I have my father’s eyes. They are hazel-green with long, black eyelashes. My father was a very handsome man, “Black Irish,” with jet black hair, those green eyes, and fair skin. Although I was born with red hair, a genetic gift from Daddy’s mother, Helen nee McDonald Lynch, I also have his very full head of hair, its texture fine but wavy and curly. I was my parent’s first child, and felt utterly adored all through my early childhood. Often, Daddy would pick me up and dance us around while he sang, “Your Daddy’s Little Girl.” While Mommy prepared dinner, I would sit on the side stoop steps of our white brick house in Bayside Hills, Queens, restless with excitement, anticipating his arrival home from work. As soon as I caught a glimpse of him walking down the street toward home, I would run my little legs as fast as I could to the edge of the property. He would scoop me up in his arms, and I hugged him with all my might, breathing in his scent, a mixture of Salem cigarettes, perspiration, and Afta, an aftershave from Mennen. What joy it was to be reunited with him after a day apart!
My father was a very funny man, and he teased me with jokes like, “How much do you charge to haunt a house?” He gave me several nicknames, “Sarah Bernhardt,” (for my sometimes melodramatic and sensitive nature), “Miss Know-It-All” (since I loved to share whatever I had learned that day with him), and “The Loudmouth Kid.” Unlike some adults, my parents loved to hear me talk and chatter. A child knows when an adult is mean-spirited, and I understood that Daddy dubbed me with these monikers from affection and tenderness. It’s a very Irish, and Irish-American way to use “double-speak,” i.e. you say something which to outsiders might be interpreted as the opposite of its true meaning. Such communication developed over centuries of oppression in Ireland, when the Irish never knew who was listening to any plans of uprising. I know this because my father bestowed me with his love of history. Early in his career, Daddy was a CPA, and he worked so hard during tax season that he would get home long after I had been put to bed. I would crawl out of bed, tip-toe into the living room, and find him watching movies on The Late Late Show. I crawled on the couch, sat down, and ask him to put his head in my lap so that I could massage his head. There are many reasons I love film, but this early association of finding comfort, escape and relaxation while watching a movie is seminal for me. My love for The Great American Songbook was bequeathed by Daddy. He had this Bell & Howell reel to reel 4 track tape player, and loved putting on Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and, his favorite, Tony Bennett. I can see him in our living room, cigarette in one hand, singing along to “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”
I learned to love the water and the beach because Daddy, who grew up swimming in Jamaica Bay in the 1930s and 1940s. Our family took trips to Jones Beach in the evenings, and vacations to Hampton Bays, where he would get up early to dig up clams at low tide. He was so delighted that I loved to swim, and that I swam well. When I joined the CYO swim team, Daddy took me to every one of our meets. By then, I had a younger sister and a younger brother, so that was our time together. When we returned home in the cold winter nights, he would make each of us a root beer float. I never got tired of seeing him deftly take one scoop of vanilla ice cream and drop it gently into the soda. Like magic, the concoction would fizzle and pop. Everything does taste better when it’s made with love.
As I grew older, my father and I had a relationship fraught with tension, misunderstanding and anger. He had a high pressure job. He drank. While we didn’t know enough at the time, he had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from his combat experience and being wounded in Korea on August 14, 1951, his 20th birthday. He and I shared similar personality traits, being extroverted, humorous, conscientious, compassionate, and, man alive, stubborn. There were fights, there were tears, but there also was his pride in me, and so much laughter. I knew he loved me, and he knew I loved him. I always knew that he would do anything to protect me, and would rather suffer the torments of hell himself to spare me any pain.
When my father died on February 1, 1991, 20 years ago, he hadn’t had a drink in nearly a year. He stopped before his cancer diagnosis, as if having a premonition that he hadn’t much time to share with us. His last year on earth was bittersweet, sad and beautiful. His courage in fighting lung cancer was inspiring. While his diagnosis was terminal, he insisted on undergoing chemotherapy, and he never once complained. He actually would make the staff at the oncologist’s office laugh. His pulmonologist, Dr. Kellerman, wrote a letter to my mother after Daddy died, and spoke of his great admiration for my father, how much of an impact he had made on everyone at the doctors’ office, and that it had been an honor to have been Danny Lynch’s doctor. At his wake, the funeral director had to open up an extra room to hold all the people who had come to say goodbye to Daddy.
There’s no way I can sum up my father’s life here, or impart all the reasons he was so lovable albeit so damaged. He was a good man with enormous integrity, he was a brilliant thinker, a mentor, a true friend, and a friend to all who knew him. He was the life of the party, an American success story, a great provider, and an adoring husband and father. He was my Daddy, forever 59, not turning 80 tomorrow. But, as they say, “the dead are always with us.” I still know he loves me. I now carry my Daddy in my heart, and I shall…always.