Friday, February 20, 2015

My Old Man and his Walking Cane( as a Weapon)


Disclaimer: This story is a story very few know. It is a story I was embarrassed by. But now after losing my dad, and on the one year anniversary of the incident, I feel compelled to share it. Because it is important that as Christians we don’t just share our great moments of wise decision making, but we share our tremendously flawed moments also.  To relate we must be relatable, and to be relatable, we must be willing to share our gaffe’s. I am tremendously flawed, but because of Jesus and the Bible, we don’t have to be condemned for our mistakes.

To say my father and I had a certain level of comical dysfunction at times would be a fair deduction. Today I write about a situation that wasn’t funny whatsoever at the time, but a year later to the day, and with losing him in between, it now strikes me as an irreplaceably glorious memory.

On February 20, 2014 my dad was coming towards Syracuse for a medical appointment. We hadn’t seen each other in six months and we were going to meet for coffee. He called me to say that his car had broken down off the thruway, in the parking lot. When I arrived I jumped it and it started right up. As we were getting in the car to go get that coffee, a tow truck driver came up and asked what was going on. My dad explained that he was fine , his car just needed a jump and I gave it to him.  

The tow truck driver said something along the lines of “Oh good, glad your car started, but someone here owes me 60 bucks for the service call.” My dad explained that he hadn’t asked for a tow truck, just that a highway worker asked what was wrong and he had told him “I might need a tow, but my son is on his way to jump me.”

Little to my dad and I’s knowledge, the area off the thruway was contracted and was legally part of the thruway, so you were not allowed to jump someone in that lot. But that highway worker didn't explain that to him, instead called the contracted tow truck company, who came out to the lot.

It started as a pleasant conversation, but as my dad and the driver started slowly elevating their tone, I slowly backed away towards my car- with an eager ear, but a non willingness to be involved. Here is a loose transcript of how things went.

TTD (Tow truck driver)
D (Dad)
M: (Me)

TTD: Well, I’ll tell you what, I was told you asked for a tow, and here is your tow.
D: I never asked for a tow, I told him I was broken down and might need a tow. I didn’t ask him to send anyone.
TTD: Regardless, you are on thruway property and the fact your son jumped you means that both of you broke the law and both of you could be arrested. But someone is going to pay me 60 dollars here for my time, or the police are going to be involved. See the sign! (Points to small sign in the far corner of the lot)
D: Look at where that sign is!  I can’t see that far!! You are out of your mind, I’m not paying you anything.
TTD: Well, if you’re not going to pay me then your son better pay me or you both are going to jail.
M: Oh, HI. I am not involved in this, sorry.
TTD: Oh yes you are, the minute you illegally jumped him you became involved.
M: Oh.
D: Leave my son alone , this is between you and me. Let’s go Joe, sorry but you aren’t getting paid -you didn't do anything.
D: (Utters a various smattering of profanities)
TTD: I’m calling the police. ….“Yes sir we have 2 customers that are refusing to pay me for my work (D in background yelling “You didn’t do any work!”) Ya , let me give you their license plates in case they make a getaway
D: Let’s go Joe.
M: I can’t be a fugitive... I just can’t.

I now am standing in front of my license plate because in my mind this guy is a whack job trying to involve me just because he is being terrible. The driver approaches my car insisting I move out of the way so he can give the cop my license number and when he gets within arms reach of me, I gave him a “ Hey I need some space here Hoss” shove. It was like a shove you would give your little brother when both of you are fighting over the last ho-ho as children. It was non-threatening, and for all intensive purposes really wimpy. It is actually the only time I have laid hands on anyone in an uninvited manner other than my little brother and best friend Jim, when we were kids. Not even knowing an even less manly shove than I had just doled out  was possible, the driver gave me an even wimpier shove back- and that was it, that was the whole confrontation.


TTD: Officer this man just punched me in my face!!! He punched me square in ma face!!!!!!!

M: Oh come on are you serious?

TTD: I’m gonna go hide in my truck because I’m scared officer!!!

M: Tell him I gave you an ever so slight push away because you were in my personal space, please. Don’t lie.

RTTD: These 2 are lunatics officer

M: Huh?

The driver has now barricaded himself in his truck and my dad decided that with the push back at me, the driver had now wronged his son, and well, he wasn’t going to stand for that one iota. It is also important to note that my dad wasn't very agile at this point and had to walk with a cane. He hobbled over from his car to the truck drivers truck, approximately a 100 foot walk, and that is when his cane transformed into something else- a tool for banging on a window.

D: You come at my son? Why didn’t you come at me? Come on out and get some! (all the while banging the cane softly but with a stern message on the window)

Needless to say the driver stayed in his truck, my dad retreated, and I just stood in awe as the police arrived. Out of all of this, I was the only one charged with anything: “Second degree harassment.” Turns out if you touch someone, even with the most feeble and self defensive of touches, and even if they are invading your personal space to the point of smelling the Cheetos from their lunch on their breathe, if that person decides to press charges the police must press them. 
The driver backpedaled on his “he punched me in the face” story and admitted it was just a push. I sent an email to my brother and best friend Jim thanking them for never pressing charges for all the times I harmlessly pushed them over the years of our childhood. As I sat in the back of the cop car, the policeman assured me that this is by far the flimsiest second degree harassment request he has ever processed in his 15 years of work.

In the moment and following months afterwards, I was mad at my dad. Partly because he played into the moment and made it worse, and then I somehow got dragged into it. Partly because it reminded me of times over the years I wished he and I hadn’t gone this route of anger in our own arguments. And mostly because I now had to go home and explain to my wife why I got involved in an issue that didn’t involve me and now had to answer for it to the legal system. I wished he had just said something cute and whimsical  to the driver and paid him the 60 bucks.

I lied and told my dad it was dismissed, because I knew he would be mad if he knew I actually had to pay the tow truck driver back as part of the plea for him to dismiss the charge (and 300 in lawyer fees, 60 became 360 really quickly). I didn’t want him to get upset, his cane may not have been able to take another incident.

You know, it is funny how when you lose someone stories that beforehand were so negative, become one’s you look upon with a sudden rush of positive emotion. When I look back at that crazy day one year ago today, I see it in a different light now- And I chuckle.

My dad and I had so often argued with each other about so many things. But the last hearty argument we ever had wasn’t with each other. We were actually somehow on the same team in this one, pitted against a disgruntled tow truck driver. ( I later called the driver to ask for forgiveness for whatever part I played. I found myself in his neighborhood some months later and drove by his house to find beer bottles laced along the window sills of his kitchen window. I stopped, paused, realized my mishandling of the situation no matter who was wrong or right, and prayed for this man’s life. It was a moment of humility for how humanly stupid and selfish I am a lot of the time, and how I dropped the ball on a chance to possibly be better than that in front of a person who seemingly had his own struggles, just like I did)

As misguided and convoluted as it seemed at the time, the last time I saw my dad fighting with that feisty Italian fight that coursed through his veins for 67 years, he was fighting for my honor. Your fathers defense of you is  incomparable and pure even in the most impure and bizarre scenarios. There is NO ONE that looks out for you more than your parents.

The official police report read, “ Old man was banging his cane against my window daring me to come out.” I didn’t find it funny at all at the time, no less a souvenir to keep forever to remind me of my ever so unique relationship with my father, but today it is a piece of paper I embrace.

I laugh when I look at that report now with an introspective longing for just one more chance to see him even at seemingly our worst of moments. “Old man with a cane banging on my window”, means so much more to me now than what it says verbatim. To me , “Old man with a cane banging on my window”, now will always mean, “My amazing, unparalleled, and perfectly imperfect  father going to bat for me one last time.”.....

          That day,  I would have changed everything about that incident. Today??... I wouldn’t change a thing.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Tribute To My Father

I want to thank you on behalf of our whole family for coming here today to remember my dad.  I want to share a few thoughts and memories of dad.

Psalm 139: 13 -16 says

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

He was born in 1947 to Rose and Joseph DiBella. The first 2 years of his life he was hidden from most of his family, and raised by his Godparents in an apartment above his parents. You see his parents hadn’t been married yet, and word was that Grandmas parents would kill her and Joseph if they found out, so my Grandma hid the pregnancy and checked into the hospital under an alias to give birth to my dad. My Grandma and Grandpa figured things out, determined to get things right and raise my dad, and were married.

It was time for my dads big reveal. I asked him last month how they presented a 2 year old as a new born baby, and he laughed and said hes not sure..and I asked if he knew how they told the family and he jokingly said that they just took the napkin off the top of me and said “Here he is!”

He grew up on Portland Ave and graduated from Franklin High School. He once told us a story about how one of his best friends was having a fling with Olivia Newton John back in the late 60’s, how she used to sneak into Rochester wearing a disguise and Dad and his girlfriend used to double date with them. He said they went karaoking one night and dad signed her up to sing, and when she found out it was him, she yelled at him " I'm going to kill you Rocky!"

He married my mom in 1977, and I was born in 1980 and Ashley in 1983. My first concrete memory of him was him holding and comforting me when we found out my Grandma died suddenly in 1984.

I remember in the winter of 1985, he and mom told Ashley and I that they had a big surprise for us and they were going to tell us after we picked mom up from work at city hall the next day. We were sure we were going to Disney world and were so excited. When we got home, dad told us the surprise was that we were having a baby. We cried tears of anguish and sorrow over it not being Disney World. Of course Justin ended up being a lot better than Disney world, but we didn’t know that at the time.

My dad always had a mustache as long as I had known him, and then one day in the late 80’s , it was suddenly gone without warning. I was terrified of him and his new look and wouldn’t let him touch me for probably a week. Back then it was creepy to NOT have a mustache.

My dad used to wake me up some mornings with a horrible, horrible bugle noise that he would do with his hands and mouth. He would do it over and over again, as loud as he could, until you woke up and got out of bed. He even gave me the bugle call, upon request, one last time last Tuesday prior to his death.

My dad was a great bowler and even got on that old Sunday morning show bowling for dollars, in the late 80’s. He also once saw a fire across the street from his job and ran across the street with a co worker. There was a little boy on a floor above. They were telling him to jump because it was the only way out. The boy was gun shy and hesitant , but dad and his co worker implored him to jump and the boy finally jumped and they were able to catch him, presumably saving him from who knows what kind of harm.. My sister even still has the newspaper article highlighting it.

My dad was a fantastic baseball player, golfer, and as I mentioned,bowler.. My uncle Chris  told me Friday that dad  was the best softball player he ever saw play, even to this day- famous for his catch and throw delivery while pitching.

Above all, Baseball helped form a special bond between my father and I. My dad loved baseball, and gave me my love for the New York Yankees. Dad rarely missed a Yankees game the last 10 years of his life.. My first memory of watching a baseball game was being 8 and due to the late start times I was only going to be able to stay up late for 1 world series game in the 1988 world series and I picked the Saturday night game 1. We watched the Kirk Gibson game on the couch together- just the 2 of us, probably one of the best baseball games of all time.

In 1989 , he promised me he’d take me to a Red Wings game the following Sunday. Problem is our car broke down that week and we didn’t have a ride. But dad made a promise and he was going to keep it. He asked our Landlord for a ride to Silver Stadium- we got in for free and sat in the box seats because dad always “knew a guy.” But we didn’t have a ride home. It was a day game, so we just started walking and hitchhiking..Well, dad “knew a guy” and he pulled over and brought us home after about 2 or 3 miles of walking. My dad wasn’t gonna let the details cause him to have to let me down that day, and Ill forever remember that special game together.

And I will never forget Dads first time at Yankee Stadium in July of 1995. I had already been there a few times, so I just wanted to soak in his face and reaction as we walked in. He was speechless and teary eyed. He said he couldn’t get rid of the goosebumps because of the history, and the beauty he was looking at. Remembering how joyful he was at seeing  a baseball stadium, makes me overjoyed to think of the feelings he had when he first saw heaven on Wednesday morning. What a privilege to  show him around Yankee Stadium that day, and  one day he will get to show me around heaven.

His Humor:

My brother once told me, “ Dad is the funniest guy Ive ever met.”It caught me off guard because I never thought of him as THAT funny. But the more I think about it now and talk to people, I would have to agree with Justin. His humor was often just a one liner, sometimes it would make you laugh and cringe at the same time at how off color it was. It was often on his analysis of something he just observed or went through. He often struggled not be funny or sarcastic, even when he shouldn’t be. 

We used to hang out with the Oliverio’s a lot and my dad used to always greet little kids from church by smiling and saying “ HEE-HEE”….All the Oliverio children knew my dad was the “HEE-HEE”guy..I remember one year he played Santa Clause for our church Christmas party. Little Sammy Oliviero, probably six years old, sat on his lap and instead of asking him what he wanted for Christmas, “Santa” said “ HEE-HEE Sammy!!” Sammy jumped off Santa’s lap and ran away half laughing and half crying. Dad just couldn’t resist sometimes.

Acts of Service:

The book the five love languages by Gary Chapman talks about how everyone shows love in different ways. The way my dad most showed love is by acts of service. Every single time I called him for a favor or with a problem, he would happily offer his help. He wasn’t always able to express his love with the proper words, but to him picking you up from the doctors, changing your oil, or driving you hours away to drop you off somewhere just to make sure you were safe were his nichiest ways of showing his kids that they were loved richly. 

His generosity was second to none. If dad was within 500 feet of you when a payment was due, your wallet was not allowed out of your pocket. At restaurants he would always pay, and when I told him I feel bad hes paying again and it was my turn, he would pacify me by saying “Just leave the tip, Joe- I've got the rest”

The Elephant in The Room:

The elephant in the room right now is that most of you know that my dad and I struggled relationally at many times during my childhood and adulthood, especially the last few years of his life.. There were times that we exchanged words that I cant repeat in church. Heck, I couldn’t repeat them within 100 miles of a church.

We went a year without speaking from May of 2012 to June of 2013, and then another 3 months from April of 14 to July of 14. His wife Kathy told me that she told him he was sometimes a lion and sometimes a lamb- and she would sometimes tell him, "Honey, I need more lamb and less Lion right now.”I felt like I had gotten the lion so many times, and that it would never change. I even told family members that I didn’t see a way that things could ever be fixed. But my prayers remained different from what my sensibility was telling me. 

I woke up many a night in a panic or a cold sweat, worried that that would be the day he might die and I'd never have peace with him on this earth. And then in July God revealed a plan that he had had in motion since the beginning of time. My dad came to me with humility, empathy, and sorrow. With a sincerity that my flesh so often told me was surely not possible, he told me he was so sorry for all that had happened. I was hesitant, but hopeful, and in the coming months we started talking more and more- And he was markedly different. 

He finally understood who God truly was, and I think he finally grasped how much Jesus loved him, no matter what had happened and no matter what would happen. His words were soft, his intent single-minded-- to love on his children with the days he had left as a father without any chains or motives other than to love.. I had always known he loved me, but in the last 6 months God did a work in him that allowed him to not only express it with acts of service, but with all of his being. The Lion was now The Lamb..

On December 14th, Dad found out he had stage 4 Lung Cancer. I was always a little worried once things started getting so good, that this may have been a sign of the end, Gods Final Gift to Rocky and to us. He told me he just wanted to make it through Christmas and he would be happy.

My dad loved to drive. He knew every highway, byway, side street, dead end road, and shortcut in the Greater Rochester Area..He had taxi roots, and he was the original GPS before their were GPS’s. On Christmas Eve , Missy and I were coming in to see him for a few hours. Due to no fault of Ashley's, she had only seen Dad once in the 15 months prior to that day. We were going to pick her up and bring her over to Dad and Kathy’s. At the last minute my moms computer died, and we bought her one on Craigslist for Christmas, which meant I had to meet up with the seller in Syracuse. I told Ashley I'm sorry but I wouldn’t have time because of this to pick her up and make it on time, but could we meet closer to dads house, and she said she would just drive over herself.. 

When Dad got wind of this he offered to pick her up and Ashley said okay and asked if he would like to see her house, because he hadn’t seen it yet. So on Christmas Eve, my dad drove from Irondequiot to Hilton to be with his daughter. Ashley showed him around her house as he cried, and then dad drove his beloved daughter back to his house to celebrate Christmas eve with her. It was the last ride he ever went for.

On Christmas Day, I was back in Syracuse. He texted me, “Good morning my God sent son. Merry Christmas 2 u and your beautiful wife. Rejoice in Jesus . What a day. Best Christmas in years. Thank you and Missy for making it a reality. We love you guys.” That text exemplified the full healing that had taken place in him. Even though his body was betraying him and beginning to shut down, his heart and soul were stronger than ever.

On the Saturday night after Christmas, we reconvened to go to dinner. Dad predicted to his step-son (and unbeknownst to us) that he would make it through the dinner , and then end up in the hospital. He had a heart attack the day after, spent 4 days in the hospital, went home for a week, and went to the hospital for the final time. 

On Tuesday morning, Dad told Kathy that he was going to die that day, and to call the kids to get there as soon as they can.  We spent the day with him , as special people to him stopped by to say goodbye.

Around 4pm, he had little left in him. He said it was time to go, and asked God to take him. I told him Justin was flying in as fast as he could from Indiana and he would be here in a few minutes, and he needed to wait. He agreed. I was lying to him, as Justin wouldn’t be able to get there for another 8 hours. If he had known he would have called me a “lawyer”. (that’s the way he pronounced “Liar”). 

As his body overwhelmed him over the next 8 hours, and he was ready to die, he kept saying I'm ready to be with God now and we all just kept telling him," a few more minutes and Justin will be here." We must have said a few more minutes a dozen times in that eight hours. 

Justin arrived and got time with dad. Justin played a video of his granddaughter Frances singing a special song for him, and everyone left around 130am to get a few hours of sleep.  I stayed behind and when I stepped out to get a cup of coffee, I came back to find he had passed. “ I just want to have my kids together in one place before I die” , he had told me days after his diagnosis.  Dad waited all day to see his family and a few friends, and when his final child had arrived and left, dad had been granted his final wish- and then he passed away.

Right before he died, after I left everyone in the parking garage, I started singing out loud "MY WAY" by Frank Sinatra. Dad loved Sinatra and loved that song. When he passed I looked out the window and said “ I know he is with you Lord, but how bout a sign for old times sake” (God has shown me so many signs and wonders through the years)..When I called Ashley, Nick and Missy back once he had passed, they got upstairs and told me that the Piano that played on its own in the lobby of the hospital was playing “My Way “ as they walked by it. Later, Justin, who hadn’t known I had been singing it or the other guys had heard it coming in, told me “ Hey , You're going to think this is cool, at the airport when I got in tonight, "My Way" was playing over the loud speaker”…. THE SIGN!

If you told me the story of my father and me would turn into one of my greatest life testimonies to show the reality of Gods existence and his love, I would have told you you were insane.  In the end, eternity is all that will matter. As morbid as it sounds,you will one day be gone from this earth, and no one will be left who knew you..Then what??   

We are saved by Grace, through Faith. Simple and no strings attached. Our rights and wrongs are not what count in the end, all Gods asks of you is faith in his son, Jesus. Even if you're not sure at first just by looking to your left or your right and seeing his works in the beauty that surrounds us, he will show himself real inside of your heart when you begin to seek him. Dad sought him in the end, really let him into his heart, and no matter what mistakes he made along the way, today he is made new...... He is made whole.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me
I did it my way”

Rocco Joseph DiBella, always did things his way. Sometimes it was a beautiful thing, and  sometimes it got him into trouble. But in the end, 'My Way' to my dad started meaning 'God's Way', and God orchestrated the last months of dad’s life in a way that could only be accredited to HIS way----- his perfect way.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelations 21:4