Donuts & Booze: Happy Birthday 60th Birthday, Dad

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

Today my ol’man would have been 60 years old. I miss him, but he’s really not that far away… He fills my heart and my brain.

For example, were he around today, it would’ve gone like this: We’d walk in the door, and he’d yell in an exaggerated voice, “WHERE’S MY PRESENT? DID YOU BRING ME A DONUT?”

He was racked with pain and depression most of the time towards the end, and it was always nice to see him happy and fired up.

Now as far as that present, I think he knew more often than not what I’d be giving him, but I don’t think he allowed himself to expect it. To add the gravitas of it all, I often brought it over unwrapped in it’s natural state.

The boisterousness would instantly turn to whisper, and his Marine Corps-bred instincts would kick in.

DAD DRINKING AN OLD MILWAUKEE TALL BOY, 1984
DAD DRINKING AN OLD MILWAUKEE TALL BOY, 1984

“Don’t tell your mother,” he’d much too loudly whisper, brown bottle in hand. As he’d begin to think of a good hiding spot, it would dawn on him.

“Why didn’t you get me the bigger bottle?,” he’d demand, back in that same tone asĀ Where’s my present but at a hushed volume.

It was an ongoing discussion between Dad and me. He’d rather have a $7 two gallon jug of whiskey from the paint thinner aisle of the liquor store, but I’d always buy him one of those smaller, flat-plastic-flask-shaped bottles, like you find laying around the park on a Saturday or Sunday morning. The kind of bottles they keep behind the counter. The kind of bottles Kesslers or Old Grandad don’t usually come in.

Dad wanted more, and wanted it to be cheaper for me. I wanted to give my ol’man a taste, but not too much. He was a diabetic, was on about a million pills. The booze messed with his blood sugar and some of those pills. He didn’t care. He liked a little whiskey in his iced tea or diet ginger ale or diet lemon-lime.

The bottle also had to be plastic, because the diabetic neuropathy dad had in his hands was so bad, he could barely feel them. His hands didn’t work too well.

So it was a small plastic bottle, and I was happy to be the ol’man’s hook up. Of course you hope he’ll live forever, but if you told my dad that by giving up booze he’d live another six months, he would have comically shoved a glass in your face and told you to Fill’er up.

He smoked on and off from the time he was in grade school, and ate more donuts than any other diabetic heart patient in the history of man. Those were his choices. And though they made me sad, and I’d encourage otherwise constantly, I couldn’t make the decision for him. Same with the booze. The only thing stopping him from having a drink was his inability to get to the liquor store.

Now he wasn’t an alcoholic or anything, but he liked a drink. And didn’t care what it did to him. His rough physical state of well being was actually better than his sorry emotional state, so making him happy was important to me. And I’m pretty sure getting that bottle as a gift made him happier than the actual drinking did.

Also, inevitably would come the reminder that we had to be nice to him because it was his birthday, and because he was moving soon, and not going to tell us where he was moving to.

“Some honey just told your ol’man he looks like he’s about 28,” he’d say, just like he had at probably every birthday since he was 29.

Dad died way too young, but I’m glad not before at could laugh at his stupid jokes and the dumb things he’d say over and over again. I see a few people I’m close to finally appreciating their parents as people for the first time, and enjoying them with all their faults. It’s tough with parents, because it’s literally a lifetime’s worth of baggage we carry in dealing with them.

For dad’s birthday, please do him the honor of trying to accept some of the stupid stuff your mom or dad might do. And please give them a hug and tell them you love ’em.

I did that all the time with dad, and it still doesn’t feel like it was enough.

Happy birthday, ol’man.

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.