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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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