Time alone with Dad was something to be treasured. For Act 2 readers, the thrill of a father's companionship, regardless of how brief, didn't involve costly vacations, fancy restaurants or rides in stretch limousines. Their sweetest memories are culled from more modest times, when fishing or swimming, bike rides or gathering worms, became enchanted hours spent with their first hero. Here are some remembrances, edited for space, with a wish for a happy Father's Day to all father figures who have made a special effort to spend time with their children.
-- Gwen Young, Act 2 Editor
THE FISHING, NOT THE FISH, IS WHAT COUNTED
My dad loved to fish. He loved everything about it. He had a special fishing hat, one of those roll-up cotton things with a brim that he wore until it got old and faded, and then he bought a replica.
He loved to catch killies by walking with a big net along Reynolds Channel in Long Beach. He would hold one end and I'd hold the other. We'd walk knee-deep through the water, and when we pulled up the net, we'd rejoice at our big catch.
We'd load the dozens of squiggly killifish into a bait box, and we were ready to fish. Sometimes we'd go to the bait shack, buy worms and talk to the other fishermen who hung around there. We learned where the fish were biting, what was running and who caught what that day.
My aunt had a house right on the channel with a big dock, where Dad did most of his fishing. It's where he taught me how to hook the bait so it would swim naturally, luring big fish to it. To be honest, we never really lured big fish, maybe because we were so close to shore.
We caught crabs, seaweed, an occasional eel, and very infrequently, a fluke that was far smaller than the legal limit. Everything got thrown back, but the sun and the breeze, the parade of boats and maybe a short nap, made for a very successful day.
When I was young, my family rented a house for a week in the summer on Trout Lake, near Lake George. It was a big old house with a big old fireplace, and it came with a rowboat. This was heaven for my dad. Every morning he'd get up early and take the boat out. There were five children in our family and we all couldn't fit in the boat so it was a real honor to be the chosen one who would go out with Dad that day.
It was Dad's dream to own a boat and one year he finally got a little runabout. He took it out a few times, but he never really liked it much. I think he preferred to sit on the dock, hold the fishing rod, have a cold beer and some conversation with my uncle. Dad worked very hard at his job and chose not to work at his leisure. It was fishing, not catching fish, that he loved.
I never wondered about going to the trouble of finding bait, buying equipment, waking early, reading tide tables and then coming home with nothing to show for it. Dad taught me that it's the journey, not the destination, that counts. I learned that I didn't have to win the race to enjoy the run. I could lose a game of tennis but relish the play and the companions. Dad taught me that it's important to take time away from work to simply relax.
I thought of him the last time I went fishing, when I didn't even bother to bait the hook. It was a perfect day.
Eileen Melia Hession,
BOATLOAD OF LIFE LESSONS
Every day was special with my dad, Mac McCarthy, because that's how he made me feel. The days I remember most were the ones we spent fishing in Sheepshead Bay. The Marlboro Housing Project where we lived wasn't our idea of waterfront property, but his love of being on the water and being with me was all that was needed for me to be on top of the world.
Dad owned a 7.5-hp. Evinrude outboard motor that he stored at a marina. We would venture out on his day off and rent a 17-foot V-bottom aluminum boat for the Evinrude and follow the big fishing boats out to the "tin can" grounds to fish. We would leave the house at the crack of dawn and spend the day together. I trusted him completely and learned to trust other people that cared about me, too.
One day, the fog was so thick we couldn't see very well. We listened to the fog horns and stayed close to the big boats, but I didn't worry. I knew I would be OK because I was with my dad. We made it back safely, and only now do I realize how dangerous that day was.
I miss him every day, especially when fishing season starts. He was my hero and made me feel safe, confident and believed that whatever I wanted to do was possible. My love for my husband is based on this, too, since my dad taught me that men could be trusted and should always treat me with respect. I hope my daughter and granddaughter will always know the love and trust for the men in their lives.
I learned a lot more about life and people than about fishing from my dad.
ALONE TIME IN THE GARDEN
There were five kids in our family. I was fourth in line, so it wasn't easy getting alone time with my father. I did, however, have an advantage. I was the one who went with my dad when no one else had the inclination or the time.
During the muggy summer nights, I would follow my father into the back garden, past the forsythia bushes, past the wash lines. We'd open the gate that led to his garden, lush with the vegetables he carefully tended after work. My father would hand me his kerosene lantern or his oversized flashlight, which I would hold with two hands.
We would walk slowly, in between the rows of cabbages and kohlrabi, the rows of peppers and beans, being careful not to step on any tomato vines. I'd shine the light down and he would snatch the night-crawling worms that dared to show themselves.
Plucked from their soft earth home, my father would slip them into a container with dirt, their new home for the evening. The next day, they would be used for bait to catch the fish that would be our dinner.
It was exciting to be out in the garden at night. Everything looked different. The cherry tree I sat under to read and eat my lunch of cucumbers and tomatoes during the summer days looked strangely unfamiliar. The garden looked shadowy, and the pear tree at the end of our yard seemed a long way off. As we walked back to the house with the containers full of worms, I surveyed my surrounds.
Through the lighted window of the house next door, I could see the Wistrand family sitting around their dining room table. We'd pass the smokehouse; the eels hanging on the rods, sending out their particular and peculiar smell. I'd open the side kitchen door for my father, and he'd say, "Good job, Valerie."
When my three children were in school, they were allowed to choose one day of the year as their own. It could not be a holiday, or a day shared with their siblings. It would be a day just for the two of us.
Valerie Priger Skelly,
OUR EBBETS FIELD SECRET (SORRY, MOM)
As a young girl growing up in Brooklyn I was an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan. Every so often, my father would get tickets for a game at Ebbets Field on Saturdays, just for the two of us.
When Saturday came, my mother would get up early and make us tuna fish sandwiches and fruit so we would not eat any "junk" at the stadium. My father and I would walk the four blocks to the Avenue M subway station, climb the steep stairs to the platform and then our ritual would begin: My father would hold open a garbage can. I would reach up and throw in the lunch bag my mother had prepared. With a wink, we were off to see the Dodgers.
I don't remember how long the ride was because we would chat and laugh the whole way there. At Ebbets Field, my father would buy me a program so I could keep score and then he would buy us frankfurters, peanuts and sodas. I don't remember whom they played or who won, but I remember the time spent with my father.
When my father passed away a few years ago, I told this story at his funeral, and that was the first time my mother heard about her lunches. But knowing my father, she wasn't surprised. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn, that was an end of an era, but the memories of those days will live with me forever.
A LIFE-CYCLING TRADITION
Some of my earliest memories are of what my father, Red Rehfield, had dubbed "FDDs," Father Daughter Days. From watching fireworks at the 1964 World's Fair to trips to the Sears in Hicksville -- capped with a treat from the snack kiosk in the middle of the store (fresh roasted cashews vs. pistachios being a regular point of contention).
As we got older, my dad became an avid cyclist and our tradition for many years was to ride the Five Boro Bike Tour. We'd start the tour at the base of the Twin Towers with thousands of others. We'd look up and be awed at the scale of the towers and thoughts of the 40-mile journey we were about to begin. It was the mid-1980s, and I never knew which tour would be our last, but I knew that every time I'd see those towers, I'd remember the days pedaling alongside my dad, and the countless laughs we'd share along the ride.
Our last ride was in 1999, when my dad, two years post an aortic replacement and on blood thinners, decided it was time to hang up his riding gear. The towers fell in 2001; and my dad in 2011.
I've never married and I don't have children, I fear that my dad may have set too high a bar. However, when I speak to my niece Chloe, and she tells me about the adventures she's had with her dad -- my brother, Tim -- I'm happy to know that the proud tradition of the FDD lives on.
THE TROLLEY TO THE ZOO
In 1930, when I was 3 years old, we lived in an apartment on University Avenue in the Bronx. Every Sunday, in good weather, my father and I would walk up to Fordham Road to get on the trolley car and ride to the Bronx Zoo. I enjoyed seeing all the animals and snacking on pink popcorn, but best of all was having Daddy all to myself.
When I first became a mom at age 25 in 1980, it was my dad who brought yellow mums to me at the hospital. I was the older of two siblings. And, since I was the only girl, I always knew how special I was to him.
My mom and dad both worked, but my dad's schedule gave him off one day in the middle of the week. That one day was set aside to do the weekly banking and replenish a few groceries.
Each week before doing his errands, he called and began the conversation with, "What did you have for breakfast?" It was my dad's way of reaching out to me. After he ran his errands, my dad would stop by my house, a few blocks away from his home. He would join me for a cup of tea, spend some time with his new grandson, David, who was the "light" of his life. His visits were always short so he could get home to work on the lawn or do laundry. This seemingly mundane ritual continued even after my second son, Steven, was born in 1982. Dad never missed a weekly phone call or weekly visit.
Sometimes my patience at the repetitiveness of his phone conversations would get the best of me. I would complain to my mom, but then my conscience would tug at my heart and remind me: What if he wasn't there to make those phone calls each week?
In the summer of 1984, my dad fell down a steel ladder and tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder. He needed surgery to repair the damage but never regained full movement of his arm and was forced into early retirement. Now my dad was home EVERY DAY! And I was getting that "What did you have for breakfast?" call, EVERY DAY!
That year was spent with my dad going for physical therapy on this shoulder. At the end of the next summer, August 1985, my dad did not feel well. It turned out that his gallbladder was inflamed and the doctors decided to remove it. Unfortunately, by the end of the week, my dad passed away from sepsis. My "what ifs" had become reality.
I was grateful for those mundane calls from Dad, and I wish I had that phone line to heaven, because I'd like to give him a call and ask him what he had for breakfast!
OUR HUNTING LESSONS
My Dad didn't just put "a" day aside, but a few days each year.
When I turned 7, my dad took me hunting at our family cabin. At that age, I could not hunt, but he taught me, methodically, the proper way of every aspect of hunting and the respect of hunting.
Each year, I would look forward to those days alone with Dad. As the baby of a family of four, with a dad who worked considerable overtime, it was a treasure to have my time with him. The beef jerky and Hershey bars he brought with us to eat while sitting in his tree stand helped, too!
We spent hours sitting as he pointed out little items and allowing me to sneak in a little nap here and there. I learned so much from those years, the importance of each and every step and movement, how one action or inaction can cause another.
At 16, I received my own hunting license and still went with Dad for another handful of years. The love of a father is something that should never be taken for granted. It is to be treasured, honored, respected and mostly celebrated.
Debra M. Eannel,
HE'S 88 AND STILL SMILING
On his birthday in May, my dad proudly announced, "88 years young and I feel like I'm 68." Always the optimist, always choosing a smile over a frown, my dad has given me many intangible gifts.When I was 5 years old, our family of four drove to the Catskills and vacationed at what was, essentially, a farm. However, my favorite activity, by far, was the time I spent with my dad in the massive, in-ground swimming pool. Although I was profoundly fearful of being submerged, all my worries dissipated when my dad was by my side, or right in front of me, making certain I did not slip underwater. He was confident, strong, kind and playful.
When I met my husband of 23 years, I saw many of these qualities in him. He also loves swimming, and when we went house-hunting years ago, he insisted we have a pool. When our two sons were very young, I shared special alone time with each of them in the pool, as did my husband. And yes, so did my dad. He shared pool time and U.S. Navy stories with the boys. My sons, now in college, say he's a cool grandfather who is funny and smart and clearly has a fantastic memory!
My dad gave me joy while building trust. I still learn from him. He is respected as the patriarch of our extended family, a trustworthy friend of many and a devoted husband.
Denise Fama Davies,
AT HIS JOB WE WERE A TEAM
When you're one of seven children in a family, special individual days with Dad are often hard to schedule.
My father's business was installing carpets. Occasionally on nonschool days, when I was a preteen, Dad asked me to accompany him on a job. I didn't hesitate. He said he needed a pair of "young eyes" to speed up the work. As he aged, he become more farsighted, so he needed someone to thread the needles to sew the carpet seams together.
We sat on the floor. My job was to thread the long carpet needles with thick carpet thread. We were like a miniature assembly line working together. I threaded the needles; he waxed the thread. With his large, calloused hands and fingers, he expertly stitched the carpet seams together (before more modern methods evolved).
His strength lifting and moving the rolls of carpet astounded me. Being with Dad on these special days together also gave me an appreciation of his work and made me feel especially needed. Little did I realize then that I would inherit his farsightedness. I often now long for a needle threader.