Thirty-five years ago.
It was 1984 and my dad was 56 and I was 23. He was a young man, I was just a kid so I figured we had plenty of years together. More fishing trips, more Laurel and Hardy movies, more Father’s Days, more time to strengthen our relationship.
I didn’t understand the severity at the time, but my father, Richard Frederick McCrabb, was slowly dying because he refused to see the doctor even after he knew cancer had invaded his colon. Though my dad never served in the military because of health restrictions, he had the mentality of World War II veterans from the Greatest Generation.
That stubbornness shortened his life.
Now that I’m 58 — two years older than my dad when he died — I think of him every day and the life lessons he taught me without trying. I’m a part of my dad and it has nothing to do with his DNA.
Every important decision I make, I ask myself how my dad would have handled the situation. I refer to his compass for direction.
There wasn’t a harder worker in this world. That much I’m sure of. As his hod carrier on those weekend bricklaying jobs, I saw the foundation of my father’s work ethic. The more he worked under the hot summer sun, the more sweat that rolled off his nose, then to his chin, and finally dripping like a faucet on his dirty white T-shirt that barely covered his enormous belly.
Dad never took any shortcuts, though he wasn’t paid hourly for some of his work. He never cheated anyone. If he billed you for eight hours, you can bet he worked eight hours, 15 minutes.
People just assumed my dad was a beer drinker because it looked like his belt was holding up a keg. But he never drank a beer, and only had one alcoholic drink every New Year’s Eve.
But man, he loved his food. His appetite was legendary. You didn’t want to share a pizza with my dad. He took what he wanted first, and left us four kids and our mother what was left. A large Cassano’s pizza — a Friday night treat if the weather allowed dad to work five days that week — wasn’t made to feed a family of six.
Especially when one of the six was my dad.
He went to fish frys every Friday at the Milton Club in Dayton, though he never joined. When dad’s friend, who was a member, died, dad just kept going every Friday. They thought he was a member. He wore the same suit coat every week, and without fail, he’d get an extra fish sandwich, roll it in a napkin, stuff it in his suit pocket and bring it home for me.
He knew I loved fish. Just like him.
The only problem, dad usually ate my fish sandwich for breakfast Saturday morning before I woke up.
“Snooze you loose,” he told me more than once.
At another fish fry, several inches of snow were predicted, so not expecting a large crowd, the Milton Club reduced the amount of fry it purchased. And when the weather forecasters were wrong, and the fish quickly was gone, they bought Bob Evans sausage at Kroger.
My dad didn’t eat sausage for a month after that night.
Mom did almost all the cooking in our house. Dad was only in charge of grilling out. And since he was a brick mason, we had a huge fireplace in our backyard out by the fence. Dad would build an enormous fire, and after 20 minutes on the open flames, those beautiful hamburger patties my mom had prepared resembled hockey pucks.
I never knew you could order a hamburger that wasn’t cooked well done.
While I loved the Reds, Bengals, Ohio State football and University of Dayton basketball growing up, dad wasn’t a big sports fan. He preferred spending his free time fishing. That’s where we had conversations I cherish today. But those talks stopped quickly when the fish started biting.
What I wouldn’t do for one more day on the bank with dad. A cane pole in my right hand, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my left. My only care: Convincing dad to take the catfish off my hook.
Dad has been gone for 35 years, meaning I’ve lived longer without my dad than with him. That doesn’t seem possible.
Now I’m a father and my daughter, Hannah, is one month shy of her 21st birthday. And every three to five years, because of my family history, I have a colonoscopy. I want to be around when my daughter gets married.
I will toast my dad that day.
Maybe with a fish sandwich and a beer.
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