As someone whose father died more than 45 years ago, I have not really celebrated Father’s Day for a long time. I have celebrated my grandfathers and my father-in-law on that day, but none of these people were my father, and it’s not the same.
There’s one person who’s often mistaken for my father, and that’s my mother’s husband. My mother remarried in 1984, and has been married to a man with the improbable name of Americo for nearly 30 years now – far longer than she was married to my father. Americo, who goes by the nicknames of Rick and Merc, is a great guy who was an avid golfer into his late 70s. But he’s been off the links for a while now. You see, he turned 90 on June 1, the same day my son was married.
In fact, we continually embarrassed him that day when hundreds of wedding guests, many of whom he did not know, came up to him and congratulated him on the milestone. And of course, we had a cake, and my nieces sang “Happy Birthday.” It was very gracious of my son and his bride to share their day with him.
So Americo has been on the right side of 50 since 1973, and although he’s slowed down a bit with age, he’s still very much living and loving life. I’d say he has a good shot at making it to 100. Seeing Americo still enjoy watching golf and baseball, his beloved gelato and the occasional martini, is an inspiration to those of us more recently arrived at 50 plus. He provides the kind of perspective on life that only longevity can bring.
The thing about living a very long time is that you have to watch everyone your age – friends and family – die before you. That’s sometimes almost too much to bear. Americo still gets choked up sometimes talking about his beloved first wife, whom he lost to cancer more than 30 years ago.
Speaking of hurt, Americo suffers from chronic back pain from his golfing days. But he didn’t let it stop him from making the five-hour car ride to Vermont recently for the wedding. He couldn’t miss that. You see, he’s been a true grandfather to my children from the day they were born. And here’s the kicker – he never had any children of his own. Yet as soon as my wife and I had kids, he took on babysitting chores right along with my mother. He took them to parks to play, and on trips to pick strawberries. He was responsible for their learning how to swim.
By the time Americo married my mother, I had already been married for five years. So he never had to play father to me as might have been the case had I been 15 or 16. But he always represented to me the prime example of the American Dream. He was born in the United States to Italian immigrants, who were so proud of their new country that they named their only son after it. He spoke only Italian until he entered kindergarten. But then he assimilated and worked his way to middle-class security with a house, and a yard, that was the envy of his neighbors for many years.
So as he enters his 10th decade on this planet, I think it’s about time I recognized this father figure who continues to show everyone who knows him that life after 50 can be very sweet indeed.