Wednesday, September 19, 2018

On Father’s Day: Poor Alphonse

“But other men were not my father. He never once stopped loving me his entire life.”

He was my dad, and he most likely never had a chance for a better life. He was born in 1915 to a Sicilian father and Neapolitan mother, both immigrants. When Alphonse was ten, he lost all his teeth from gum disease. Then, at seventeen, at the onset of the Great Depression, he was able to get into Brooklyn College, a school that required top grades for enrollment.  A year into his college career, the torment of the depression forced his parents to close their candy store. In order to make ends meet, Mom and Dad, and yes Alphonse, had to go out and find jobs. He dropped out of college and found a menial job, much to the chagrin of the dean, who saw a great future for young Alphonse. A shitty job, but that extra money coming in would mean lunch for the family would not just be banana or Broccoli Rabe sandwiches.

His dad Peter, a proud and highly intelligent man, who actually graduated college in Tunisia, found work as a machinist, and Alphonse’s mom found work in a factory. Peter got involved with the union, and by the late 1930s was going out on strike. The times were becoming rougher and the NYC cops were always there to protect the owners, not the workers. Violence was in the air. One day Alphonse got a phone call that his dad was in jail, arrested during a labor scuffle. The bail was too high for them to get Peter out. So, Alphonse and his mother went around to everyone and anyone they knew, literally begging for help. Finally, they had enough and got Peter out. The caveat to all this was that Peter was told he would never get a job in that trade again.. ever! Alphonse and his mom kept working, and Peter kept looking for work… any kind of work. He tried to get on Relief, the precursor to today’s welfare,  but the waiting list was too long. It seemed that things were not working well for the family. One day, December 1st 1940, Alphonse’s mom came home from her factory job to find the ‘love of her life’ lying in their bathtub… dead from a gunshot to his head. He was thoughtful even in suicide to make sure that he did it in the tub, not wishing to bloody up the floor.

Alphonse got drafted a year and a half later, and was sent to the Tank Corps in Texas. Before he was to be shipped out the Army released him as the ‘Sole supporting son’. He returned home and found a job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for the remainder of the war. He made friends with a fellow named Amos, and after the war, they decided to go into the used car business. Alphonse was good at choosing cars, and Amos was a natural as the fast-talking salesman. Things were good. Alphonse had married his childhood sweetheart by then, and had two sons… this writer being the newest arrival. The ‘wheel of fate’ rotated once again in the early 1950s when Amos took out a bank loan and forged Alphonse’s name as cosigner. When he could not repay the loan, they came after Alphonse… and before long he had to declare personal bankruptcy. He lost the car lot and wound up getting a job on the docks as a longshoreman.

Yes, other men had it much worse. But other men were not my father. He never once stopped loving me his entire life. He was always there for myself and my older brother… always! May his spirit enjoy the joy and happiness on the other side of this dream called life… the joy and happiness that only came in spurts for dear Alphonse.

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