Sunday is Father’s Day, and I will celebrate with my wonderful daughter Amber.
But this day always brings back memories of my dad, who died in 1982. Yes, he’s been gone 37 years and I miss him — a lot.
Dad was old-school Italian, raised in Oklahoma and working in coal mines by the time he was in his teens. He dropped out of school in the fifth grade, he told me, to go to work.
With that limited education, he and other members of his family left the coal fields for “a better life” working in steel mills in West Virginia and Ohio. They changed their last names in order to get hired.
In those days European immigrants weren’t given fair chances at jobs so many shortened their names to “Americanize” them in an effort to get hired. It worked but something was lost. He was proud, but also pragmatic.
So Coonichelli became Conchel. I hate the fact they had to do that. I am proud of my Italian and Slovak (mom’s maiden name was Yonik) heritage.
He did a short stint in the Army then began working at Weirton Steel in the Northern Panhandle city of Weirton. He met my mom, got married and had one child. He was almost 50 when I was born.
My early memories of “Coonie” are mostly good, and some are damn funny.
Dad didn’t like a lot of noise or disruption around the house. When he came home from the mill (working the daylight shift, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) we ate dinner at 4 p.m. promptly. He usually sat on the porch smoking a cigar or pipe, read the local paper, then watched TV until he fell asleep around 9 or 10.
Playing baseball in the street in front of our house was an adventure, to say the least. Every time we’d hit a ball into the air it would seem to strike the electrical wires running to our house.
That set him off big time.
He’d come flying to the front door, usually wearing an undershirt and briefs, and the obscenities would begin to fly. For years I thought Anthony was my middle name and a swear word or two was my first name since it usually preceded it during these outbursts.
This would go on for a number of years as my friends and I regularly played ball in the street. He really thought that the ball hitting those wires was going to cause the house to catch on fire.
My friends and I still laugh about that today, nearly a half-century later.
There are other amusing ones, including him calling the telephone operator asking her a variety of questions that had nothing to do with phone service. He just thought she’d know the answers.
He wasn’t always rational. He was temperamental and highly opinionated. I got some of that from him.
But he was loving, in his own way. He cared about my mom and me even if he didn’t always show it in conventional ways.
Men of that generation rarely said things like “I love you” to their kids. It wasn’t considered manly, I guess, to express those feelings. So he didn’t.
He showed it in other ways, like working several jobs to pay our bills on time and having money to send me to college. He didn’t want me to work in the steel mill.
Dad would rant and rave about things, including the government taking away our rights. Maybe he knew more than I realized. Lacking book learning, he more than made up for it with an abundance of street smarts.
I wish he had lived longer. He died at age 72 awaiting cataract surgery. A heart attack, his second one, took his life.
Two of the best years of my life were those I spent working with him at the Corner Cigar store. I really learned to appreciate him more than I ever had watching him interact with people.
I learned so much about life and business just from watching — and occasionally listening to — this man interact.
He wasn’t a perfect dad. He didn’t need to be.
But I’m proud that he was mine and that’s what I’ll remember.