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Expressway: 'Leader of the band' is with us at the beach

Denis Cronin Jr. flies his favorite flag at

Denis Cronin Jr. flies his favorite flag at his family’s cabana at Lido Beach in an undated photo. Cronin died in 2010, but his family still enjoys the beach – and flies the flag – as he loved to do. Photo Credit: Cronin family photo

My dad loved the beach.

When I was just a kid in the 1970s, we would drive from Rockville Centre to Lido Beach on summer days. Our 1977 Jaguar XJ6's little triangular front window let out the smoke from his Camels while we listened to favorite songs on WABC radio.

I looked up to my father, Denis Cronin Jr. He held my hand, and I ran hard to keep pace with his long strides as we headed from the parking lot to our cabana.

Many summers later when I had grown up, we loved to sit on the beach together and read books, gossip and soak up the sun -- me with my SPF 30 sun block and hat, Dad with his tanning oil -- despite skin cancer scars on his face and neck.

When an aneurysm suddenly felled him one April morning in 2010, we were all devastated. South Nassau Communities Hospital put him on a breathing tube. His once bright blue eyes were dull and viscous, as if some fine coating of death dust had settled in them, creating a cloudy partition between worlds.

My brother, Denis Cronin III, and I spoke to him. We told him how much we loved him, and that he could let go. We knew he never wanted to linger in a vegetative state. "Throw me under a bus, kids, if I ever get like that," he told us.

Our sister, Elizabeth, arrived and ran to me, her lips clenched. No matter how old we get, I still see her little-girl face, and I can still tell when she's about to cry. It always makes me want to cry, because I have failed to protect her.

We gathered around his bed and took him off life support at 5 p.m. Some of us were holding his hand or arm, or touching his hair, crying our goodbyes. He died after 25 minutes, and we slowly left to make calls and arrangements.

And so it was the worst week of our lives, this week of wakes, Masses, friends and stories. At the same time, though, love was all around us as we said goodbye to my father, son of Ireland, man of faith, leader of the band.

Now when we go to the beach club, I hold my 4-year-old niece's little hand so she won't fall. She looks up at me and smiles. I feel Dad there as we set out our beach chairs and raise his Don't Tread on Me flag, the kind we've flown at the Cronin cabana for almost 40 years.

Father's Day, whether he's with you or not, is still a celebration of your father and his legacies.

Reader Maureen Cronin lives in Long Beach.


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