Dad at 13 playing baseball on his street

My dad, Ralph, was born on March 10, 1931 in Donora, PA.  He would have been 80 years old today.

He was the youngest of six children, was passionate about baseball and dreamed of being a pilot. Due to his bad eyesight, that wasn’t meant to be but he did join the Air Force during the Korean War and was stationed in the Philippines. The photos below were taken on the base:

Following his time in the service, he obtained his college degree at the University of Pittsburgh. Shortly after that, he met my mom Mabel on a blind date, and they married on June 16, 1962:

My dad adored my mom. Toward the end of his life, he shared with me that after nearly 40 years of marriage, he still couldn’t get over the fact that such a beautiful lady had been interested in him. I can still remember the faint sound of wonder in his voice and the faraway look in his eyes as he recounted their wedding day.  It was such a sweet moment.

I came along three years later in 1965. Here I am surely impressing him with my mad guitar skillz:

Dad and me

The 70s produced endless opportunities for cringe-worthy clothing, as this photo clearly displays:

I’m not so sure my dad would be happy that I have posted that photo on the world wide web, but this is actually one of the more mild ones that I could have chosen! As I recall, that leisure suit was powder blue. My dad was obviously very secure in his masculinity. 🙂

I loved to hear my dad laugh. Sometimes he would laugh so hard that tears would  just stream down his face. I have that in common with him. This is one of my very favorite photos of him because it so captures his personality. He could spin a story like nobody else:

Another thing my dad was famous for was The Christmas Pants.

Anyone reading this who shared holidays with us is smiling right now because this was always a highlight of the day.

My dad was well-known for being a snazzy dresser. (with the exception of the above 70s photo, obviously). However, on Christmas Day 1987, he made a huge fashion faux-pas when he inexplicably decided to wear plaid pants paired with a shirt that had a wide horizontal stripe emblazoned across the chest. We were all incredulous that he would wear that shirt with those pants and teased him mercilessly all day long. By the end of the day, he vowed that he would wear those same pants every Christmas for the rest of his life…and he did!

Right before coming downstairs on Christmas Day, he would loudly announce: ” The Christmas Pants are about to make their appearance!” Then he would descend the stairs with great pomp to cheers and clapping. It was all just silly fun but we looked forward to it every year. In the photo below, my dad is modeling the famous pants with my mom and our son Josh, who was five:

In 1994, Dad retired as the head of human resources for a branch of the Department of Energy. He was deeply respected by his co-workers as a man of integrity, who was tough but fair, and saw and nurtured potential in his employees. He was excellent at his job because he  was deeply perceptive. He could read people like no one else I’ve ever known. Within five minutes of meeting anyone, he had their number and he was always right. It was almost eerie.

This came in very handy when I brought Doug home to meet my parents for the first time. It didn’t take Dad long to pull me aside and say, “This guy is all right.” I couldn’t have asked for a better vote of confidence. (Not that I had any doubt!).  🙂

Dad was so proud to walk me down the aisle. He knew I would be in excellent hands.

One of the great joys of Dad’s life was becoming a grandfather. Julia had him totally wrapped around her little finger.

Dad and Julia on a bike path in RI

In 2002, my dad began to experience shortness of breath, so he went to the doctor to have a stress test. The results were shocking. Only 20% of his heart was working. None of us could believe it. Dad was a lifelong health nut…he exercised daily, watched what he ate, and took a ton of vitamins. He was the last one we would suspect of having a bad heart.

This was on a Friday and the plan was for Dad to have a bypass operation first thing that Monday morning. We were in New Hampshire and couldn’t get home to Pittsburgh in time. So, that Sunday night, Dad and I had a tearful phone conversation. Knowing the risk of surgery, we didn’t know if this would be our last conversation, so we said everything that needed to be said.

At one point, I told him that I was pretty sure I needed him on earth more than Jesus needed him in Heaven.

I could hear the smile in his voice when he said, “It’s a win-win for me. If I survive the surgery, I get to continue enjoying my wonderful life. And if I die, I go to live with Jesus. See? Win-win.”

He never did have the surgery. Once in the operating room, they realized  that his heart was so badly damaged that he would not survive an operation. So, they sent him home and put him on a regimen of strong drugs in hopes that those drugs would build his heart up to a point where he could have a bypass.

He was released the week before Thanksgiving, so Doug and I made the decision to take the kids and go home to Pittsburgh for the holiday. We spent all of Thanksgiving week staying at my childhood home. My dad looked more frail than he ever had but he was in excellent spirits.

It was a wonderful week. I spent a lot of time with Dad. He shared memories with me that I had never heard before and I asked him a million questions. I think that deep down, we all knew time was short.

Thanksgiving Day dawned bright and sunny and to this day, I remember the laughter. We laughed all day long, especially after all the relatives arrived. I had the videotape going all day long, intent on capturing as many moments as I could. When I watched that tape later, I could see that Dad was quieter than he usually was. At one point, I left the machine running as we sat around the table. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the tape revealed that as he sat at his customary spot at the head of the table, he eyes rested purposefully and thoughtfully on each face, as if he was trying to memorize us, especially his grandchildren.

The next morning, my family and I left early to head back to New Hampshire. As I hugged him one last time before we hit the road, I said, “Bye, Dad.”

He smiled at me, shook his head, and said, “Let’s not say goodbye. Let’s just say ‘see you later’.'” He told everyone that he loved us and we were on our way.

That was the last conversation I had with my dad. He had a massive heart attack later that day and never recovered.

My mom later related that as he had finished his breakfast that morning, “Amazing Grace” came on. He listened for awhile and said, “I love that song” before going into the family room for the final time.

And it is precisely because of the amazing grace of our beautiful God that I will see my dad again when we meet in Heaven.

This is the last photo taken of my dad. I took this on a Tuesday and he had his heart attack that Friday:

(If you look closely, you can see Julia hiding next to the sofa). 🙂

He has been gone for nearly nine years now and I miss him everyday. I miss his sense of humor, his advice, his stories, his seemingly endless knowledge of trivia, his incredible wisdom. To this day, I regret that I didn’t speak at his funeral. I wanted to but I just didn’t have it in me at the time. So, this is my way of honoring my dad’s memory in a way that I didn’t  get to do on that day.

The most amazing thing happened just as I was finishing this post.

My dad loved to sing. He had a deep, rich voice and he sang constantly. One of his all-time favorites was the classic song “Smile” by Nat King Cole. I have so many memories of him singing that tune.

I had just finished writing about how much I miss him…when one of the contestants on American Idol began to sing… “Smile.”

I froze and immediately began to weep. It was as if Dad had literally just walked into the room. The TV singer’s voice faded and all I “heard” was my dad singing.  I just sat still and let the tears fall.

Smile though your heart is aching

Smile even though it’s breaking

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by

If you smile through your fear and sorrow

Smile and maybe tomorrow

You’ll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness

Hide every trace of sadness

Although a tear may be ever so near

That’s the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what’s the use of crying?

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile…if you just smile.

I will close this post with a photo of the lady who made my dad smile more than anyone:

Happy birthday Dad! I love you. And I can’t wait to see you again.



Filed under Tribute To My Dad

15 responses to “Tribute

  1. The Elaine


  2. Ida-Mae

    As tears stream down my face, blurring the keyboard, I am thanking our Heavenly Father for the gift of your earthly Father. They are both so thrilled with this loving tribute, Susan. Happy Birthday, Ralph!

  3. margaret

    The song “Smile” coming on as you were finishing up: I love how God orchestrates things to let us know He is intimately involved in our lives.
    Ditto to the comments above.

  4. Johanna

    Happy Birthday Uncle Ralph, you are deeply missed! Sue, this is a wonderful account of your father and just how special he was. Thanks for sharing (even if I am a sobbing mess) these wonderful memories. I deeeply dread the day that I will say goodbye to my parents, and it is understandable why you could not eulogize your father, but his is the perfect way to do that now.
    One other fun thing about your dad is that I always felt he was my own personal weatherman. If you wanted to know the weather forecast, windchill, barometric pressure…just ask Uncle Ralph! He surely could have been weatherman on the local news!
    I do love the photos you posted. In the Air Force photos he looks like a young Ben Affleck! The 70’s photo is priceless and I am less shocked by the clothing as I am the eyeglasses. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing Sue, it was great to think of him this morning!

    • Johanna! You are SO right! How could I have forgotten to include his obsession with the weather?! 🙂
      He always loved you and would have been so proud of all you’ve accomplished. Love you!

  5. Karen ~ Laconia, NH


  6. Karen

    You are an amazing woman and considering your thoughts and comments about your dad, he did good in creating you! I will thank him everyday! Much love!

  7. Aunt Evelyn

    Susan, this is a wonderful tribute to your Dad. He would be so proud of you. I so much loved his stories and his sense of humor. He always made me laugh! And Bill feels the same way even though they did not know each other very long. Loved the pictures! “The Leisure Suit” Now that is something that should never have been designed. All the guys looked stupid in them! : ) You made me cry but you also made me laugh. Thanks for the memories! Love you.

  8. Connie

    Sue . this was beautiful. to have such a loving memory is a gift with out doubt.
    Smiles was also my fathers song he sang all the time so I relate to this, but to hear it after your tribute is a special gift from God. Hang on to it. 🙂 love u

  9. Claire

    Hi Susan,
    As I write this I’m Listening to the Nat King Cole Song.
    I grew up on that music in my home… thanks for sharing your heart in such a beautiful tender way. What a treasure.
    It made me think of my Mom..and how much I miss her.
    It is good to remember..

  10. Marj

    Sweet Susan,
    This tribute to your earthly father is so wonderful to read. It helps me to know you better. What a blessed upbringing you had…a treasure beyond measure! And so will your (our) heavenly home be! Can’t wait to meet our Savior face to face and your dad, too. Love, Marj

  11. Pingback: The Swing | Power Of A Moment

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