At age seven he had an accident and his spinal chord was severed. Back then there weren't a lot of medical options. They just said you will never walk again. Even at 7 my father was obstinate. So I am not sure why, defying all medical reason, my father walked his whole life until the last few years. Except that he wanted to. He wore a brace, he walked with a limp, but to me no one ever stood taller or stronger in my eyes. Dad was an old school parent. There was no talking out your feelings. There was no time out. You straightened up, flew right, or as he loved to say, "I will give you something to cry about." He used to walk into empty rooms and talk to invisible, disobedient children "Oh I did not know you were in here. Let me turn on a few more lights maybe open up the door and air condition the neighborhood!" He had the ability to say more by tapping your leg with one finger than an entire speech about consequences for behavior. He loved to sing in the car and when we were alone driving on the weekends he would turn up the radio and belt out "Oh yes, I am the great pretender".
He was funny and stern and all of those things. He taught me when I was young lessons I never forgot. When I turned nine and received my First Communion he pulled me on my lap and told me something that drove my whole life. "Kathleen, you're so smart. Lots of people are smart, they're a dime a dozen. It doesn't matter. What matters is how hard you can work, how hard can you push yourself. Can you be the toughest one left?" I don't know if I ever met that benchmark, but when things are hard that is what I remember. I never imagined I would be telling that story at his funeral, but that is exactly what I did nine years ago, without a tear, because Dad taught me "Crying never solved anything." After I finished one of our family friends whispered to me in line, "now that is his kind of tough."
It is still hard to believe my Dad has been gone for 9 years. I wish he had been a little more perfect because his body paid the price for a lifetime of excessive drinking and smoking. Doing only what he wanted to, eating only what he liked, in short living like my Dad. Just 68 when he died, married 38 years. He had three kids, two sons-in-law and an unbelievable impact on my life. He loved Notre Dame Football and his dog Einstein, he was a Braves fan and finally at the end of his life, he said "I know it will be all right because you found a good man and he will care for you." He was right about my husband, but in the back of his mind I hope he knew he also prepared me to take care of myself.