My Dad's closet

Soon after my Dad died more than 30 years ago, we went to clean out his closet and what I discovered was a father’s love for his son.

Among his personal items, he had clipped and saved seemingly everything I ever wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Boxes of it. I was blown over. And touched deeply. He loved, more than I had thought.

I’ve kept those boxes, taking them with when we moved from our empty nest and stacked them in a corner of my closet. For looking at more thoroughly, sometime later. Maybe.

Now, all those years later I started to look. It’s about time. We’re at a point in our aging lives that we need to clear out a half century of..well, everything. All that stuff I had been saving because some day I might need them, but never did. Saving stuff we’d like our own kids to see when it’s time.  And stuff we don’t want them to see. Lightening our load for when we move into a place more appropriate, manageable and comfortable for our 70-something selves.

Now, as I dive into the first of the boxes, I’m blown away all over again, even more so. Occasionally, I’d come across a story that I had written years ago that I remembered doing–about the fight over the creation of the Regional Transportation Authority, about Mayor Daley the First or the crash of the DC-10 at O’hare Airport that killed 271 people. Time slipped away as it made me think about the emotions I felt, such as visiting the crash scene.

Then there were those articles that I didn’t remember. From the hum-drum to the front page stories, from countless government meetings and studies to the poignant, from the boring to the gripping.

And there were other boxes. One labeled USNR (United States Naval Reserve) containing my letters written to him, my mother and my brother while I was in the Navy. I pulled one out at random (air mail stamps was 8 cents). Turns out it was written in 1967 when I was at Officer Training School in Newport, R. I., complaining in detail about all the petty, aggravating and challenging things that went on every day. Writing about, for example, the required 75-cent hair cut (scalping), a price that even then was cheap. “By the way,” I wrote, reflecting on the poor quality, “it’s a 75-cent hair cut and not a hair cut for 75 cents.”

Not sure what I’ll find in the rest of the unopened boxes. Some more belly-aching I imagine, but also some good stuff. Like how I met, Barb, my future wife. Getting through it all will take time because of all the stirred up memories.

I was reliving my life. The smoke and noise of the news room. The fruitless calls to government officials who were hiding something. The learning how to write quickly to meet three deadlines every day.

And that led to other thoughts beyond the newspaper. Oh, I’d notice, that article was written the day before my first child, Kati, was born. And that one soon after son Don arrived. And that led to even more memories of a life-time.

What this all reinforced was how proud Dad was of his children–brother Bill, sisters Mary Ann and Cathy, their spouses and their children. He was like many Irish fathers–taciturn–but somehow we knew that he was proud. He must have cared deeply if he went through the trouble and time in my case of clipping and saving the articles, letters and other memorabilia.

This was a wholly unexpected gift for me. A gift of reliving a life well lived, lucky maybe, but one that in my aging self, I can look back on with pride and gratitude.

Dad, it was such a wonderful gift. Thank you.

My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812

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