A Hole the Size of a Bear

There was nothing subtle about my dad, and this was definitely true of his hugs. Everything about him was big. His joy was gigantic, his anger was loud, and his love was deep. When he talked, he gestured with big, sweeping motions. His hugs weren’t given often or lightly, which made them precious. But still huge. When Dad hugged you, he wrapped you from head to toe, top to bottom, 360 degrees. I’d give anything, anything asked of me, to have one more.

My dad was a bear of a man, not necessarily tall (5’10”) but substantial and solid. Thick. He had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen. I have very clear memories of his very large hand engulfing my very small hand as he held my hand while we walked downtown sidewalks. He held it so surely; I knew I was safe as long as my hand stayed in his. I want to feel that again.

Dad reminded me of Clemenza from The Godfather – “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” (A gun you can get anywhere. But a good cannoli, well…) Oddly, he hated The Godfather. He thought it insulting to Italian Americans. He even joined a formal and vocal boycott of the movie. Personally, I found this puzzling. Enough of the stuff in our house had no serial numbers, and enough of my speeding tickets had just evaporated, that somewhere in the back of my mind I’d assumed Dad was connected. And his best jokes were about dim or naïve Italians…so what was it about this movie that he found so distasteful? Was it too close to home? I never got the chance to ask.

Dad could tell a joke like a professional comedian. And he always laughed right along with everyone. Not in that awkward laugh-at-your-own-jokes-because-no-one-else-is-laughing way. He loved to make people laugh. His laugh was as big as he was, and infectious.  I’d give up a few years of my own life to hear it again.

Dad, in a boat.

His presence was magnetic, and people loved him.  Even family gatherings, which were boisterous by nature in an Italian family, were always more animated when Dad was there and on his game. His friends, and he had many, were powerfully loyal. Women, especially, were drawn to him. I always wondered what my mom thought of this. I wish I would’ve asked him if he’d noticed.


Dad was intense and felt things deeply, though he didn’t show it. I wouldn’t have wanted him as my enemy.

He didn’t know exactly what to do with me. I think he planned a huge family, and what he got was one small, adopted daughter. So I became both the Princess and the oldest son. He taught me how to fish, and how to throw a football and a baseball, but he drew the line at teaching me how to shoot a rifle, which I really, really wanted to do. He purposely intimidated every boy who came to pick me up for a date. He insisted that I go to college and was immensely proud of my intelligence. But when, in 1975, I told him what I wanted to do with my life, he responded, “There’s no such thing as a lady lawyer,” which of course meant that I would be expected to follow a more traditional “woman’s work” sort of career. I wonder what it must have been like to want so much for your girl child at a time when traditional roles were changing. How I’d love to discuss it with him right now.

Can I go back to the hugs?

The best hug I ever got from Dad came when the family had moved me into my dorm for my first year at college. Mom, Dad, my Aunt Mary & my Aunt Angie (both dad’s sisters) all made the trip, just like a good Italian family. We’d done everything we were supposed to do, and it was time for them to go home. As they started to drive off and we were all waving at each other, Dad unexpectedly stopped the car and hopped out. He wrapped me in a hug that involved every bit of him, body and soul, and his cheek rested on the top of my head. I was starting to suffocate and was about to protest when, against what must have been a mighty force of will, he let a small sob escape. He quickly kissed the top of my head and released his hold, and jumped back into the car. I waved again (through tears now) but Dad wouldn’t look at me. The car drove off and I was alone in a way that I’d never been before in my life. I got used to it, but I never got over it.

That moment lives with me and keeps me company and tears my heart. The 20th anniversary of his passing was March 2, and the day just never gets easier. His passing left a hole in my life in the size and shape of him. He was the center of my life, my moral compass, my protector and supporter. I miss him. And I’d trade almost anything to have one more day with him.


About techlady911

Still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up. Pictures are my lifeline, words are my wings.
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47 Responses to A Hole the Size of a Bear

  1. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us–must have been painful for you.

    • techlady911 says:

      Susan, I’m guessing that it was no more painful for me than for anyone who’s lost someone dear to them. But, yeah – this one was big. I miss him very much. Thank you for your kind words.

  2. elaanmarie says:

    What a lovely tribute. Best wishes to you.

    • techlady911 says:

      Thank you. Writing always helps me process my thoughts. Does it do that for you?

      • Writing definitely helps me process thoughts and emotions too. Reading your writing did the same for me just now. Very touching, and I can relate so much. The description at the end of what your dad was for you is very similar to what my dad was to me. When you say ‘I got used to it, but I never got over it’, that’s how I feel about losing my dad. Day to day, I’m just fine, but I too have a dad-shaped hole that will never be filled. The memories of his awesome encouragement remain, but it’s hard not to be able to make new memories with him enfolded in them. One thing that sustains me is he taught me to love the beauty in each day, and I can still find much joy in the beauty that I find and share.

      • techlady911 says:

        Thank you, Sheri. I miss him every day…This week, the grandson he adored got his Master’s degree from NYU. Dad would have been so proud. And oh, how I missed his presence at the commencement. But the lessons he taught me live on through my son, and that is some measure of comfort.

      • That’s awesome that you can celebrate the legacy through your son. So special!
        I think reading your blog last night sparked nostalgia in me, and I worked through some tears in a unique way today. Here’s a post I wrote about it if you’re interested: http://sherijkennedyriverside.wordpress.com/journal-expressions/ramblings/
        Thanks again for sharing so touchingly.

      • techlady911 says:

        Oh, my goodness, that was beautiful and evocative. Your last paragraph put into words what I feel so many times: my family is gone, my family home is gone…what evidence is there that my parents even existed? It feels as though I need something tangible – like your stool – to help me hang on to their realness. Your grief was not foreign to me at all. Many times my husband will find me crying silent tears; by now he understands that asking “what’s wrong?” is pointless. He just strokes my arm, or holds my hand, and helps me get through it.

        I am so glad to know that I am not alone.

      • Thanks so much for reading my words and sharing your thoughts. I’m sorry that you feel pained, but there is something good in knowing that I’m not alone too. When I feel my grief deeply, I remember that it is a sign of deep love and is actually a very beautiful emotion. You can’t feel loss without first feeling love.

  3. millodello says:

    Nicely done.

  4. The Hole the size of a bear deserves a bear-sized essay :-). Lovely writing, honest and clear. Thank you for writing this, Tess.

    • techlady911 says:

      Allison, your input is very important to me. I love your writing style, and I’d love to get your feedback on where I can improve. Thank you for reading!

  5. irishsignora says:

    Peace be with you, Tess. He sounds like he was the best of men.

  6. Lovely and sad. Thank you for sharing.

  7. liz2you says:

    A lovely story, told from the heart.
    It is good to share childhood memories that make us who we are.

  8. James F Mothersbaugh, Jr. says:

    Such a difference in our fathers. I hated mine. He was commanding, overbearing, uninterested in me, belittling, even abusive. I was 35 before I started to get over the negative influence he was in my life, and I have soared ever since. The day he died was one of the best days of my life. I didn’t even know why I was there, in his room, with the rest of the family. But when he started the Cheyne-Stokes breathing and the end was quite near, I had my brother help me lift my mom into his bed so she could hold him while he died. It was all she talked about for days, that she held him while he died. That was why I was there, so I could help someone who DID love him. Afterward, we all went out and sat in the early morning July sun. The start of a new day.
    Now my mom; my mom’s a whole ‘nother story! I LOVE my mom! She’s the best.

    • techlady911 says:

      Oh, Jim…I’m so sorry for such a difficult relationship with your dad. But what a gift you were able to give your mother. I’d love to hear about her someday!

  9. megalagom says:

    Incredible and emotional. Very touching and beautifully written. I lost my mother when I was 10 (almost 17 years ago) and I always wish to have such vivid memories of her. I’m glad you are holding these thoughts so close and are able to recall them. That’s very special. He would be proud.

  10. Beth says:

    An absolutely beautiful tribute to your father! My father (89) has a number of the qualities you speak of, and the older he gets, the more precious he is to me. Your post reminded me once again of this. Thank you.

    • techlady911 says:

      Thank you for your kindness. Dad died rather unexpectedly, within six months of a diagnosis of lymphoma. Sadly, I only realized that I had to cherish every moment when we were scrambling to keep him alive. I’m happy for you that you’ve realized it now!

  11. Camille Miller says:

    Tess, your last paragraph reminds me of the song “Everything I Own” by David Gates of Bread. The song was written and recorded about his dad.

    • techlady911 says:

      Camille, I still can’t listen to that song without crying. The reference was not conscious, but I sure do see it now. No coincidence, I’m certain. Thanks for reading.

  12. This post is a wonderful way to remember your dad.

  13. brendamarroy says:

    What a lovely, heartwarming tribute to your dad. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  14. techlady911 says:

    Thank you, Brenda. I love the way you put that. Sharing my heart.

  15. Anna says:

    As soon as I came to this part: ‘His joy was gigantic, his anger was loud, and his love was deep’, I had a lump in my throat. What a wonderful tribute to your father.

  16. Lacey says:

    This is wonderful.

    I wanted to let you know that I thought of you last week; I was subbing in a kindergarten class. There was a little boy who absolutely could not use a single crayon until he had peeled every bit of wrapper off of it and broken it in half. Your blog about your crayon box went through my mind every time I saw him do it, and I cringed on your behalf.

    • techlady911 says:

      Oh, thank you for this update – you’ve given me a smile this evening. The poor child – I’m sure that one day he will notice his idiosyncrasy in some other behavior and wonder if he is the only person who has this quirk. If that ever happens, I hope he will find my post! (I can tell you that I was immensely comforted by the camaraderie I found there.)

      Sent from my iPad

  17. What an absolutely beautiful post. I couldn’t hug my dad after I read it because he lives in another state (I really wanted to though) so I sent him a text. Wasn’t quite the same:)

  18. ntexas99 says:

    I enjoyed this story of your father, and of the memories you carry in your heart, especially the one you shared about the day you were beginning a new phase of your life at college. How wonderful for you to have all those memories tucked away, and even though the pain of your loss is apparent in-between every word, what comes through the loudest is the love. Wonderfully told, and beautiful to witness. Thanks for sharing this poignant tribute to your dad. Nicely done.

  19. lilysmystery says:

    Thank you for sharing in such a beautiful and sincere way. I have thought of my father while reading, I guess because of the commong feelings that a daughter feels about a good and loving father. You have portrated a lovely character and wonderful memories that will always be with you, and althought they might be painful, they remind you of the best experiencies and love you have ever had. Have a nice day and a huge hugh for when you need the comfort!

  20. Tess, you’re a wonderful writer. You have such honesty and such insight, not to mention a way with words. I read your crayon piece some time ago and left without making a comment – have been feeling guilty ever since. When I finally found you again, I had to see what else you had done. This is beautiful.

    My family is mostly German, and Germans don’t tend to be demonstrative. So when my dad dropped me off at college the first time and actually gave me a hug I remember thinking, “Gee, this must be serious.” I couldn’t remember when he’d ever done that before. Your telling of your experience of your father dropping you off at college brought that back to me. It wasn’t until much later that I realized my dad was really a very emotional person – he just waited until late in life to show it. He’s 90 now and wants a hug every time he sees me. I was just thinking – if he had died before he loosened up, I never would have known…

    • techlady911 says:

      Thank you, Carol, for your heartfelt words. How lucky you are to still have your dad – and his precious hugs! I’m glad that my memory jogged yours. Thanks for reading.

  21. kmmagers says:

    this is so beautiful.

  22. ShimonZ says:

    I remember reading this, and intending to comment. Seemingly, I was distracted by something and never did. This is a very moving post.

    • techlady911 says:

      Thank you so much for returning. My father was my center, and I like to think he still resides there. I loved him hugely, as he did me. Thank you for your kind words.

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