Father shares story, forges bond with son
Their love was never in doubt. Their conversations, though, like many that will happen on Father's Day, had always been short -- scant on details.
Growing up in Northport, Anthony D'Aries, 29, didn't know much about his father, other than what he'd glean from his grumblings after a shift at the supermarket deli.
"I've never been able to get him to open up. Dad's not the type to sit you down and tell you about all his emotions," said Anthony, of Boston, who teaches literacy in Massachusetts prisons.
He craved a deeper, more meaningful relationship, and five years ago, after Donald D'Aries Sr., 61, suffered a second stroke and was recovering at home, his son seized the opportunity.
Anthony asked his father to tell his life story for the first time.
They sat in the guest room of the family home and had the longest chat of their lives -- three hours long, fueled by chocolate chip cookies and powerful memories.
Anthony got it all on tape. It became the fodder for a book published this month by Hudson Whitman / Excelsior College Press -- "The Language of Men: A Memoir" -- that helps explain his father's difficulty in expressing his love.
Don told his son about the day he was headed to Vietnam in 1970. His parents were seeing the 18-year-old soldier off at Kennedy Airport.
"My grandmother wrapped her arms around my father, told him she loved him," Anthony recounts in the book. "My grandfather stood up straight. My father leaned in for a hug. His father offered his hand."
Asked about that moment last week, Don said he had no doubts about his father's love.
"He was old school. He was trying to be a man. But it did kind of bother me that he only shook my hand," Don said.
His father, Constantine, died before Don could ever tell him he loved him. It became one of his biggest regrets.
When he had his own children, Don said, he tried to be more fatherly. He had no problem telling Anthony and his older brother, Donald Jr., he loved them. But that stopped as the boys grew older.
Revealing himself to Anthony five years ago turned out to be an opportunity for him as well.
Don was able to open his heart and unlock some of his secrets, such as why he always keeps a silver dollar in his back pocket.
"Went to Vietnam and came back with me," he said in the book. "Feel how smooth the edges are. My old man used to do the same thing, 'cept his looked like a quarter by the time he died."
Anthony said the long-overdue conversation with his father brought them closer together. "I see him more as a full person," he said.
The book was also a revelation to Don Jr., 37, of Brooklyn, who now wishes he had asked more of his father.
"He always seemed private, but maybe . . . he wasn't as reserved as we thought, and we could have asked these things growing up," he said.
His father was pleasantly surprised, too. He learned, for example, how much it meant to Anthony to work with him on classic cars as a teenager.
"I didn't know I had such an effect on him," Don said.
After their long chat, Don dropped Anthony and his wife, Vanessa, at the airport.
As Anthony recalls in the book, "He handed me my backpack, then pulled me in for a hug." It was the hug Don didn't get at the airport nearly 40 years earlier.
When Anthony calls his father today, he will tell him he loves him.
Don, in return, intends to use the words he never heard his father say.
"I love you, son."