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My Father, My Friend
— by Diana Wolf
Today’s mail contains a letter from my dad. Inside
the vanilla white envelope reads a printed note: "Diana, Just
a couple of items for you to read, Dad." He knows I love movies,
so there’s a newspaper article on this summer’s movies. There’s also
a Ziggy cartoon about balancing a checkbook that dad likens to his
own behavior. Typical.
The letters began over a decade ago, when I started college 160 miles
away from home. Dad remembered his joy of news from home when he was
drafted into the army in 1944, so in the memory of daily mail call,
he filled my mailbox with letters. Everyday. For five years. Each
word hand-printed in blue ink on white or yellow lined notepaper.
He detailed the weather in hometown Pittsburgh for that day and the
upcoming week, and any trips to the supermarket or post office he
made with my mom. What they cooked for dinner and what TV shows they
watched were itemized. He cataloged upcoming doctor appointments,
as well as mom’s work schedule. Cartoons relating to our family’s
idiosyncrasies or local newspaper snippets were included. More than
once, dad taped laundry quarters in a neat row and mailed them to
me. Exciting reading it was not, but I got to know the man I call
my father through those letters, and I wanted to know more.
Anthony Leo Wolf was born in 1926 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the
oldest son of three children. His father was a printer, his mother
a housewife. Dad braved the wrath of nuns when he dropped out of
School after the 10th grade, working to help the family finances.
He never to earn a high school diploma or GED. After his honorable
discharge from the service, he had the good fortune to meet a lovely
woman named Betty Lou while they were spotting planes at a local
As of this writing, my mom and dad have been married 41 1/2 years,
a rare and wonderful example in this world where some divorces last
longer than the marriages. After 10 years of perfecting the art of
babymaking, my parents got the composition right, with mom discovering
her pregnancy over vacation plans to DisneyLand. They canceled their
trip to save money for the baby — the beginning of my parents’
sacrifices for me, their only child.
Dad worked a variety of blue-collar jobs — pharmacy delivery
warehouse packer and shipper — until illness forced a reversal
of roles. Mom entered the 9 to 5 working world, and dad wrote letters.
That’s how I arrive today, at 31 years of age, with
a father in tow, when so few women know their fathers as well. The
foundation was my good childhood, the only trauma being denied a Big
Wheel bike, deemed unsafe by my folks. While some fathers express
their love in silences, my dad does so through conversation. He talks
to me and with me, not at me. He asks questions about my life, my
boyfriend, my friends, and my work. He listens to my opinions and
he laughs at my jokes.
Dad also talks to me because he’s scared.
Dad’s kidneys were diagnosed as operating at 23 percent and doctors
predicted he’d be on a dialysis within 12 months. Then, despite being
a lifetime non-smoker, dad contracted pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring
of his lungs. Doctors say the normal course of this disease is
for three to five years, during which time his breathing will become
labored, then after a bout of pneumonia, it will become fast-moving,
terminal in a matter of months. If that’s not enough, six months ago
in November, dad was hospitalized with a cold which shut down his
kidneys to 14 percent with dehydration, and he almost died. Numbers
make the diagnoses real, yet rather than have me entertain myself
with unknown demons, dad tells me the results of every medical
and procedure in excruciating step-by-step detail.
Dad knows his odds, and how many times he’s beaten them. The
for his stubbornness is his mother, Colletta, the only grandparent
I had the pleasure of knowing for the first 16 years of my life. She
was 81 years old when she died, a woman strong enough of mind, body,
and spirit to go outdoors every day, regardless of weather, even the
day after she was the victim of a noontime mugging. She would be proud
of these past 10 years where dad has followed the doctor’s
exactly and asked many questions to fully understand his illnesses.
The result is that my dad is not on dialysis yet, and he’s passing
year six since his lung diagnosis. It’s hard not to think of dad as
There is a swirl of romance surrounding a father-daughter
from dancing to "Daddy’s Little Girl" at a wedding to
a grandchild into a googily smile. With sitcoms like "The Cosby
Show," "Home Improvement," and "Married With
portraying dads as bumbling idiots out of touch with family issues
and common sense, it’s easy to understand why — with such models
— there may be gap between fathers and daughters. Every daughter
wants to connect with that part who is half her creation, and my dad’s
strong communication has made it easy for me to know him.
I‘m learning to appreciate what he gives me, when he
gives it. Today, his letters are less frequent, yet now they include
leftover Sunday paper coupons. Our walks together are slower, dad
pausing on his cane to rest or puff on his inhaler. Long, lazy Sunday
afternoon phone calls are broken with a hacking cough.
The important thing is that he walks and he talks with me. He calls
me, proud to tell me that he’s strong enough to carry the garbage
outside, and frustrated that it takes him 10 minutes to do so. I tell
him to focus on the fact that he is getting stronger, no matter how
slowly. I remind him that he’s older, and it’ll take him longer to
heal. We find success in his ability do the laundry by himself, to
walk up and down steps without assistance, and to carry bags of
alone. He agrees, with a stubborn sigh, and then we talk about the
I was home last Thanksgiving after his hospitalization. Dad was doing
dishes, proud he was finally strong enough to help mom, and frustrated
he couldn’t do more. I hugged him and said, "I never hear you
say it, but I love you." He hugged me back with one arm and
"You know I love you."
I choose to have my dad in my life as much as he chooses to be in
it. Dad treasures our memories, and he tells me, sharing those
with me. I am connected to my past through him, and with him. I tell
my dad "I love you" at the end of every conversation. I treat
every visit as if it’s our last — because someday it will be.
Someday I’ll live a life he won’t share in, and I’ll miss that.
My dad and I are best friends.
This article by Diana Wolf was prepared for the June 13, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
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