Father’s Day Guest Columnist Frank Cavallaro: Why I’m Doing What My Father Never Did

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Frank Cavallaro, a long-time resident of East Meadow, Long Island, is father to three daughters. Schooled as a graphic designer, he joined several advertising agencies but eventually went out on his own and added copywriting to his list of services. Much later on in life, he entered the financial services business, where he eventually became a teacher in continuing education. He retired at 65 and resumed a childhood love for making things and working with his hands. He started a business where he offers to fix the homeowner’s mundane problems, or will help fulfill their majestic wishes, from wainscoting to pergolas. Nearing 70 years of age, he just celebrated his fifth year of doing business as Friendly Frank.

Dear Laura, Jenifer and Kim,

Darn, I just hate genetics.

If it weren’t for that, maybe you would have more patience, maybe even more sympathy, than I, and would gladly sacrifice a few minutes here and there to listen to your old man’s stories about where he lived and how he grew up as a boy in Brooklyn.

But, oh no, just like I was years ago, you girls are much too busy to hear about your dad’s exploits, groaning at the mere suggestion of my newest nugget of freshly mined information from the depths of my past. But how could I ever fault you for being just like me, slaves to heredity?

Nevertheless, I feel the urge to tell my tales of surviving nuns and a Catholic school education; using insects for playthings; a never-ending parade of interesting daily discoveries like a gyroscope that ignored gravity, chemistry in a box, fireflies in the summer, playing chess on a stoop.

There’s my account of a psyche-rattling kamikaze introduction to the birds and the bees; the joy of creating with my hands; living with an overbearing mother, and a brother, in a tight-fitting one-bedroom apartment that quashed our creativity and imagination.

There are recollections of hand-made clay dinosaurs, astronomy, music, and bows and arrows made from tree branches and string, and a thousand toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians.

As I mentioned, the list is long.

I’d like you to know about the painful death of our first dog, and the serendipitous arrival of our second, a loveable cocker spaniel; how medical problems were handled back when doctor-specialists weren’t so commonplace, with moms unconcerned about detecting every disease and condition that could potentially affect their children.

My father would occasionally interrupt my busy life with stories of his youth, but I was preoccupied with my own existence (see above) and begged him, as you girls sometimes plead with me, hoping that “this won’t take long.” I now wonder how he reacted when his physician-father tried to interrupt his life with stories of growing up.

Obviously, my dad’s words, spoken to me many years ago, with time dimming the facts and flavors of his sometimes painful and sometimes interesting discourse – of being born in America, then leaving for Italy, then returning to America – all happened before he grew to adolescence. He told of struggling with the dual embarrassment of being of meager stature and speaking broken English with an Italian accent, while bullies feasted on his limitations.

Now that he is long gone, so is virtually all proof of his existence, except for one handwritten letter which is a delight to read and re-read, and a dozen or so silent photographs. I wish there was more and mourn that there is not.

So that I don’t commit the same parental blunder by omission as both my parents did, I feel obligated – no, compelled – to recount the escapades of my boyhood days for the enjoyment and interest of you, my children, and my grandchildren, and others who may be curious about my early existence, if not now, maybe someday.

Who cares if you’re too busy? I’m putting my thoughts down anyway. I’ve already written about 65 essays. My words will be waiting for you — when you are ready.

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