Revealed: My dad was Nostradamus


For my future, anyway: he predicted the whole thing, just the way it turned out.

         I am 73 now, as I write. A few months from now: 74.

         I was 17 then? We stood face-to-face in our tiny knotty-pine kitchen, in a starter home built because dad went to war and was entitled -- since he wasn't African-American -- to a low-cost G.I. Bill mortgage.

         Dad shook his head that day. He looked me in the eye. In an ashtray, an unfiltered Camel smoked away. He didn't drink much. But he smoked like a chimney, especially after the war. When he'd returned from overseas, his hair was unexpectedly white, the family legend went; attributed to artillery shelling during the Battle of the Bulge.

         Dad was strong. Reliable. He knew right from wrong. There was an insurmountable fence between the two: a fence built by religion and duty and expectations and fears.

         If he smirked in my face that day, it wasn't cruel. He just knew a lot more about life ... and the beating a full life could give you.

         The 1919 flu pandemic orphaned him and his lost brother, never seen again. Dad graduated from high school as a star athlete in 1929 ... into the Great Depression; how's that for lucky? He'd tended his bed-bound adoptive Catholic mother for years thereafter, while trying to sell shoes door to door and put greens and protein on the family table. He'd welded battleships when decent jobs returned locally as Hitler raised a stink. He'd married a clarinetist in an all-woman jazz band. Together they'd made my sister. The draft swept up dad, who fought in World War 2 as an infantry private. Upon return -- clinically responsible for child #2 (me) -- he'd taken a union job at a local factory. And stuck there at a machine, making rubber soles for decades. While his wife went by bus to night school in Boston. She earned a degree in accounting. Eventually her income surpassed his. Her ambitions engorged. His stayed small enough.

         Dad said that day, when I was 17 and being an asshole: "Someday, Tom, you'll open your big mouth ... and someone else will close it for you. With their fist."

         Of course, that was him. That was how dad got one uncle to stop beating his wife: with fists. The family knew and appreciated. For my dad, it was always fists. He was a star athlete/local politician. Fists were reasonable.

         Dad was right, though. That day came for me, too.




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