The Last Time: A Father’s Day Memoir
Happy Fathers Day to my Dad and all Dads
THE LAST TIME:
Where have the years gone? How many times have some of us said that. At sixty-eight, I seem to ask myself that question every day. I have grown children, grandchildren, a re-marriage, a retirement, have overcome some illness but generally live a fulfilling life. Of course, there have been regrets and mistakes and bumps in the road along the way. I have experienced the JFK assassination, the national shame of Watergate and a lot of politics from Nixon through Trump through Biden. I have, myself, been elected to important positions in government as I was brought up in an extended family that valued community service. I yearn for a return to civility in leadership. A time when people respected other opinions and didn’t trash talk their opponents. Compromise is a lost art. I also was raised in an era before computers, cell phones, remote controls, 24-hour cable television news and aluminum baseball bats. Not that I don’t like these things now, but it was very different. School yards had occasional fistfights, not fatal gunfire. In baseball, the saying “Crack of the bat,” just doesn’t do it after a base hit off a metal bat.
But this short story really isn’t about the nostalgia I’ve touched upon briefly. It’s about a Father’s Day message for 2023. The last time I saw my Dad was Friday, September 14, 1973. My parents had bought a small beach house which looked out at the Point Judith, RI lighthouse. The house was small and not right on the water, but nothing was between the house and the ocean. It was beautiful. My parents had rented the house for a month that summer with an option to buy. Scraping every penny together, they indeed bought the house for $19,000. The small house with a million-dollar location was my parents’ dream come true. It was my dream too. That late August 1973, Dad built a large deck that overlooked the ocean and lighthouse. He hadn’t finished the railing yet but we would cook out and sit on that deck with its majestic views of small and large boats going by. Of course, cookouts for us usually included my Mom’s Italian feasts of pasta, eggplant, etc. Dad’s plan for that two-bedroom cottage was to add a small addition to sleep more family and friends. He was very excited as he jotted down ideas. He found a large piece of driftwood and painted the words “Fiore di Mare” on it. Italian for Flower of the Sea. He placed it on the house as a gift to my Mom. Dad’s ethnicity was all Portuguese and my Mom was all Italian. Our meals were epic!
My Dad’s health wasn’t good. He had bronchial asthma which was difficult to treat back in the sixties I’m told. He had bouts with difficulty breathing and many sleepless nights. He was a Purple Heart Veteran serving in the South Pacific during WW II. Hospitalizations and meds couldn’t help much and in 1958 doctor’s advised my parents that his only chance for living longer was to move to a dry climate like Arizona. My parents bravely packed two kids (I was 5 and my brother Joey was 3) in their 1955 Ford beach wagon and moved to Tucson, Arizona. It didn’t work as he was hospitalized briefly in Tucson, so within a year, we came back to Rhode Island. “If things can’t get better, we want to come home to be with family,” my Mom had said. Back home my Dad was never 100% but he started to feel better. He would work when he could and he was an award-winning parts manager for Tasca and Notarantonio Ford dealerships. Dad once won a trip for he and Mom to Bermuda as a top Ford employee. When he couldn’t work anymore, Dad concentrated on being active with youth sports on days he felt good. His brothers were active in politics and Uncle George became Director of Civil Defense for Washington, D.C. Although my Dad liked politics he preferred to spend his time as a coach and little league president in East Providence. He directed the league through a tremendous growth period in the sixties and early seventies. He also led a youth CYO basketball group, but baseball was his love. The years moved on and he was proud that after my graduation from EPHS in 1972, I would start college hoping to work with kids and be involved with the community. He was always a strong role model for me.
The Last Time:
My life would soon change during that summer when we bought that beach house. I had been out of high school for a year, my younger brother Joey was a junior in high school and our youngest brother John (born in 1963) was eleven and at Brightridge School. During the summer I was a playground counselor in East Providence and my parents would be at the beach house a lot. I couldn’t wait to get there on weekends and get to the beach and stay at the house. At night we would fall asleep listening to the ocean waves crashing on the rocky shoreline. Friends and family would visit our “Fiore di Mare” and my Mom would always have those epic cookouts on the yet unfinished deck.
On Friday September 14, 1973, I had brought some food to the beach house, as I remember, it was steak tips, corn on the cob, steamers, etc., to make a surprise dinner for all. We had a nice time and talked of future summers at the beach. I had to go back to East Providence for a Saturday part time job and college would be starting up that week. As I drove away from the beach house, I could see my dad on the deck. He was just standing, gazing out at the ocean. It was the last time I would see him. At about 2:00 am on Sunday, September 16, 1973, I was awakened by my Mom’s telephone call. She was calling to tell me that Dad had died in his sleep. My godparents, with whom I was very close, Joey and I, drove to the beach house to take my Mom and Johnny back home to EP. The ride to the beach house that dark morning was surreal and has never been quite the same for me.
Dad was gone at age 53. He only had his dream beach house for one month. Yet he had accomplished much in his life. In 1975 the city of East Providence named a little league field in his honor. It was a field that he had been pushing the city to build as the league was growing. A couple years ago the Rodericks family paid for a sign at the field, as one was never erected. The Robert J. Rodericks Memorial Field stands as a beacon of pride to me every time I visit and watch kids playing there. My dad never met his two grandchildren nor his great grandchildren, but they would be the joys of his life. He would be ebullient with admiration for Becky and the perfect woman she is and boy would he be happy to know that his namesake grandson, Bobby, is leading the Townie baseball team.
Along with my Dad, that beach house is also gone as we weren’t able to keep it. Story for another day. My Mom also passed some time later at a young age, 57. But I offer this heartfelt posthumous Happy Father’s Day memoir to my Dad and thank him for the role model he was to me and to many others, I’m sure. Life moves on, maybe never the same, but it does move on.
(Editors note: Bob Rodericks is a feature writer for the Reporter News Magazine, covering news briefs, sports and special features for East Providence, RI)
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