The Grief Diary: Honoring My Dad on His Birthday

Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss. This is the eighth in this series.

Today is my father’s birthday. He would be 91 if he hadn’t succumbed to a heart attack in 1976 at just 45. Each year on this day, I celebrate his life.

I recently wrote a tribute to him which I sent to the New York Times for their Modern Love Podcast. They were looking for stories about a time when you saw a parent differently. A memory popped up out of the decades of memories buried in my brain. I pulled it out and polished it with pretty words, recorded it, and then sent it to their editors. That was in December. I haven’t heard a word in reply. Oh well. That’s what happens, and I’ve learned not to expect anything more.

So, in honor of my dad’s birthday I’m posting the essay here along with the recording. This is not the version I sent to the Times. That was a much shorter, edited version as I was restricted to just one minute of audio. The story deserves a more robust telling, and here it is.

Happy birthday, Dad. Rest in peace. ❤️

My Dad Was A Giant

Listen here:

My father, Ted Kasica, was a typical man of the seventies: He went to work, paid the mortgage, put food on the table, and cared for his children. My memories of him are rich, happy, full of love, and framed by loss.

His nickname was “Teddy Bear,” and he was huggable and lovable, a kind, patient, quiet man who loved classical music, the Red Sox and Bruins, fishing, and working with his hands. He did nice things for other people, often at the nudging of my mother. A cabinetmaker, he built useful items, like coffee tables, bookshelves, toys, and more, from scraps he picked up at his job, and gave them away. He once rebuilt a rowboat and fished from it for years. I was sometimes at the helm, along for the ride.

The best part of the day was when he came home from work at 4:30 or so. My brothers and I rushed out of the house to his car, clamoring for his attention. “Daddy’s home,” we’d shout, giving him hugs and smiles as he reached into his pockets to pull out four pieces of candy, dropping them into our impatient hands. Many times, there was no candy, as money was tight, and the best he had to offer was hugs and smiles back to his rambunctious offspring.

He was well loved and regarded by everyone: family, friends, neighbors. My mother’s sisters did all they could to please him at holiday and Sunday dinners, as he had a picky appetite. Kids in the neighborhood revered him, coming around on hot summer nights to tag along when he’d take us to Robin’s Pond for night swimming. My girlfriends loved him as he never bristled at playing the role of chauffeur, and taxied us wherever we needed to go.

I was proud to call him my dad, especially when I compared him to the fathers of my friends and neighbors, the ones who drank their paychecks and had no time to play with their kids because they were too busy “down at the club.” He was an active part of the house, not a dad who retreated to his chair and TV, or to his basement to work alone on some project.

His unexpected death at age 45 was tragic. I was 15 and understood little of life, even less of death. Suddenly there was a massive hole in my life, which my father once fully occupied. It was at his wake that I saw more of the man than I ever knew existed.

I’d never been to a wake and had no idea what to expect. My immediate family arrived first at the funeral home and paid our respects, and then other family members trickled in. It was a tearful, solemn time, people shaking their heads, wondering at the absurdity and randomness of such a vital man taken from us at such a vital time in life. Soon the room was packed with mourners, all of whom I knew: relatives, friends, neighbors.

The afternoon hours passed, and we went home for dinner and a break. We reconvened again for the night viewing, and that’s when I saw a side of my father I’d never seen before.

The line of visitors wishing to pay their respects snaked through the viewing room, down the hall, and out the door that cold November night, so many people, and so many of them strangers to my teenage self. They were his co-workers from the cabinet factory, friends and neighbors from his hometown, South Boston, fishing buddies and bingo buddies. It was a crowd of people who knew my father in ways I’d never fathomed. I just knew him as Dad, but these people knew him as “Bunky,” Teddy, Mr. Kasica, and so much more.

The line of mourners passed by in a blur, crying, offering me hugs or shaking my hand, telling me stories of what my dad meant to them.

“He was my best friend.”

“A helluva guy.”

“He was so good to my family.”

“He helped me a lot.”

These strangers taught me a valuable lesson; one I hold on to till this day. They taught me that our parents are not just our parents, they’re not just our mom or dad. They’re people, and they hold true places in the world, valuable places. They make an impact on lives outside our homes.

They mean a lot to other people, to strangers, and give to them in ways we may never know of or understand.

Seeing these people pay their respects to my dad exposed him in a new and different light.

He’d always been a big man in my eyes, but in death, he became a giant.

An Invitation

Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.