As most of you know I am Joe's oldest son. I was not always around at steeler games or at his bowling league, but I know he talked about my siblings and I all the time.
Over the last week I have deeply thought about how to sum up 47 years of my dads life and the 23 years I knew him into this one speech. The fact is that my dad was so full of life that will never be possible. Instead I want to offer three vignettes of thought I have focused my attention on coming away from this experience.
Every guide on how to give a speech says to open big, namely with a joke. I want to start out with one of my dads favorite jokes from comedian John Pinette and apologize preemptively for it's racial insensitivity
The first vignette I would like to offer I call Life and Love.
I am convinced now more than ever that the reason my dad couldn't lose weight was that it was all heart. One of the best parts about these last few days is that I have come to realize is that I have always had an amazing support structure. In a way he has helped forge it all of his life. His kindness to others led people to want to help him and our family everyday.
I never thought I would say this but I will miss the public displays of affection between my mom and dad- the grabassing as she walked through any room, or the eskimo kisses as they were sitting at the bar. There is no truer love that I have ever witnessed than that between my mother and father. Pure unadulterated love and happiness.
Kim and Joe set an example not only for myself and siblings, but for any other couple they came in contact with. As high school sweethearts their love blossomed and never shuttered in the slightest. He had a habit of lifting the spirits of those around him and together their love was infectious.
Joe truly had three modes: Partying, Anger, and Sleep. As Dallas Greene sang “They say a man’s best party only happens when he dies”
My dad proved him wrong.
He always had a cocktail in his hand whether he was a concert sending videos to his friends, at a Steelers' tailgate, Grilling wings or pizza late into the night, all night dart sessions with my mom and Ashley or directing a choir of friends on the back porch as he picked songs from his phone and made sure you get the lyrics right or he would start over. My dad was a partier. Notorious for laughing until he cried then suddenly saying "okay that’s it, I’m shutting this down it’s bedtime".
In speaking to Justin about our father, we will miss his anger. There was always love and purpose behind his shouting, and if he realized he was wrong to be yelling, he would immediately change his tone and say "oh, okay". Looking back on all of the years of my bad behavior and his shouting about it, there is no doubt that he is the reason I am standing in front of you today as the man I am. He has been my north star since the day I was born, that star will continue to shine brighter than ever and I will always have his example of love and discipline for fatherhood.
To put his time into a percentage, I would say it was 60% partying, 10% anger, and the rest was sleep. No family function was safe from a sleeping Joe on any open couch, recliner, or beach chair. Since the first year I was of age to drive to the beach I would take comfort in the fact that when his head started bobbing in the passenger seat, that meant he felt comfortable enough with my driving to peacefully doze off while I navigated the family to Topsail, Ocean City, or Virginia Beach.
There are enough stories to fill a book, and the romance between my parents could make for one of the best chick flicks of the year. His example of fatherhood is what made me want to settle down and become a father at the same young age that he and my mother did. He loved and embraced Sofia as one of his own daughters and I thank god that she got to experience his love and generosity for the four years she got to know him. He gave our family a life that every positive superlative in a thesaurus couldn't encompass: Amazing, extraordinary, incredible, perfect, loving, caring, beautiful.
The second vignette is 12 months and 24 hours.
In the last 12 months he was proudly part of many life events. Including birthdays and holidays, My parents renewed their vows at their 25th anniversary Silver and Gold party last October, spent 10 days in Punta Cana to celebrate the landmark, saw Justin get his license, watched me dance with my mother at my wedding and be part of the secret baby club when on New Years when we told them they would be Grandparents come this August.
He cheered for Ashley as she received her college degree from Kent State in May, and made snarky remarks under his breath while the commencement speaker at Alyssa’s high school graduation mentioned Caitlin Jenner this June.
My Dad was and always will be proud of us. He will watch over Uncle Tom as he continues to run the business my dad poured every ounce of himself into. He will be with us as Justin finishes high school next year, he will guide Alyssa through her years at WVU starting in the fall, will place Ashley in her first career. He will guide me through being a father and watch over my mother as she becomes Mimmy- or whatever we change it to, Dad never liked the name Mimmy.
No one can argue he had a great final year.
Even more than his final year, he had a perfect 24 hours. He spent the whole week at Ocean City with his family, and he talked all week about how excited he was for the airshow that was on Friday. On Thursday morning Sofia made breakfast for us and we ate it on the 14th floor balcony of our condo which he and Sofia did each morning that week. After a few moments sitting out there they both complained it was too hot and we went back inside. We had an early beach day, Sofia, Alyssa, Mom, Dad, and I spent a few hours on the cool sunny beach together; again he talked about the airshow, and his excitement for his fishing trip later that day with DJ. He also sat back in his chair and said- Impersonation “This is just perfect, a perfect beach day. Not too hot, perfect weather, perfect spot, perfect day”. The angelic symbolism of his outfit that day will never be lost on me, he was wearing a white shirt on both Thursday and Friday.
They left the beach early to meet Dj. For several hours him, Jake, Josh, DJ and Justin fished on the Chesapeake together catching blues, flounder, and shad- then had them fillet fresh off the boat. To top off a perfect beach day and fishing trip, dinner was an all you can eat crab dinner at Captains Galley right on the bay. That evening Sofia and I spent time with him at the condo before he met my mom and Brenda at Seacrets. We were convincing him he had blackheads on his nose and I plucked tiny hairs off of his nose that he didn’t believe were there.
Finally it was Friday morning- the day he had been waiting for all week. Everyone headed down to the beach early to get the best spot right next to the water to see the Airshow practice run. Bi-planes, jets, and F-22 raptors filled the sky as he watched on in awe and soaked up what was to be our last beach day of the vacation. He sent a few videos of the F-22 raptor to friends and family as he is one to do like a young exited child. To Sofia he sent a video of a 12 month old baby playing in the sand with the caption "next year”. His heart stopped that morning while he was where he loved, doing what he loved, with whom he loved.
He was notorious for having the “best” or “first” of things- best parking spot, best seats at a concert, best prosthetic leg, best lawn mower, newest phone. If he were here now he would be bragging that he had one of the longest lines that Slaters' has ever seen.
In true Joe fashion, he had the best last week ever.
Third and final vignette.
Everyone has been incredibly generous offering if I need anything to let them know. I want to cash that in now. Please. Ailments such as sleep apnea, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure can all be treated with a change in diet and exercise habits. Don’t take the attitude of my dad and convince yourself that you are infallible, if you walk away from seeing my dad laid out this week and don’t make a change in your lifestyle he will be waiting at the gates to give you his classic hairy eye.
Wear a c-pap machine PLEASE. Take walks with your kids and spouse. Buy more fresh fruit and fresh vegetables instead of chips, snacks, cookies, and diet or sugary drinks.
My dad got to a point where it was a challenge to get into good habits which caused a vicious cycle of being worn out by all of the medication and doctors visits and lack of motivation, but it is all preventable for you.
Start this weekend, don’t delay.
I propose Joe Walks. Walk 30 minutes three times a week with a loved one instead of turning on the TV for an evening, or delay going out to a bar for a night to get in a little bit of exercise. The more you exercise, the more energy you will have as it becomes habit I promise you that. I was on my dad’s case for years that I wanted him to be sitting at my first child’s high school graduation in 20 years it just took a little change. Be preventative, not reactive.
As Kenny Chesney said "Trust me friend a hundred years goes faster than you think, don’t blink. "
Do it for him, do it for your family, do it for me, do it for yourself.
I deeply love my dad; But I never effectively expressed, communicated, or verbalized it as I should have. In the time that he has passed I know he has heard every thought and feeling that I never properly told him through the years. I know that he was incredibly proud of each of his children and expressed that everyday to friends, neighbors, co-workers, and anyone that would listen. Express to your loved ones what they mean to you in a meaningful way as I watched my parents do everyday. A simple love you at the end of your phone conversation is a start, but as I learned from him, simple words of kindness can brighten up anyone’s day even if it’s a random text; and if you grab your spouses butt as they walk through the room, that will tell them too.
I’ve shared with you my three vignettes, but I know there are many stories I still haven’t heard and would like to hear. Please take with you from this experience Joe Walks, and the three things I learned about being a father from him in the past 23 years that I will use as principals for my new family.
But most of all: Be loving