My Dad Is Retiring

My dad is retiring soon

But not from the day or for the night

And not from an active life

 

He is retiring from his day job

From money generation

From wealth building

From needing to tally, tarry or care

If he is still on track

 

Though he’s keeping the exact day open

Keeping his hand close to his chest

No need to reveal too much

Like he was at the track watching the horses

He knows exactly what combination

Of horse, jockey and owner to choose

And he’ll share all of this with you

But he’s not going to tell you his final pick

Until after the race

Like a Buddha

Here is the information, choose your own way

 

Someday has finally come

“I think by Thanksgiving” he says last Sunday

Which means it is certain

And pre-empts my need to fly across the continent

Because I want to walk him out of the shop,

Across the lot, 

To his waiting truck,

One last time.

 

He’s not that type, doesn’t want the fanfare

Doesn’t want balloons or a wild ball at the bar

He doesn’t want anyone to make a big deal of it

And we’re going to respect that

 

My Dad is retiring soon

And I’m trying to understand

What it all means

 

This is a guy who I never once heard

Complain about work, 

An ache or a pain,

Or about someone else

He never once bitched about going to work

 

My Dad leaving for work

Before I even woke

And coming back at the end of the day

Are some of my earliest infant images

 

In middle school I left with him every morning

He dropped me off on his way to work.

 

Freshman year of high school football

He dropped me off to my early morning start of hell week 

Each long epic day that last week of summer

A quiet ride, between the two of us

Me, fearful and scared each day

But all the yoga, stretching, and working-out paid off:

By the conclusion of my first hell week,

Before school had even started

 Our biggest lineman told me I would be a captain senior year 

 

It was my father who dropped me off those mornings

The last family member to see me alive each day

Before my adolescent right-of-passage

On his way to work

 

At our awards ceremony junior year

When I was declared a co-captain

I drove back home with my Dad

But not before the senior cheerleaders exiting in street clothes

Told me they had their money on me the whole year

Close enough so my Dad could hear

 

Many years ago, well-into my own career

Amidst a routine winter cold

I had to take a few days off to get well

The epiphany came:

My Dad never took a day off from work

Unless he was sick as a dog

He really never took a day off

I have no memory of it

We were not a family of nappers

And once when I napped with my best friend afterschool 

My Mom came home and found us in the darkened basement

Asleep with MTV flickering and flashing

She popped the lights on and was convinced we were tripping

 

On my birth certificate 

It states the occupation of my father

At the time of my birth:

Mechanic

 

It doesn’t get much better than that

Like mom, baseball and apple pie

Or a song by Mellencamp

 

This meditation poem has made me realize

That my Dad is another baby-boomer

Who has been able to live out the American Dream

And you can’t take that shit for granted

 

Pilver’s Autobody was on Park Road

Inside the Hartford line

My dad was a mechanic in Hartford, Connecticut

No flashy Boston or New York City

Just two hours in either direction

Guess what city Jack Kerouac moved to

When he first left home:

Hartford, Connecticut

Around the corner from Allen Place

Where my parents lived when I was born

Down the street from Hartford Hospital

A few decades earlier

 

My Dad started the day in clean white t-shirts

Never returned filthy, always clean

He also wore the classic long-sleeved collared shirts

That dignified mechanics wear

 

He had a great boss in Pilver

Let our entire family vacation for weeks

In Rockland, Maine at his place

Where I bashed my knees-in, on the wet rocks

Before my parents could even unpack

My Dad joked that between the rocks and sharks

They were trying to do some family planning after the fact,

To thin our ranks

And it was on those rocks where my brother Rob

Knocked my Dad out with one

Just as he was telling us to stop throwing them

 

My memory of Pilver is of a nice older man

Telling me that he had some lobsters for us

On the floor of the shop

I may have asked where they were

He pointed to a large drain in the floor

Dark liquid glistening below, pulling my leg

My Dad let the lobsters walk around the living room

I watched them

From the top of the highest point on the couch

I refused to set foot into the ocean for 10 years 

One time my Mom forgot that the lobsters were in the fridge

I can still hear her screams when she opened the door

And they spilled out 

When I see the words “Maine lobster” 

I think of Pilver’s Autobdy, still

 

When I was older and in high school

One of the “packy” stores that sold beer to minors with fake IDs

Was next door to Pilver’s

I didn’t realize this until we drove in back

Shocked to see the building next door,

Of what was now Alve’s Autobody

“My father was a mechanic there” I told my friends

Filled with awe at the arc of life,

Sentimental, and feeling guilty

As we tipped the sullen guy 

Who placed the case of beer in our trunk

 

My Dad made a great manager

He is a great people person

Can talk with the mechanics, the owners,

The customers

On a wide range of topics

Knows everybody

And Steben’s Autobody was a special place for me

I loved the smells of the car parts

The fumes of the paint shop

The front room with the customers,

The big private office in back

Separated by tall counters and frosted windows

Hearing the loudspeaker intercom broadcast

“Richie, line one”

While walking outside

This is where my Dad was during the day

 

Roland Steben had a large sailboat 

And took our entire family out on the water

Let us spend weekends at his place 

At White Sands Beach, Connecticut 

A cast of characters,

The way the sky brightens when you near the shore

From the receding tree line

Song on the radio:

“Sky rockets in flight – afternoon delight”

 

During high school when friction was building

Maybe between our football team & the hockey team

Or some similar nonsense

I remember confiding in my Dad

In our basement gym with the wall of mirrors

That houses were getting egged

I just wanted to let him know

My involvement was minimal, 

Had no desire to ruin my record

Of never having been in a fight,

But had to explain that our house might be a target

 

My father took the warning in stride

Assuring me that everything would be fine, 

Because if anything, anything touched our house

Gondido would take care of it

And by take care of it, he did not mean

Cleaning up

 

From the stories of my childhood 

I knew who Gondido was

Though rarely if ever glimpsed 

In the deepest bays and bowels of the shop

A character even Quentin Tarantino would envy

I knew this man feared no one

But had great respect for my Dad because 

Time after time

When he was released from prison

My Dad was always the first 

To offer Gondido his job back

“He’s the best body guy in New England”

 

I never did meet Gondido

But just hearing his name lifted my spirits,

And was not where I thought the conversation was headed.

My Dad was not upset with me, 

He was problem-solving, 

And probably recognized the situation for what it was – 

Some high school silliness

 

My Dad is retiring soon

And I’m trying to figure out what it all means

 

He has earned the right to do so

He’s going out on his own terms – 

Not interested in training his replacement 

He will fill his new days putting in more steps

In a single day than I do in a week

 

In high school my Dad mowed the lawn himself

Though my brother and I could have taken turns

It was awesome

We still had the other chores to do

I remember even kind of giggling to myself

In our basement gym, while I pumped iron in the cool basement

Seeing my Dad through the low window, going for it

At the height of hot humid summer

 

Each year the ground turns up stones

And each day my Dad walks the land

Gathering them up and adding them to the low walls

Sometimes he comes across very large stones

He grabs his wheelbarrow, shovels and pry bar

He bends, digs – excavates – twists, turns, hauls

Increases the size height width & length of the wall

And his life

 

He has always been this way

I have the memories to prove it

 

My Dad is retiring soon

And I don’t know if he knows it

But we have a song

 

It is Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”

One of my parents few albums

Hearing that first single piano note, 

The pause, and then the triumphant start of the song

The nostalgic, evocative tone, confusing gleeful lyrics, 

The general wackiness of an early 1970’s Elton John

The swing from triumph to nostalgia within a single song

Coming up the stairs to me from the living room

It promised great, wild worlds to explore in life

The song was a promise, and

The soundtrack to my Dad’s early morning workout

Stretching and using soup cans for dumbbells 

My Dad was an early adapter

Teaching us, showing us all how to stretch and breathe

And occasionally insisting upon it

Bennie & the Jets and my Dad are inseparable to me

They even looked like each other in ‘74

The song has always been with me

 

Inversion boots?

Nearly had to call the West Hartford fire department

To get him out of those, 

While suspended upside down from the basement rafters

Where he tested the limits of the human spine

And my Mom stomped-off for a second

Threatening to call the WHFD if he didn’t try harder

To help us bend him enough to pull his feet free of the pull-up bar

Which was after we gathered underneath him 

Like we were charging a mountain,

Raising the flag at Iwo Jima

To unhook those boots from the bar

As we ignored his screams of mixed pain and laughter

And sustained bombardments of uncontrolled flatulence

But soldiered on until we at last liberated his suspended, 

Upside down body

From the pull-up bar

Awkwardly got him down onto the gym mat

Congratulated ourselves for not taxing

Emergency services

With our domestic disturbance

 

I don’t know if it was the image, or imagined sound

Of the fire fighters coming down the basement stairs

That did if for my Dad

Finally getting those inversion boots free

Was a clear testament to the indomitable will of the human spirit 

And the spinal column

 

In my teenage years

When my Dad got home from work

He liked to get downstairs right away

To get in a workout before helping Mom with dinner

He began his day with a two hour workout

 

When I got home from football practice

I ate dinner first with the family and then I went downstairs

To workout for a few hours

After having had a 2-hour practice in full pads

I too tacked-on the additional workout

My girlfriend asking at the time

What I did between dinner and our nightly,

Parentally-sanctioned land-line phone call at 9 or 10pm?

After all of her homework was done

I explained that I did chest, tris, shoulders & lats

On Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays

And legs & bis on Tuesdays & Thursdays:

The endorphins kept my anxiety and depression

At bay until I forsook my body in college

While pursuing an English degree with the same 

Lack of moderation displayed in high school

 

Each year the ground turns up stones

And sometimes they are the tip of the big one

My Dad found such a stone 

A few hours before my sister arrived for a visit

Thought he could easily get it out and bury it deeper

While still fitting in a shower

Before Amy arrived

 

Digging is one of the great labors

Which my Dad underestimated that day

It took an hour to get the large boulder out

Another 30 minutes to dig the whole deeper

Five seconds to place it back in the deeper hole

And just one second to realize that the hole was not deep enough

It took another hour to get it back out

And that is when my sister arrived 

My Dad soaked in sweat, caked in soil

 

My Dad is retiring soon

And he’ll have more time

To do The Five Tibetans

 

He was standing in the shop at Steben’s Autobody

When he received a call from our Vice Principal

Of Sedgwick Middle School

Informing him that his son was caught

Spraying the marching band with a squirt gun

During the Memorial Day parade

My Dad doing the quick math

How much would it cost to replace

The uniforms for an entire band

Assuming it was permanent ink or dye

Contained in the gun

 

When he got home that night he was almost buoyant 

From the relief that his son only used water

Telling me he was somewhat incredulous about the call

And all the hand-wringing by Mr. Francis, the band leader

“I thought I was on the hook for about 50 uniforms”

If the band was off by just a few notes for a block or so

My Dad could live with that

“But knock it off, got it?”

 

All so grateful 

Amy: daughter, first-born bond with Dad

Rob: middle son, shared interest in cars with Dad

Kathy: wife, moral compass of the lot

Me, result of third unplanned pregnancy

Explains my existential tendencies

But thanks and praises Dad for giving me a shot at this world and

Realizing that you love the horse

As much as I love the tree

 

When I told my 6 year old daughter tonight

That Poppie was working his last day later this week

That he has saved up enough to stop working

She said “Goodie, he can move here

And help you with your work”

Which made me smile

But I didn’t tell her that I still had 

25 to life, to go 

And that today, reading email after email from the public

I whispered the words “mother fucker” under my breathe

25 times with each new problem that landed in my lap

 

In high school the most influential man in my life was Coach C

Our football coach

You could almost see the thought bubble above my head:

There is a new man in my life now.

 

But after each rousing talk or lesson learned on the gridiron

I returned home and found my Dad

Quietly living life with the same determined principles

The same tireless work ethic

Without needing to put any words to it

“You think you have problems now?!” Coach would shout

While we sucked wind and wished our hearts would stop

Just to cut practice short

 

My Dad is retiring soon

And what I want to tell him

More than anything

Is how much I will think of him 

When my day comes to retire 

 

I will think of him

Think about what it must have been like 

For him at the time later this week

When he knew he no longer needed 

To make money

Generate wealth

 

To me he isn’t retiring

He’s just coming back home at the end of the day

 

And he’s looking forward to what’s on tap tomorrow

It will start with The Five Tibetans

 

ANovember, 2017