Happy Birthday, Dad

The Family in 1999Dad would have been 69 today.

It’s funny, there were times while he was alive that I thought he was already in his 70s. As cantankerous and grumpy as he was, he certainly fit the stereotype of a “crabby old man.”

But, as I have explained before, that is not the Dad that I remember.

That Dad was a man who laughed. Who loved life and family. Who celebrated the little things as well as the big things. He was someone that made others feel welcome, and let them in on the big joke. And sometimes, he was the butt of that joke.

You see, my father was not afraid to poke fun at himself. He acted silly, dressed up in silly costumes, and told silly stories. He made up names like “Joe Batchagaloup” and sang opera arias at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason– except maybe to annoy my mom from time to time.

He was a bit of a goofball, but he did have his temper. And boy, when that temper flared, you either ran or got burned by it. This was always the case, and only got worse with age.

But those moments were cushioned by a lot of wonderful, happy moments. And those are the “moments of pleasure” that I recall.

Dad, 3 years oldDad was born on January 7, 1938 to Ann and Louis Aiello of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Ann, my Nana, was born and raised in Kenosha, and was only 21 years old at the time my dad was born. Louis, my Nanu, was born in Rende, Italy in 1903 and emigrated to the United States on September 19, 1922. From Ellis Island, he moved on to Kenosha, and eventually met and married my Nana when she was only 17 years old.

There they lived a simple, working-class life. Louis was a blue-collar worker at American Brass Company, and Ann was a homemaker, but occasionally worked as a nurse’s aid at St. Catherine’s Hospital. They raised three children– Richard, John and Rita, and spent the rest of their lives in Kenosha.

My dad began working at Warwick Electronics in Zion, IL in the 1950’s, shortly after he graduated from high school in 1957. After a brief tour of duty with the US Army Reserves during the Berlin Crisis, he returned to work at Warwick, where he met my mom, Jill Anderson.

Mom and Dad on their wedding dayAs I told in a previous story, my mom had just been divorced from her first husband and moved back to Antioch, IL to live with her parents. When my dad met my mom, he fell for her instantly. But my mom’s past life could pose a problem with his Italian, Catholic family. So they worked slowly at it, and eventually wed at the Justice of the Peace in 1965. And five years later, they gave birth to their firstborn– me.

My sister was born in 1973, and shortly thereafter, Warwick Electronics closed for good. My dad was given an opportunity to move with the company to Arkansas, but he declined. And from that moment forward, his love for life began to decline as well.

Jobs were hard to come by. He had a high school education, no college degree of any kind, and only his experience as a plant manager to back him up. His next job was at Consolidated Freightways in Elk Grove, IL; a job he notoriously despised, and left not long after he started. From there he went to Webster Electric in Racine, WI, where he spent another 10 years. After leaving Webster he held down various jobs for short amounts of time, before ending up at Peter Pirsch & Co., the fire engine company in Kenosha.

Finding work to support our family was hard, and so it fell upon my mom to become the breadwinner. This was always a sore spot for my dad, because he believed he should be the breadwinner for the family. Unfortunately, his pride would not win out… and he resigned himself to being the supplemental income.

Beth's Wedding, 2002As the years went further on, and took their toll on Dad’s health, he grew increasingly resentful of the fates that life had handed him. At one time he told us, “I hate God, because God hates me.” So he stopped going to church. Then, when he received the Diabetes diagnosis, he began to shut himself off, slowly. First from society, then from friends, and eventually, from his family and the world itself. His last venture outdoors for any reason, other than a doctor’s appointment, was for my sister’s wedding in 2002. After that day, he never left the house again.

Dad’s passing last July has been hard on us, but in another way it’s been a relief. No longer do we have to hear him yell at my mother for unnecessary reasons. No longer does he embarrass us because of the things he would say– most of the time before thinking about how they would sound. No longer do we have to watch him waste his life away, behind closed curtains and windows, just because he can’t bear to see the world go on without him.

I love you, DadBut that doesn’t change the fact that we miss him terribly. And we love him still.

So, Dad, wherever you are: Happy Birthday. I love you. I miss you. And wherever you may be, I hope you are at peace.

Love, your champ.