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Families facing first Father's Day without their dad

Ali Guillermo, top right, with his family, clockwise,

Ali Guillermo, top right, with his family, clockwise, wife, Romielyn, daughter Denice, and sons Ali and Aljon. Credit: Guillermo family

It will be a week of two milestones and many emotions for Ali Guillermo.

Sunday will be his first Father’s Day without his dad, also named Ali, an intensive care nurse at Long Island Community Hospital who died of COVID-19 in April after treating coronavirus patients.

“We understood the sacrifices he was making when he was going off to work on the front line when the outbreak really started,” said Ali Jr., 18, of East Patchogue. “It would be selfish for us to prevent him from going to work when he knew what he was doing was for the good of the people. He really is a hero.”

Then on Thursday, Ali Jr. gives his valedictorian’s speech at Bellport High School’s socially distant graduation ceremony.

He plans to follow in his dad’s footsteps and will pursue a nursing degree at Stony Brook University in the fall. He’ll take with him a Lacoste watch, which his father gave him several years ago.

“I feel like it symbolizes the amount of time he tried to spend with us. He really wanted to spend time with his family as much as he could. He made sure we’ve grown into the kids he really wanted us to be — mature, responsible,” said Ali Jr. “I really cherish that time and effort he made to do that.”

Ali’s dad is among the 4,100 Long Islanders who have died of the coronavirus. Many of them were fathers who left behind family members now struggling with emotions, memories, and a sudden absence on Father’s Day.

For the Ramkissoon family, Father’s Day usually began early. Jonathan and Jeremiah woke their father, Robin, up around 6 a.m. to give him a card and to go to church. Later, they’d have dinner at Robin’s favorite restaurant, Texas Roadhouse, and finish the night with laughs and prayers.

“I’ve thought about it, but to be honest, I’ve tried to steer away from it,” said Jonathan, 19, of Brentwood. “I’ve tried to avoid the feelings of my friends getting to spend the day celebrating their father. It’s something I’ve personally tried to avoid thinking about.”

Having something to hold on to has also brought comfort to Idris Carter, 18, of Roosevelt. Since April, he’s carried two wallets: his own and the one belonging to his father, Tony.

“I carry that wallet wherever I go. That’s a reminder that wherever I go, he’s with me,” said Idris. “As old and beat-up as it is, I keep it the same way as he left it.”

The Carter family is close, says Idris, and the death of both Tony and an uncle has brought them closer. While they anticipate Father’s Day will include the tradition of immediate family gathering for a meal, Idris notes that “it’ll be a little different, a little weird” with the absence of two patriarchs.

An assistant football coach at Wantagh High School, Tony Carter helped lead his team to several county and Long Island titles. In the past four years Idris, a starting quarterback at Roosevelt High School, had to play against his dad’s teams.

“The coach side never outweighed the dad side,” said Idris, who will be playing baseball at Stony Brook University next year. “He’s my dad first, he’s going to want what’s best for me regardless of what was going on.”

Every day spent with family was Father’s Day for Nicholas Bonsignore. The Carle Place resident wasn’t much for official holidays, but he did love watching the Yankees or going to restaurants with his sons.

“He would want us to be with him, not because it was Father’s Day, he would want us to be with him because he wanted us to be with him,” said son Craig, 57, of Manhattan.

He describes his father as a “stage dad,” who enrolled him in ballet when he was 5, a pursuit that later gave way to a career as a figure skater. Craig said he was a man of honor who taught him the power of unconditional love.

The last 11 years of his life were the best I had with my dad,” said Craig. “When I [would visit] the first thing he would say is, 'There’s my smiling son.' His face would light up when I would walk in the room. And I miss that.”

 Shana Dempsey remembers her dad, Charles Scott, every time she steps outside her New City home. Her family planted a Japanese maple and some forget-me-not seeds outside their front door as a way to celebrate the life of their beloved patriarch.

“I felt a bit of peace after that,” said Dempsey, 44. “Those small moments and memories you create with family, you really do carry them for the remainder of your life.”

On Father’s Day, the Dempseys plan on continuing to hold their traditional barbecue, with a focus on celebrating Scott’s life through stories and by drinking his favorite wine.

 “My father was all about helping. He did it so genuinely, not trying to get something out of it,” she said. “That’s what I try to take forward, just being a really good person and kind to people.” 

As Dr. James “Charlie” Mahoney’s three children get ready for their first Father’s Day without him, they are leaning on each other more than ever.

“Being on social media and seeing everyone post with their fathers, you can’t help but think about it,” said Ryan Mahoney, 25, of Baldwin. He plans on going to Greenfield Cemetery in Hempstead. “I think us being together will be nice. We may share stories and stuff like that because that is healing.”

Ryan described his dad, a pulmonologist who treated coronavirus patients, as someone who provided him guidance on a variety of life issues, including pursuing a medical career, and on their favorite dice game.

“He would help me with everything lifewise, and in particular, with craps and medicine,” said Ryan.

“He gave me so much advice and would guide me through whatever I was going through. He was that safety net. It was tough losing that.”

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