View From Lodi, CA: A Tale Of Two Fathers

My mother taught me to be honest,
compassionate and optimistic.

From my father, I learned about
education, hard work and perseverance.

Although my father died 25 years
ago, I think of him everyday. My father`s presence was
so great that even today when I visit my mother, part of
me expects to see him walk through the door.

Dad was tender and tough—a
combination that evolved from his tortured relationship
with his father.

My grandfather was a hard, hard
man. He came to New York in 1895 with his Sicilian
parents. Penniless, Granddad took every odd job
available. He sold newspapers, worked at fruit stands
and made deliveries. While others attended school,
Granddad worked. He never played sports or watched the
New York Yankees.

As Granddad toiled, he saved. From
his savings, he made a series of small investments. All
were profitable. Along the way, Granddad married. By
1920, he had two sons and a daughter.

Blessed with keen intuition,
Granddad anticipated the 1929 Depression. He sold his
holdings well before the collapse. Granddad hoarded
cash. At the market`s bottom, for distressed prices, he
bought real estate, stocks and bonds.

In the mid-1930s, as the country
rebounded, my grandfather`s wealth grew. But the more
money he amassed, the less he was inclined to
spend—particularly on his family.

When Princeton University accepted
my father, Granddad said to him, “Your college
education will mean a lot more to you if you pay for it

Shortly after my father began at
Princeton, granddad divorced my grandmother. He refused
to pay either alimony or child support.

Dad waited tables and worked in the
faculty lounge to finance his education. When he
graduated, Dad headed for California to join his father
who had headed west several years earlier.

In California, my grandfather
gobbled up real estate and watched his net worth grow.
Eventually, he and Dad opened a restaurant chain that

But abruptly, Granddad—whose
behavior had become erratic—sold the business and kept
the profits.

Dad was left holding the bag.
Without an income, Dad couldn`t pay his mortgage. The
bank soon foreclosed our house.

Desperate, Dad took a job as a
billing clerk in a large multinational food processing
company. Dad arrived early, stayed late and asked every
imaginable question.

His boss noticed Dad`s work ethic.
“Come into my office,” the boss said one day. “I want to
talk to you about an interesting possibility.”

The family packed up and moved to

Puerto Rico
. When the Puerto Rican operation
succeeded, we moved again to

Central America.

As Dad prospered, my grandfather
paid more attention to him than ever before. He visited
us and extended invitations to his ranch in the San
Fernando Valley—heretofore off limits for us.

Dad thought that the attention now
showered on him made amends for a lifetime of slights.
But he was wrong. My grandfather had one final slap in
the face to deliver.

In his final will, my grandfather`s
considerable fortune was given to various charities. Not
one dime went to his children.

From the moment my grandfather
died, Dad set out to be the best father he could be.
Without complaint, he paid all the bills and footed the
college expenses for my three sisters and me. Even
though we begged him, Dad never bought anything for

As if still trying to prove
something to his father, Dad worked harder than ever
until, at 66, bone cancer struck. For three long years,
Dad slowly wasted away. Although too feeble to sit up,
Dad spoke of the garden he would plant in the spring.

While he talked, I prayed for God
to end his pain. The last time I took Dad`s hand, I
could only feel soft, decayed flesh.

After Dad died, I quickly realized
that I had to replace thoughts of Dad`s final days with
happier memories. That is one reason why, while I would
have done anything for my father when he was alive, I
have never been to his grave.

Instead, I have a picture of him
and me that I keep close by. In the photo, Dad is 34 and
I`m a week old. Both of our eyes are closed. Dad is
cradling my head in his palm. With his other hand, Dad
is cupping my bottom.

Very gently, so as not to wake me,
Dad`s kissing my cheek.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the

Lodi News-Sentinel