My Dad, My Hero
Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 05:34PM
Nick Ragone

Last Monday my dad passed away at the age of 69.  He had been ill for some time, but the end came fairly quickly.  On Saturday I eulogized him, as did my brother, Mike.  Below is my eulogy. 

 

I want to thank everyone for coming today.  It's been a difficult few days, but we've been comforted by the love and prayers from our family and friends.  It's been remarkable to see how many lives my dad touched.  Marines. Singers. Golfers. Yankee fans. 

There are way too many stories, and way too many emotions, to capture in a eulogy.  But I hope to give you a window into the person we knew and loved.  And for me, worshipped. 

He was taken too soon, but he lived a full life.  He had the greatest partner in crime any man could ask for in my mom, his pootchie.  I've never seen two people more perfectly made for each other.

One of the happiest days of my life occurred about nine months into Tyan's first pregnancy.  We had been discussing names for about -- oh, nine months -- and couldn't seem to agree on anything.  I had insisted all along that I only had one name on my list -- Frank Ragone -- but Tyan didn't quite see it that way.  She was thinking more along the lines of a Chinese name -- maybe Ling Ming or Ming Ling -- and we were at a stalemate.  I figured this was a battle even I couldn't talk my way to victory, and I had resigned myself to welcoming little Kung Fu Panda into the world with a Chinese name, and I was fine with that.

Just days before giving birth, Tyan presented me with a little picture frame that I could use for work ... and engraved on the very bottom it said "Little Frankie."  It was a moment of pure joy because I so badly wanted to honor my father with his name.

My dad wasn't just a proud man -- he was intensely proud. He was proud of everything in his life: his wife, his children and grandchildren, his work, his appearance, his singing voice.  Heck, even his ethnicity.  He would report on the statistics of even the most obscure Italian baseball and football players.  Somewhere, Jimmy Cefalo and Louie Giammona should be smiling. 

It was the type of pride that the Marine Corp drills into you.  The type of pride that comes from having a mother that gave more love than the universe could hold, and siblings that idolized you.  The type fo pride that comes from having a family that cherised his values, learned his wisdom, and adored his sense of humor.

I only saw my dad cry once.  I'm sure he had shed tears on other occasions, but I never witnessed it.  The day before I began law school, we drove to Washington and moved me into my apartment.  We unpacked stuff all day, and he slept over on the couch.  When I woke up the next morning, he had made breakfast, laid out my cloths, and organized my books as though I was going to first grade or something.  Me being a professional slob, I found it all slightly amusing.  But it wasn't funny to him.  As he finished preparing my stuff and was ready to leave, he turned to me and started weeping ... unable to say a word.  Without uttering a sound he just walked out the door.  But that's all I needed to hear.  If my kids feel half the way about me that I felt about my dad, then I've exceeded my wildest expectations as a father. 

My dad wasn't an excessive talker.  He knew how to tell a great story, and has mastered the art of the one-liner, but you never heard him prattle on or wear out his welcome.  We absolutely loved it when he'd get off a particularly good one-liner -- usually in a tense or awkward situation -- and then wink, as if to say "don't try that yourself."  Of course, we would. 

One stands out from back in the day:  We were playing golf with a reputed wise guy -- someone who I think carried a small aresenal of uzis in his trunk.  Not that type of guy you wanted to upset.  Ironically, he had just had a lung removed from cancer, and it was his first round since his surgery.  I'm not sure how I got roped into playing, but my dad's only instructions were "don't win."  On the first hole, said wise-guy dribbled his tee-shot about 10 feet, at which point he let out a string of expletives that would make even Joe Pesci blush.  A hush fell over the tee box for about 30 seconds, only to be broken by my dad's voice: "did they remove half your brain with your lung."  At that point, I reached down to feel if I was wearing a diaper, because I was going to need one.  After what seemed like an eternity, our connected friend just cracked up laughing and said "you're right Frank, what am I upset about."  Alas, I wasn't going to be an orphan.

We got to see a different side of him as a grandfather.  My dad was a lot of things, but silly wasn't one of them.  He was funny -- very funny -- but never silly.  But as if by magic, when Rocco was born, he instantly became nothing but silly.  It's like a switch flipped on, and he got progressively sillier with the births of Frankie and Gabriella and Mona.  I could only imagine what Mike and I would have gotten away with if he was our papa. 

He was the oddest braggart I've ever known.  He loved bragging, just never about himself.  I think there are two types of fathers in this world:  those that compete with their children, and those that promote them.  He would hand out my books like they were his business card, or email his "constituents" every time I was on TV.  He was so very proud of Mike's career, and Laura's family, and Tommy's heart.  I can't begin to recite the number of times I've heard about our latest exploits from one of his friends.  And how proud he was of us.

He truly saw the depth of Tommy's caring over the final few months, and for that we are eternally grateful.  And there are no words of gratitude to express our appreciation to Billy and Tyan for loving him like their own.  We are forever indebted to them.

I wish I was old enough to see him sing.  He had such a beautiful baritone voice.  Whenever a song would come on the radio, he could always find his part and sing it perfectly in key - not an easy thing to do.  One of his favorite songs to sing with his various groups was Pennies from Heaven.  Thankfully, someone had the foresight to record one of their rehearsals back in the late 60s, and we still have it.  I just love listening to those harmonies, and I know he's singing about Pennies in Heaven now. 

My dad never spoke of regrets.  That just wasn't his style.  Not even at the end.  But I know he had a few.  I think he always wanted to be a lawyer ... but circumstances just wouldn't allow it.  He had such a logical, incisive mind.  He would have been a great trial lawyer.  You don't need to do the math to figure out why I went to law school.

And he missed out on knowing his father, who was killed during World War II.  All he could do was recite the stories to us that he had heard ... from Nanny, and Aunt Sadie, and Aunt Lulu, and others that knew him.  And though he loved Papa Pete dearly, it was a great unspoken void in his life.  And he missed him.

We take great comfort in knowing that he's with his father now.  Bragging about his children and grandchildren.  Explaining who Derek Jeter is.  Hustling pool and telling stories.  Convincing him that he's an 18 handicapper.  Showing him pictures of his wife.  Being a son.  Whole again with Nanny and his father.

Rest in Peace, Cheech.  

Article originally appeared on Nick Ragone.com (http://nickragone.com/).
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