father had all those qualities, plus a boundless sense of humor and humility that saw us through some very tough times. Few TV dads could possibly measure up. Here’s hoping that the real dads in your life are all you want them to be.