Happy Birthday, Dad… His First in Heaven

Today is the 59th anniversary of my ol’man breathing his first breath, born December 10, 1951. He was born a couple of months premature, and in 1951, that was usually a death sentence.

Born in the middle of a raging snow storm, on the 4th or 5th floor of a big tenement-looking, now long-torn-down apartment building right behind City Hall, my grandmother put him in the oven to keep him warm until an ambulance could take him the few blocks up Niagara Street to Columbus Hospital.

Nurses quickly christened him right on the spot, not expecting the little oven warmed preemie to make it, but he did.

Dad and Uncle Ed, Dec. 10, 2007. He may have been celebrating it at the VA, but he still loved his birthday.
Dad and Uncle Ed, Dec. 10, 2007. He may have been celebrating it at the VA, but he still loved his birthday.

Although that first birthday was a rough one, Dad loved his birthday. It was his favorite day of the year. Around September, he’d start reminding us that his birthday was coming up, and that he’d want a BIG PRESENT… the words said with his arms outstretched and his eyes opened wide.

By November, he’d be getting into specifics. Occasionally, he actually needed something, which was great. Otherwise, we’d have to come up with something on our own. Despite what you might think about someone in your life, rest assured, that my father was indeed, the hardest person ever for whom to buy a present. Until I turned 21.

The Ol’man spent the last decade or so of his life barely ambulatory. He was a diabetic, and went through several unsuccessful surgeries to save his foot; there were then several surgeries to remove his leg right below the knee. He was greatly weakened by all the surgeries, and laying in hospital beds, and never really got the hang of the prosthetic. He was, for all intents and purposes, wheelchair bound.

Dad wasn’t a heavy drinker, but he did like the occasional, or slightly-more than occasional whiskey. It was never straight, but he’d mix it with just about anything. Iced tea, Diet 7-up, Diet Ginger Ale. Though his tastes changed often, I think Ginger Ale was his favorite.

Though he’d eat three doughnuts with impunity, he always drank diet pop because of his diabetes. At one of his last birthday dinners at his favorite restaurant, Danny’s in Orchard Park, he tried to order a whiskey and diet ginger ale, but they didn’t have diet ginger ale. He ordered something else, and when the waitress went away, he whispered to us, talking out of the side of his mouth, “No diet ginger ale? In a fancy place like this?!?” The stuff he’d come up with, being a veritable shut in, was often pretty damn good.

dadwhiskeyI think this is from Fathers Day, but you get the idea. He’d put it right back in the bag, or roll down to his office and put it in the drawer so my mom wouldn’t know. Yeah, right.

Anyway, he couldn’t make it to the liquor store himself anymore to get a little booze. He was reliant on other people to bring him a taste every once in a while. And in what I now look at as my last great gift to my father, I was his hook up.

“Give me a big bottle of the cheap stuff, instead of that little bottle (of the good stuff),” he whisper to me.

I’d get grief for bringing him a little ‘Old Grandad,’ ‘Kesslers,’ ‘Philadelphia,’ or ‘Old Crow,’ because even a little too much would send his blood sugar out of whack. But it was his last joy in life, and I couldn’t deny him.

I’d get him the little bottle, though, with the hope that he’d only have one drink; try to stretch it out a little more. And that usually worked.

Father’s Day, birthday, Christmas. Dad knew what was coming from me, and he’d always try to devise some sort of ruse to make sure my mother “didn’t know” he’d just gotten some booze. As he was executing said ruse, he’d quietly, but with the tone implying yelling, ask me why the hell I didn’t get him the big bottle.

As is the case with almost any loving father, dad took more than his share of good-natured jibes all year. But none on his birthday. He loved it. And loved even more when someone would let one slip, and he’d remind, “Not on my birthday!”

Today is the ol’man’s first birthday in heaven. Though the polka song says there’s no beer in heaven; on December 10, I know there’s cheap, crappy, blended whiskey in heaven. And Dad’s drinking it by the gallon with plenty of diet ginger ale. They must have it in a fancy place like heaven.

The Real Steve Cichon: A Tribute to My Relationship with My Ol’Man

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Immediately following my dad’s death, I wrote down just about everything I could think about him. It turned into a short book which I published and distributed at the interment of his cremated remains several months after his death. 

This is this preface to that book. A link to a  pdf copy of the book follows.

olmancoverMy ol’man, Steven P. Cichon, died Palm Sunday, 2010 at the age of 58. Losing a parent is unimaginable, even when you spend the decade up until the death imagining it over and over again.

My dad was a very sick man the last 8 years or so of his life. He lost a leg to diabetes, and had a very serious heart condition. He made regular trips to the hospital by ambulance, and spent weeks at a time in the hospital.

During those times when he was very sick, I tried to prepare myself for his death. Tried to think it through; imagine what it might be like, so it would all be easier to deal with.

No dice. You’ll read that it’s all unimaginable. An extension of yourself is gone. There’s a hole in your heart. All sorts of vital information is gone. It’s like somebody lit the reference book you’ve used your whole life on fire. You’ll read, too, about quite a few things I’d do just for dad, that I sadly have stopped doing.

He’s been gone about two months as I write this, and it’s still hard. I have no doubt that it always will be. But putting all the swirling emotions I’ve felt into writing this has been wonderful.

It’s the story of my dad’s last week on this planet, and the story of his life on this planet, and, mostly, the 32 years he spent on this planet as my Dad, and Dad to Greg and Lynne.

Click to begin download or read below.

TheRealSteveCichonWeb

The Real Steve Cichon: A Tribute to My Relationship with My Ol’Man

From the Preface:

olmancoverMy ol’man, Steven P. Cichon, died Palm Sunday, 2010 at the age of 58. Losing a parent is unimaginable, even when you spend the decade up until the death imagining it over and over again.

For the last eight years of his life, my dad was a very sick man. He lost a leg to diabetes and had a very serious heart condition. He made regular trips to the hospital by ambulance, and then spent weeks at a time in the hospital. Often.

During those times when he was very sick, I tried to prepare myself for his death. Tried to think it through; imagine what it might be like, so it would all be easier to deal with.

No dice. Many of us know that it’s all unimaginable. An extension of yourself is gone. There’s a hole in your heart. All sorts of vital information is gone. It’s like somebody lit the reference book you’ve used your whole life on fire. You’ll read, too, about quite a few things I’d do just for dad, that I sadly have stopped doing.

He’s been gone about two months as I write this, and it’s still incredibly hard. I have no doubt that it always will be. But putting all the swirling emotions I’ve felt into writing this has been wonderful.

It’s the story of my dad’s last week on this planet, the story of his life on this planet, and, mostly, the 32 years he spent on this planet as my Dad, and Dad to Greg and Lynne.

Download PDF: The Real Steve Cichon

Purchase book: 46 photos, 56 pages. Paperback.

Read it here:

 

Dad died a year ago today

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

One Year Today.

The Cichons, Turner Rd., Holliston, MA, 1985.
The Cichons, Turner Rd., Holliston, MA, 1985.

To put it in words he would have used, it’s been a year since my ol’man checked out. In fact, I’m sure I heard him start dozens, if not hundreds of sentences with, “When your ol’man checks out….”

Anyway, my dad died a year ago today. March 28, 2010. Palm Sunday 2010.

He was 58 when he died. He was very sick for most of his last few years, a combination of diabetes (which lead to a leg amputation), heart disease, and a serious case of indifference in dealing with and caring for those two conditions.

So he wasn’t always on his “A” game. He was sick a lot, and often pretty crabby. But when he was feeling good, man, he just wanted everyone to feel good. I really miss the way he could fill a room with joy, even when half the jokes were at his expense.

But for me, its all right there– I can see it, and just about feel it, but it’s just beyond my physical reach. The past year has been one of reflection upon all the great gifts my father gave this world. My heart floods with joy thinking of the very pure love that he doled out straight from the heart.

He was a thinker, and never afraid to tell anyone what he really thought about something. some of you reading this (and me writing this) may have found that out the hard way. I’m glad that I inherited the thinker trait from my ol’man, and I’m happy to have his example, to understand for myself, that sometimes its best to keep what you think to yourself.

The hardest part of the last year, are the times when I’ve forgotten he’s gone. It’s not that my full brain has doesn’t remember… It’s just that I’ll be having this little side conversation with myself, thinking about something in an almost subconscious sort of way, and it’ll lead to “I’ve gotta tell dad about this.”

That thought is only there for a fraction of a second, but it’s like a hard punch in the face. Just happened a few weeks ago, standing in the kitchen at work pouring coffee. BLAMMO.

By the way, this also happens with my diet. I’ve had Celiac Disease for 5 years. Haven’t had a doughnut in 5 years. Saturday, we drove by a Dickie’s Donuts, and my brain asked itself why I haven’t had a peanut stick in so long. Some parts of my brain have paperwork to catch up on.

Of course there’s more to write, plenty more. But the last reflection I’ll share on the last year: I now know some bit of Dad’s pain. Grandma Cichon died in 1996. Dad’s mom.

Inevitably, whenever we’d talk about grandma, which was often, we’d be smiling, but Dad’s face would turned pained. He’d sigh and say, “ooh, Mom…” or “ooh, Grandma…”

It’s the same thing I do now when I think about Dad.

In the days and weeks following his death, I wrote a brief book about my dad and our time together. There’s an e-book/pdf version at this page:

http://www.staffannouncer.com/olman.htm

I’d be honored if you’d take a look at it. There are a lot of goofy pictures of me, if that makes it anymore enticing.

Cars and the Ol’man… and telling him about the new Civic

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

mg
MGB

My dad has always loved cars. While as a young single guy he had muscle cars (Like an AMC Javelin), and sporty convertibles ( Like an MG), he always took great pleasure in the hunt for new cars.

He enjoyed it even when he was buying wonderful (?!) family vehicles like our 1981 chocolate brown AMC Spirit with light brown pinstriping, or our 1983 Dodge Aries faux wood-panelled station wagon. I spent many weekend days driving from lot to lot with my dad… the newspaper filled with red circles around cars that could be the next Cichon Ride. We’d always go after hours as to avoid the salesmen.

The Cichon Clan.. before my sister was born.. So probably late 79/early 80.  I think my dad still wears that shirt.
The Cichon Clan.. before my sister was born.. So probably late 79/early 80.  I think my dad still wears that shirt.

I learned alot from my dad about shopping for cars, not all of it good. First thing to check: Check to see if the door was left unlocked. Bonus checking out the seat time if yes. If not, squinting and moving your head around the driver’s side window. “Can you see the mileage, Steve-o?”

There were other things to look for, too. “See, son? New tires on this one.” That was always a big selling point with the old man, who seemingly never stopped shopping for a new car. My wife would laugh if she knew that during our most recent car shopping experience in particular, she was actually shopping with my dad via me. Life is much esier once you admit to yourself that, in some ways, it is inevitable to become your parent.

Dad’s car obsession continues to this day, though the old man, now with only one leg, hasn’t driven in probably 7 or 8 years. “I’ll be driving soon,” is something you’ll hear him saying often. And you’ll still find Autotrader magazines with big, heavy red circles all over the house.

And then there’s Autotrader.com. “There’s a nice convertible Saab… a ’99… before they changed the front on it… Only 7-grand. Its in Ohio.” Dad loves the hunt for cars as much as driving, and when my wife first decided a few months ago that it was time to get a new car (for a number of different reasons), Dad eagerly climbed into the passenger seat as we thought about various makes and models, and weighed several bargains.

After visiting my folks Friday night, we took a ride to a nearby Honda dealership (after it was closed, of course) to scout things out. We found a good car at a good price, and one of the Civics was unlocked. Really comfortable and roomy.

We went the next day to figure out the details, and with the rebates, and generous amount given for our trade in, it was a much greater bargain than either of us could have imagined, and we were both excited about being able to pick up the next car on Tuesday (dealership was closed Labor Day Monday).

I was excited, in part, because the dealership was close to the folks house, and we could take a spin by to show the ol’man the new car. Seriously, no one on the planet gets more excited about anyone’s new car than Steven P. Cichon.

So, I was a little disappointed when my mom texted me to say that he went to the hospital Sunday (this happens somewhat frequently because of his diabetes problems.) He’s OK, but was in ICU to get his sugar evened out; it was messed up by a viral infection he’d been fighting for a few days.

He was his normal self, though still in the ICU when I went up to visit him an hour or so after picking up the car. Happy to have company, and talkative (not always the case, in case you don’t know the ol’man.) After the usual pleasantries, and getting to update on how he’s feeling, I dropped the bomb.

“So dad, we picked up our new car today.” He knew we were looking, but had no idea we were close to buying one. Either were we, frankly, until we got the great deal on the Civic. Its an over-used cliche, but there’s no other way to describe it. The twinkle in his eyes was like a kid at Christmas.

His body stiffened, and after opening his eyes wide in anticipation for a moment or two, he sat back in the standard issue vinyl hospital room chair, dozens of wires coming off of him, closed his eyes with a smile on his face, very seriously said, “OK, tell me about it *slowly*.”

I’m not one for the gadgets and features, but I always study up, because I know my dad will want to know. He loved that we got a great deal. He loved that the highway mileage approached 40 MPG. “That’s almost like driving for free,” he said. He loved that the dash lights were blue, the same color as one of the big puffy bandage things to keep his IVs in place.

Cadillac Cimmaron
Cadillac Cimmaron

But he stopped me on one feature that bowled him over. “Telescopic steering?!? In a CIVIC?!? They only put that in the top of the line Mercedes, for heavens sake!” My dad swears a lot, but he does try to control it. Of the 20 or so cars dad’s owned, only “The Cadillac” had telescopic steering. “I’d adjust it every time I got in, he said, making a holding the wheel motion and moving it all over over the place. That’s what a telescopic steering wheel allows you to do. Monica really likes this feature a lot, too. Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should let people know that “The Cadillac” was actually a 1987 Cadillac Cimmaron, which is nothing more than Chevy Cavalier tricked out with leather, a V-6, a useless luggage rack on the back trunk, and apparently, a telescopic steering wheel.

And, Dad was almost disappointed when I somehow didn’t figure out how to park the car outside the window of his hospital room so he could look out at it. His eyes are so bad, he wouldn’t have been able to see it anyway. But he will get a spin in it once he gets home from the hospital.

monica09civic
Monica’s new 2009 Civic

I know the ol’man will tell everyone he sees and talks to for the next month about the car. Those poor ICU nurses. The women might get away without hearing about the car, but the men, and there are a lot of male nurses at the VA Hospital ICU, will likely hear a lot about it. And my grandpa. And Uncle Chuck.

It makes him so happy, I wish I could buy a new car every day.

Random things about a random guy

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Originally posted on Facebook February 8, 2009

This is not the order I thought of these things. I didn’t number them either.

My Name: Steven Julius Cichon. Despite the fact that my dad’s name is Steven, I was named after my mom’s grandfather, Stephen Julius Wargo. Steven is spelled like my dad, though, so there you go. Cichon is a Polish name, and is pronounced CHEEhoyn in Polish. It means quiet person, hermit.

I think my basic purpose in life is to use my gift of seeing the absurd, ironic, and silly in most situations to make people smile. I love to do it. On the rare occasion when something I say hurts people, it really cuts me deep, and stays with me forever. Thinking about those times right now is giving me a stomach ache.

I am writing a book on the History of the Parkside Neighborhood. It’s been a tiring, but absolutely amazing experience.

Saving junk is in my blood. Great Grandpa Wargo, Grandma& Grandpa Coyle, Grandma Cichon, and my mom are all savers. Of crap. Just crap. Grandma Cichon started taking me to the Salvation Army and garbage picking before I could spell “Thrift Store.” But I think the biggest reason I save crap: My dad doesn’t save ANYTHING. When I was little, he’d always start stories with, “I wish I had it to show to you…” That stuck.

I had the best childhood anyone could ask for. We had very little money, but I have two great parents, and 5 wonderful grandparents (including Great Grandpa Wargo.) I never heard any of them really speak ill of any of the others. I now know some of them kept a smile on for the kids, and withheld some maybe snippy comments (even ones that I make now.) That makes it all the more special in retrospect.

I include my in-laws in my family. There is no “in law.” I was welcomed into my wife’s family, and extended family, I love each of them as if we all had the same blood running through our veins. I’m bowled over with the luck I have in both the family that came with the package, and the one I picked.

I met my wife, in the hallways of WBEN Radio, probably right around 5:30 on a Sunday morning in 1993. I was behind the controls, she was reading the news. She didn’t speak to me that morning, because she was painfully shy. Now she never shuts up. Just kidding, but I am thankful and happy for her that she has pretty much gotten over that.

WARNING: Have an air sickness bag handy… My wife is my best friend, and in many ways, my only friend. This isn’t to say we live in some fairy tale… We do well together, even though we know how to press each others buttons and do frequently. I think that makes our relationship all the stronger, though.

I have Celiac Disease, which means I can’t eat wheat, barley, or rye. No beer. No pizza. No fast food or processed food. It forces me to eat healthier, but I loved fast food. Not lots, but I could have a small hamburger and an order of chicken nuggets everyday, really enjoy it, and then eat properly the rest of the day. Now I eat a lot more, just trying to find something as tasty and satisfying as a Wendy’s 89 cent hamburger.

I also have Psoriatic Arthritis. Sometimes my legs hurt so bad by the end of the day, they almost stop working, but I’m about to go on a medication that wipes out the disease, almost entirely, in 80% of people who take it. The sad thing is, while I’m excited about the prospect of seeing the arthritis go away, I’m secretly.. almost equally… excited that my disgusting psoriasis fingernails might grow into normal looking nails.

In November, my wife and I began eating better, and working out at least 4 or 5 times a week… Intense cardio. I feel much better, and wish that I had begun doing it years ago. The YMCA on Delaware Ave in Buffalo is cheap and wonderful.

I frequently step back from my own life, and normal human life, and realize how silly and random so many things we do are on the face of it. Why do I have an animal living in my house? My job is to take information that almost anyone can track down, re-write it, and speak it into a microphone so it can fly through the air into your car. Trying to explain these things to an Martian might be tough.

I have very realistic and vivid dreams. On occasion, I remember something somewhat sketchy, and I’m not sure if I happened or I dreamed it. I’ll think about it and if Ed Little is on a horse in my living room, it was probably a dream.

I work better under deadline pressure, especially with projects in my personal life, or volunteer projects. I abhor being late. If I say I’ll get something done, I do. And I don’t appreciate those whose own lack of caring about deadlines makes me late.

I love church music, and I love to sing it loud. Even though I can’t sing. Even out of church. On Eagles Wings. And yes, “make me a channel of your peace,” (The Prayer of St Francis).

I’m a lector a St. Mark’s…. 9:30 mass… every 3rd Sunday. I’m sometimes afraid I might be singing too loudly too close to the microphone.

I like to build stuff, sew stuff, design stuff. But I’m not very good at it. Or maybe I just don’t have the patience to take the time to do those things right.

I am my own worst critic on everything.

I still think this is stupid, but it was cathartic. And have read every single word of each of my friend’s lists, so fair is fair.