By Tom Cardella
Dad — I lost your wedding ring about a week ago. And I get the feeling that even St. Anthony won’t find it. I began wearing it soon after you died. It fit my ring finger better than my own wedding band. Yours was white gold. Remember? With odd little figures etched on it — like Masonic symbols. Is it possible that you became a Mason and never told us? You were always fascinated with the Masons.
There were so many things I never found out about you. It wasn’t your fault. You tried to share your childhood experiences with me, but in my youthful arrogance, I didn’t listen very well. I’m ashamed of that now. You deferred much too much to me because of my college degree. A college degree couldn’t buy your experience, Dad.
I also have to apologize for not visiting the gravesite of you and Mom. It’s not that I’ve forgotten about you. One of the reasons I began wearing your wedding ring was to remind me of you every day of my life. You are still my hero, but I never told you that, did I, Dad? It’s just that I find visiting cemeteries as distasteful as you always did. You’re in my heart, Dad, not buried at St. Peter and Paul’s. That’s why I am writing this column. It’s my remembrance of you on Father’s Day.
I am now 13 years older than you were when you died. Can you believe that? I can’t. With every day that goes by, I understand you better. We were never the touchy-feely types. I didn’t tell you that I love you until you were practically on your death bed. You replied, “I know.” That’s the closest you ever came to telling me that you loved me, but I’m not complaining. I knew you did. I knew it when you playfully sparred with me. I’m afraid I wasn’t a very good sparring partner. I’m not physically tough. I lack your tremendous physical courage. I could never face down danger the way you did as a narcotics detective. I’ve always regretted that I was not the son that you probably secretly hoped for — the kid who would carry on your tradition in the police force. You wanted so much for me to take the exam. With my education and your reputation (that part was unsaid), you felt I could’ve become Chief of Police. But it wasn’t for me. You hid your disappointment as well as you could.
Now that I have grown kids of my own, I understand how you worried about Eleanor and me … even as you were dying. Especially as you were dying. You always wanted to protect us from every evil in the world and felt terribly frustrated when you could not. I feel the same way. Like me, you never really wanted kids. But when they came along, you did your duty. More than that. You were totally devoted to us. We knew it, Dad. You worried a lot more about your daughter than me, but I understand that now. It wasn’t that you didn’t love me as much. You just thought she needed more guidance and protecting.
After you were gone, Mom found out that you sneaked money to her. Mom was furious. She told me that in her dreams, she fought with you every night. If you’re together now, I hope you two have made your peace. But as a father, I understand where you were coming from. As a husband, I think you owe Mom an apology.
You never told me that you were proud of me. I wondered about that. Thought maybe your disappointment at me not becoming a cop overwhelmed everything else. But after you were gone, Mom told me that you listened faithfully when I was on the radio. You were very proud every time the “Cardella” name got mentioned. Regretfully, I don’t think I ever told you how proud I was of you.
You were a great cop. The kind who spit-shined his shoes. Never was out of uniform. Kept in shape. You were so damned courageous. Got 35 commendations for bravery. But more importantly, especially today, you believed in the triumph of justice. You hated crooked cops. Hated cops who were fat and sloppy. The ones who never passed up a freebie — in fact, demanded them. You believed that good cops came in every skin shade and that their gender didn’t matter.
We had our political differences. But you were not a hater. After every presidential election, no matter whether your candidate won or not, you were optimistic. You were certain that the winning candidate was a good person. Found solace in the fact that despite political differences, there was no hate between the candidates. You cried too when JFK and Bobby were murdered. You even forgave me for writing columns in this newspaper that were critical of Frank Rizzo. You came up on the force with Rizzo. You had a personal relationship with him. It would’ve been easy for you to become angry with me about opposing him. You told me that you talked to Rizzo one time and he asked, “What is it with your kid, Pete? This stuff he writes.” You replied, “Frank, he’s my kid. What he writes is his own business.”
Miss you. I’m sorry I lost your wedding ring.