Rerun: What Jack Knew
Sunday, June 20, 2010

This is a tribute I wrote to my dad on his birthday last year. In honor of him, I am rerunning 
it today. Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love you and miss you every day. Keep the party 
going until the day we meet again. 

April 5th, 2002 began as a gorgeous spring day. I will always remember the sky of that day. 
A sky so blissfuly blue the color of jewels, it made the day feel like it was bursting in 
endless promise.

The phone call came while I was at the mall. My girls were on Spring Break and I was 
enjoying a leisurely day in their little girl company. I didn’t notice my phone was on silent mode 
until I glanced at it and saw I’d missed 18 calls.

It should have been my first clue.

I noticed my hubby’s number amongst the calls, so I called him while in a dressing room. It 
was to be my last few seconds of innocent oblivion.

His words froze my heart. He thought he was talking to my sister. He answered the phone in 
a strange, twisted sort of calm saying, “Has he regained consciousness?”

When he realized it was me, he had the heinous duty of telling me that my father was on his 
way to the hospital in an ambulance. That my 66-year-old vibrant father, who prescribed to 
a healthy, rigid diet-who was a runner; who was in excellent shape; who had never smoked 
a day in his life; who spent every moment of his life on this earth treasuring the time he had 
with his family, had been found on the roof of my parents’ home, unconscious, by my mother, 
three days short of their 45th wedding anniversary. He was up there, doing what he did best, 
what he had done all the years of his life, patching a hole in the roof, taking care of his family.

He never woke up.

I will not go back to the rest of the details of that day. I will tell you though, that I learned a 
few things on that day. I learned when you receive news of that sort of devastation, your 
knees really do buckle, refusing to support your weight. Your body collapses as if it too, 
must surrender to forces mightier than your own. I learned the absolute depth of sorrow, a 
grief so acrid and decimating, I didn’t know if I would ever be able to find my way back. 
And, I learned how fierce and abiding my love was for my Dad, my darling wonderful Dad.

But, the one thing I did not learn, that I still find unfathomable, is how the world has gone on 
with heartbreak of this kind of unendurable loss, without people dissolving into bits of nothing, swallowed whole by their grief. To this day, I have never known such untenable loss.

Enough now of the sadness.

My dad would have never have had that. He lived life, each day as if it was a birthday present 
waiting for him to unwrap. He found infinite joy in the everyday of things, most importantly in 
his wife and family. He was a great listener, a wonderful conversationalist, a magnificent father 
and grandfather, a true friend.

He thought of himself as an ordinary man. He was humble in that way.But, what he didn’t 
seem to realize was how extraordinary he was to everyone who knew him.

He lived an exemplary life, raising a brood of seven, wild Irish-Catholic kids, a tough task in 
itself. He loved us with a passion. And as we grew older, we realized how lucky we were to 
have a father of his caliber. And we passed that love on to the next generation. His 
grandchildren adored him.

The pictures here speak volumes of who he was. In fact, they are so much him that on the 
day he left us, I had to turn them face down, unable to face the life that was captured in those 
photos, unable to cope with the grief. It took me over a year to be able to look at them again 
with a smile.

In the first, he is at my Victoria’s pre-school. The preschoolers each got a special day, 
devoted to them. On their day, they were allowed to bring in their favorite thing in the “whole, 
wide world.” The children brought in stuffed animals, robots, dolls, their dog, the things that 
make up a 4-year-old’s adoration.

My girl brought her grandfather.

I remember reading her the note of instructions when it came home from school. When I got 
to the part about the show and tell favorite item in the whole, wide world, without a moment 
of hesitation my 4 year old piped up, “I want my Grandpa.”

It's how we all felt.

He was a singer of songs. From the time I can remember, he sang to us all the songs in his 
extensive collection. In his clear, beautiful voice he would croon for us, “Rockin, Rollin, 
Ridin,” “Skinny Marink a Dink a Dink”, “A Bushel and A Peck,” and of course, the classic, 
“She’s got Freckles on her Butt.” My childhood was filled with the sound of my father’s 
voice. He did the same for my girls.

My Tori girl wanted her favorite thing in the whole, wide world to come in and sing for the class.

He is singing in this picture, Tori’s favorite Grandpa song, “A you’re Adorable,” as she and 
my curly girl, Julia, look on in rock star awe.

Julia and her grandpa had a special relationship. He retired temporarily. But, he was a man 
who needed to be constantly active and he found retirement just didn’t sit well with him. 
His temporary retirement happened conveniently right around the time Julia was born. Since, 
Dad was home, he was forced into the title of babysitter. Their bond was immediate and 
irrefutable. It became a well-known joke that Julia was Grandpa’s favorite.

This picture is of them, the inseparable twosome they became. He, as usual, in rapt attention, 
she spilling out the details of her curly girl life. It is one of the greatest sorrows I carry with 
me, that the two of them only had three years together. But, they were three years of grand 
moments, filled with the pleasure of each other’s company. Each other’s biggest fans.

I want to share two little memories of my dad to try and erase the sadness that will forever 
haunt this day for me.

The first one: My Hubby and I were going out. We only had Olivia then and being 
overprotective first-time parents, we hadn’t left her with anyone but her grandparents. 
We told them not to wait up. We would let ourselves in, grab our Olivia baby and slip out 
so as not to disturb their sleep. We came with baby monitors, the Pack and Play, and all the 
other hundreds of essentials required for babysitting a first-born.

We got back late and tiptoed into the spare bedroom where we had set up the Pack n Play. 
There was our baby, slumbering away and right next to her on a little twin bed, lay my 
father, softly snoring away.

The next day he told us, he didn’t trust that new fangled baby monitor and he’d been worried 
he wouldn’t be able to hear her if she cried. So he kept watch alongside her playpen, the 
guardian of the night. And what a guardian he was! We gathered up Olivia and she began to 
wail, none too happy about being roused from a sound sleep. My Hubby packed up the playpen, 
not a quiet feat in itself, accidentally dropping it with a crash, on the way out of the room, 
causing the baby to wail even harder.

The watchmen of his precious grandchild kept on snoring throughout the whole ordeal.

Then there was the time, my Hubby and I had been out to dinner with friends. It was late, 
well past the witching hour. Well, well past the time my parents would still be awake. My 
Hubby said, “Hey, let’s go wake your parents up. Come on, you know your dad will love it.”

My Hubby, another brokenhearted casualty of my dad’s passing.

They were the best of buds, a tribute to both of these stellar men of mine. One who was 
impulsive, always ready for the next great adventure. The other, steady and calm, a steadfast 
anchor in my life.

An unlikely pair.

But, oh how they adored each other! Comprades, when it came to knocking back good red 
wine, completing home improvement projects together, both respectful of each other’s 
craftsman talents, and laughing the day away together.

Against my protests, we stopped and knocked on my parents’ door, well past the middle of 
the night. My Dad opened up the door, still bleary from sleep, with a concerned look on 
his face.

Hubby said, “Hey, we thought we’d stop by and see what’s up.”

My dad’s concern melted into his easy laughter, his grin so infectious. It didn’t matter the hour. 
It didn’t matter that they’d been sleeping. In fact, it made the story better. We were there. It was 
all. He opened the door with a wide swath of welcome and ushered us in.

Wine was poured, his beloved music was turned on and we laughed and talked until the sun 
was almost upon us. He had on his massive Best of the Eagles CD collection and with every 
new song, we’d race to see who could guess the lead singer. Every song, no matter what, he’d 
blurt out, “Glenn Frey.” And we laughed so hard, for the joy of it, for the fact that we were 
together in the middle of the night playing the Eagles and drinking wine, impulsive and fun, 
making a memory.

I believe that certain people know deep inside they are destined to live too few years. You 
can see it in the way they embrace life. And after they go, people marvel, “Now, that was a 
well-lived life.”

I think my Dad knew. And in his own way, he tried to prepare us. He was always saying to 
me, “When I’m gone . . . ”

But, I didn’t want to hear it. No one did.

He tried to show us that he wasn’t destined here for long by the giving of his heart, by the way 
he listened, really listened with his whole being, by the way he pushed aside his duties so he 
could play with his treasured grandchildren, by the smile and kiss he always had, even if you’d 
only seen him five minutes before. He treasured all the riches of his time on earth and he 
showed us the way to a contented and meaningful life.

I wrote and delivered my father’s eulogy. At the end of it, I read a guide to Jack Cleveland’s 
lessons of life. I’d like to share them today, to remember, a great man walked this earth. I was 
blessed enough to be his daughter.

JACK’S LESSONS (Use them well.)

Eat chocolate every day. Live with no regrets. Pray while on your knees. Don’t play with 
fireworks. Even on dark days, find the bright spot and laugh. Fix the broken things. Believe in 
noble causes. Wear a hat. Raise the flag, Take pictures. Don’t wait for some day, now is all 
we know. Always send Valentines. (Until the year he died, my father sent me a valentine.) 
Buckle up your seat belt. Write love letters. Have a dog. Vote. Say the phrase, “Don’t you just 
love it?” and really mean it. Play cards honorably. Make to-do lists. Carry a handkerchief. Sing 
and dance for all your life. Have a cold beer or a glass of wine whenever you feel like it. Say 
I love you again and again and again. Don’t get too hung up on schedules, go with the flow. 
Watch the children’s necks when they’re doing headstands. Keep the romance alive in your 
marriage. Hold your family close.

And lastly tonight, do one of his favorite things. Gather your loved ones, your kids, your parents, 
your spouse, whomever matters to you, and take them outside to gaze at the infinite stars spread 
out above you. Forget about the TV or the dishes or your busy life and just fill yourself up with t
he wondrous perfection of the night sky, remembering that this life is full of sweetness. It’s all 
around you. You just have to take the time to treasure it. And if you remember, say hello to my 
dad and his giant heart. He’ll be watching from the heavens with a smile.

I love you Dad, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.

Today’s Definite Download: The magnificent Louis Armstrong’s, “What a Wonderful World.” 
My dad’s anthem for life. Thank you Dad for giving me the music.



Pat said...

Joann, what a beautiful, beautiful tribute to your Dad. He sounded like a wonderful man. Actually, he sounded a lot like my Dad, who died in 1995, 6 months before his 80th birthday. Dad liked to sing in Italian while he sat on the back porch, rocking on the glider. He loved all his grandchildren, especially when they were babies. His death left such a big hole in my heart; I walked around for at least 6 months searching in the crowds for his face thinking that he just HAD to come back to us. Once you lose a parent it's like you've joined a "club", isn't it? Not that it's a great club to be a member of, but a group of people who understand what you are going through, what you are experiencing, cause unless you've lost a parent, YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

So here's a toast to our DAD'S, may they be up there in heaven, singing to their heart's content!

Shell said...

What a wonderful, beautiful tribute to your father.

I pray that my boys will grow up thinking of their father that way.

Ally said...

You're an example of Boss Betty's quote today. Very sweet tribute to your dad. Hope you and your family have a wonderful Dad's Day today.

Cari said...

Oh that was beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing. I am definitely thinking about all of you today.

Dee said...

tears flowing... What a wonderful father you had!

Katie's Dailies said...

I wish I could've met your daddy. He sounds exactly like you, Joann.

Ms. G said...

Wonderful tribute to your Dad. You can feel the love in every word.
"She had freckles on her butt", that was a hit tune at my house too, made me smile : )

Deborah said...

Count me among the crying here. Aaaah this was a fabulous read. Your dad was lovely.

Bossy Betty said...

Joann--Why do you make Betty cry so early in the day? What a great post about your dad--so many details that made me smile then POW! some that had me weeping.

This is going to take some serious candy....

Happy Father's Day to you, my friend!

Anonymous said...

Joann, your father sounded like an amazing man...all the way around. No wonder you're such a wonderful woman! The apple and the tree. This is a beautiful I have to go reapply my makeup. :) Love you!

Ami said...

Simply beautiful.
An amazing tribute to an amazing person.

Unknown said...

That was touching. I was one of seven kids, also!

cheri said...

this teared me up. now, i want to meet your dad! cheer up, joanne. he's looking down on you :)

twelvedaysold said...


I'm glad you had your father for as long as you did. He sounds like he was a wonderful man to have around for your family.

Gigi said...

A funny, loving, touching post. You were blessed to have such a dad. I have one too, and I know the time is coming soon where, I too will feel that void that you so perfectly describe. It breaks my heart just to think of it.

Anonymous said...

Joann, you had me crying. What a beautiful post about your Dad! I feel privileged to know him through you!

Happy Father's Day dear Dad to Joann!

I love the beautiful memories you have. Can I give you a tight hug?? Feel amazing- your Dad is still sipping some wine, listening to Eagles and watching over the kids. He is. Isn't that lovely??

liz said...

Oh, Joann - how sudden and tragic! I'm sure it's like time stopped at that moment.

Such a wonderful tribute to your dad. I hope you had a great day with your husband.

Renee said...

That was absolutely beautiful.

alicia said...

What a beautiful tribute to your father. And a wonderful reminder to not take life for granted- ever. He very much reminds me of my father- vibrant, full of life. Great post.

injaynesworld said...

I'm so envious. I had no relationship with my father and consequently have been looking for one my whole life, I think. He sounds like a wonderful man. Lucky, lucky you...

Funny in My Mind said...

You were very lucky to have such an amazing father!
As I read your account of the day you found out your dad was gone, I am taken back to the day I found out my mother was brain dead.
There are no words to describe the feeling that day when I got that call and I can imagine how you felt as well.
You will be together again one day and your time together will be endless.

Noelle said...

And now I must find more mascara before I head off into the woods.

I loved it...loved it, loved it.

One Photo said...

Lovely tribute Joann - the fact that your daughter chose Granddad to take to school for show and tell says it all

Cupcake Murphy said...

So hauntingly beautiful --- filled with such love and sadness all at once. That photo of him intently listening with his hand on his chin says so much. It's so impossible to lose someone the way you lost him and I so value how you've shared your story here.

jayayceeblog said...

That was so sweet. He sounds like a truly amazing person and I am so sorry for your continued loss. I can't even imagine how you were able to deliver his eulogy ...

Anonymous said...

That was magnificent. What a wonderful man. I love his rules, so simple and oh so true.

Emily brought my dad in on her "day" in the first grade. Her big story to share was his kidney transplant and our stay at the Mayo Clinic! Not your average show and tell!!!

Lula Lola said...

I want his rules on a poster hung up where I can see them! Great stuff! He sounds like such a special man! How fortunate you were to have him in your life!

Lula Lola said...

I want his rules on a poster hung up where I can see them! Great stuff! He sounds like such a special man! How fortunate you were to have him in your life!

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