On what would have been your 78th, thanks for what you taught me, Dad

Happy birthday, dad.

Seventy-eight March 13s ago, Frank was born in Brooklyn.

Frank and me, my graduation from SUNY Morrisville.

Frank at 40 and me at 19, my graduation from SUNY Morrisville.

He was a piece of work, just 20 years old when I was born, his wife Dolores just 19.

I loved him. I feared him. I hated him. I loved him all over again. I understood him a little bit more all the time the older I got.

He died of a heart attack when he was just 67. The day before, he’d lectured me on the phone about how I was failing to properly raise my 9-year-old daughter in the ways of the Bialczaks.

Life as the son of Frank was always complicated, whether he thought so or not. He was a perfectionist. His expectations for his first-born were record high, and he never held back his annoyance with cutting comments if any little thing did not meet his standard. He drank too much some years, and this could trigger a nasty temper. He socialized after work when it moved him, no matter the set dinner hours. No surprise to me, and somewhat of a relief, in fact, he and my mother divorced when I was in college.

On the other side, he was smart, and even though he never attended college, he read novels in front of me and took me to movies and engaged me in conversation about those books and films. He approved of my fanship of the Mets and Jets and Islanders on TV, and took me to games when he could afford it. He made sure college was always one of my goals. He took me with him sometimes when he socialized, and made sure I felt at ease among my elders and people of all races and social strata.

Sorting through the polarity of my feelings for my father has been a constant in my life.

Dad, age 50.

Dad, age 50, at my first wedding.

When I was an adult, raising his granddaughter Elisabeth, I finally got the courage to address some of the sore points about my youth. We sat pleasantly at the bar of the local joint two doors down from the big house I owned in Morrisville, each sipping a beer and going over old times.

My father was surprised, and somewhat hurt. He didn’t see any of this my way at all. He had been just a guy doing the best he could. I shut my mouth and we each ordered another beer.

When we got back to my house, he found something he didn’t like. My wife had served him onions for dinner and damn it, that made his legs swell up. He bitched and swore at me about it, even though this was the first either I or her had ever heard of such an allergy. That night I was certain he had lit a cigar in our downstairs bathroom even though I’d told him there was no smoking in our house. He denied it when I came downstairs and said I smelled smoke. He swore and bitched at me some more.

Yeah, life with Frank was always interesting.

The last four generations shot.

The last four-generations shot.

Life after Frank, too. As we grieved, his sweet wife of more than two decades, Sandy, informed me of how my father had left as much as he could in his will for my daughter, his granddaughter, because he wanted to make sure she’d be able to attend college, too. She made the most of that inheritance, my college graduate daughter did.

And when I talk to my sisters, particularly my youngest sister Dory, who came along a full 10 years after me, she has a different view, a sweeter slice, of life with Frank. Maybe it’s because she was only in elementary school when our parents divorced, and she saw an older dad at out-of-house visits, in a different light, in the prism of the father-to-youngest daughter glow. In any case …

Happy Birthday, Dad. Thanks for all of the good things you passed down to me. Thanks too for the way you opened my eyes to life. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? I know there were years that I drank too much, and socialized whenever I wanted. I got divorced when my daughter was in elementary school.

Learning from you, I mellowed and matured. I like the way I am now more than that last day we talked.

What would we be conversing about with interest today, I wonder? What would you be lecturing me about? I bet you’d still find something.

Yeah. Happy Birthday, Dad.

Did you go through good and not-so-good feelings about a parent, and if so, would you share? What do you feel are the best traits your father or mother passed down to you? If you had the chance to say something to a parent or grandparent gone right now, what would it be?

89 thoughts on “On what would have been your 78th, thanks for what you taught me, Dad

  1. Well written post. I’ve reflected a lot recently on relationships with my own family. Some great, some not so great. My takeaway is that we are a family; both imperfect and perfect in so many ways. I can live with that.


  2. beautifully written Mark – and such a nice tribute. Also, the timing of this post is perfect for someone that I know who is just starting to grapple with her upbringing – I talked with a lady down in Florida – a long time family friend – and she is in her mid 40s and she is at this reflective age where she is assessing so much of her life- and what started out as an afternoon out shopping – led to talking for yet another two hours in the parking lot along the Banana River.

    And she is seeing a counselor (who she loves) but from what she shared with me – she was blaming way too much on what her parents did and did not do…..
    and even though I have counseling in my background – and little nuggets of advice can be shared on the spot – whether at a cookout or during a post shopping chat –
    but I was stumped- and actually caught off guard but also just trying to “listen” and hear what were the statements behind the statement s- ya know? Anyhow, as I chewed on it – I felt almost this Blaming mentality – and she even admitted that her counselor told her that she spent decades just “boxing” things up in her life – and now it was time to go thru those boxes – and sort and deal and toss – etc.

    anyhow, I just felt this case of blame-itis…. and also her other disappointments (business flop and misc. things did not work out) and respectfully to her – yes – that stuff does shape us and our family of origin needs to be visited when we grow and learn more about who we are – and the reason I share all this here is because as I read this birthday tribute post to Frank – ❤ well your very healthy grappling and honesty about the grind involved with this is the little gem I was looking for to give her as a resource – like this part:

    "Sorting through the polarity of my feelings for my father has been a constant in my life."

    and this:

    "I understood him a little bit more all the time the older I got."

    and the grace and unconditional love with this:

    "My father was surprised, and somewhat hurt. He didn’t see any of this my way at all. He had been just a guy doing the best he could. I shut my mouth and we each ordered another beer."

    anyhow, too often in our culture folks are not taught how to cope and "deal" with very important things in life – but boy – we have every student learning the periodic table of elements in middle school now – we have foreign language earlier and earlier – and even teach about safe sex – but too often people move through decades without getting some basics on interpersonal development, staying stable with emotions, and understanding familial relationships and adapting – etc.

    anyhow, the timing of this post is perfect because getting her some resources has been in the back of my mind – and this little transparent piece of yours is exactly something that I think will raise awareness for her about a few things – so thanks for it – and happy b-day to dear Frank and to what would have been his 78th….
    and hope you have a nice rest of your weekend


    • Thank you, Y, for your wise eye into my relationship with my dad and how I’ve handled it forever after. I hope that your friend can move into the unpacking stage, study the emotional contents, and make sense of how she must repackage all of this stuff for easy access the rest of her life. Feel free to link her to my post, and send her my email address if you think she’d like to correspond with me as a research friend because of a kindred history. Have a great Sunday, Y.


      • Hey thanks – well I only have her phone number and I also sense to go slow – real slow – and in my first opinion of her experience – it seems like this is all new to her – to deal with things – and so I want to be very careful with advice – and then of course I am sure there is more layered – but I do know that some of us have been working and coping and just have lived a life of processing and all that – but then others have put it off – and it seems like that is the case – and so I say three cheers for anyone that finally makes that move – but I also know to go slow – which is why post like this could be so potent – just one man’s sharing about his very real – and healthy – reflections on his relationship with his dad – ❤ – and you really touched my heart that you would offer to correspond with her – I will kep that in mind – but bless you for your giving heart – and I do not have to tell you this – but I will remind you – when you give and serve others like that – well it comes back to you with lots of richness – 🙂


      • You are smart wiith the soft touch for your friend, Y. Tread lightly, indeed. I am at your disposal, if needed. It does takes a village, after all, and I can tell you’d do the same for me and mine. ❤ 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • absolutely I would!! ❤ – and thanks again – also I need to tell you one more tidbit about march 13th – but that I am going to email to ya… just because of the people that harvest personal info from blogs and online sites –


  3. Wow, your dad sounds a lot like my granddaddy who raised me, and who also died at 67. Love or hate, or at times both, there’s a lot of emotion there. It sounds like you got the best parts of him. Happy Birthday, Mark’s Dad! ❤ (P.S. Check your Facebook… You knew I'd do it, didn't you?) 😉


  4. wow–you have stories! Yes, it all sounds complicated. That’s great you worked through the bad to get to the good. I don’t have overly complicated relationships with my parents, though I suppose there’s plenty below the surface. My mom worried too much (as do most moms) and my dad was more of a follower than a leader. Maybe the biggest issue was they raised my brother and I to be too serious. Though I have nothing but love and respect for the both of them. Doesn’t mean that I don’t try to parent differently (more relaxed, less worrying), though often I find myself doing what they would have done. Funny thing, parenting–both being one and and having them.


    • Being a parent makes one look at how you were parented, don’t you think, Liz? Taking stock of the do’s and don’ts, will’s and won’ts. Your comment that your parents raised you and your brother to be too serious is interesting. Your personality on WordPress is serious and playful, pleasingly so; either you’ve worked hard to make yourself as an adult, or they gave you a grander base than you realize, my friend. Just saying. Yes, I am full of stories. A good book-writing partner, some would say.


  5. this is a beautiful piece, mark. what a tribute to your father. even with all of his faults, you can to understand and love him for who he was and what he was capable of, in the end. i had a challenging relationship with my mother my entire life, and only in the very end was i able to forgive her and accept she did the best she could.


  6. Simply … beautiful.To those of us from that generation, the father-son scenario was always so complex, but so dominant in our DNA. My father passed at 55, which is flabbergasting to me now, and we never had the moment at the bar; he never had dinner at my house; never met my family. Heritage brought complications to the equation; the volatile times added more.


    • Thanks for stopping in to share your view, Doc. I’m sorry you didn’t get the sort of adult reconcilation that I had with my dad. It didn’t change what went down, of course, but it softened my views some. Have a good weekend. I miss our days of young guy discoveries at The P-S and around the ‘Cuse.


  7. Wonderful post Mark. Lost my dad a while back and miss him so much. I can totally relate to those mixed feelings as well. It took me a long time in adulthood to accept that my parents were just imperfect human beings doing their best with what they had.


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  9. What a brilliant, honest, poignant, loving, amazing post. Parenting and being parented is not always easy or perfect or ‘good’. But at the end of that process if you miss the one doing the parenting, and you’ve learned lessons, and you wish for more, and there are conversations you wish to have, and conversations you’re glad you had, and things you are grateful for, and things you are glad you are aware of because you learned to do/not do because of what you appreciated/didn’t appreciate…. You were lucky. Happy Your Dad’s Birthday Mark. ❤


    • I am aware of it, Mark, and you and I have hinted at the horrible nature of your relationship with your father and how you’ve never looked back. We do what we must, all of us. I’m sorry that your’s was so intolerable.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. You know, Mark, my husband came from an abusive home. His mother and father were drunks and there was a lot of violence and very little love. And yet my husband managed to be everything his father was not. He’s often said his father was a great example of how not to be. And I suspect on some small level you understand that fact too. We have our genes to cope with which might predetermine some behaviors, but we also have our free will and can overcome those tendencies. This was an honest and moving post. It’s not all Hallmark out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing this particular angle of life, Barbara. Your husband is a very wise and fortunate man to have taken away a valuable perspective from early horror, and to have walked the rest of his life with a partner who values what he’s become.

      No, Hallmark sometimes is fleeting, and we live our lives around those moments and make ourselves better for it. Thanks for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. A moving post, Mark…my dad lived to age 95 and taught me most things by example–helping others, working hard, things like that. Small talk was hard for him, and I wish I’d taken the time to talk to him more about his childhood, WW2 experiences, etc. Thanks for sharing your memories of your dad.


    • I’m glad you had a good, long time to watch your dad and learn, Ermigal. I’ve had a great time reading about that in your book and on your blog, by the way. And thank you for your kind words, too, my Syracuse blogging friend.


  12. Tears are flowing, Mr. B. What a powerful and raw post about your father and your relationship with him. It’s always complicated, isn’t it? Not unlike my relationship with my father who passed at the age of 62. We do understand more and more as we age even if we don’t agree with their ways. No matter the anguish, the anger, the confusion or the resentment, there is still love in our hearts for our parents. We can only hope that our children will love us regardless of our mistakes. Thanks for sharing. xo


    • Thank you for understanding what I mean with this post on this day, Mrs. B. It was not an easy story to write, but I feel better for sharing it. It sounds as if you have thought plenty about your relationship with your dad, too. Sorry to hear you lost him at such a young age, my friend.


  13. This is wonderful, Mark! I got a real sense of your father, your relationship with him, and the love. While he may have been difficult, the love comes across on both sides. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters… relationships are hard.

    On another note, I think I may have forgotten your enthusiasm for the Mets. You will be happy to know that when Heather B visits me, the Orioles game we are planning to see is an evening game against the Mets. Got good seats, too. Have an extra ticket – want to visit Baltimore?


  14. I’m grateful to my mum and dad that they always had a tendency to look on the bright side and find happiness – both of them lost their own father’s very young and both of them had tough times growing up and neither of them developed self pity.
    This is a great post – being parents so young – I can’t quite get my head around how that must have been.


  15. What a great post, Mark. An honest, candid look at your dad and his influence on you. I’ve always felt that one key to happiness is forgiving our parents for their failings, and living the best parts of them as we slog through this life. In most cases, moms and dads were doing the best they could. And your parents were so young! Well done, my friend.


  16. That sounds complicated and very similar to many relationships with fathers and sons. Most men I know are still trying to win their father’s approval, which makes it sound like it’s sure hard to come by. Certainly I would have felt bad, making onions for your dad, but how could your wife have known? It sounds like he enjoyed being upset or at least having something to complain about. I understand. It is a world of imperfect people. You seem to have none of those bad qualities, so perhaps it tipped you in the opposite direction, to have more compassion. It would be hard to be a parent at 20. Now how on earth did you graduate college at 19? That seems impossible.


  17. I can relate to a lot of this. While my issues were different, the wanting to see a different side because they are your parent is still there, no matter what. I know hindsight makes us able to view most things in the way they should be seen, but I don’t think that is ever true when it comes to parents. It does sound like you have come close to it though, acknowledging the differences in yours and your sisters’ experiences.

    Thinking of you today ((HUGS))


  18. I hold tons of negative feelings toward my mom but have not brought them up because I know that it will only bring her pain and I don’t think I would get much gain from the confrontation, even if it is to learn the truth of my existence, so to speak. Also, now that i am a mother I know we all try the hardest we can to do the best job being a parent, so I can only imagine how much it would hurt if my daughter ever confronted me about the things she thought I did wrong.

    I’m sorry you lost your dad 😦 Can’t imagine the grief. (HUGS)


    • Thanks, Cheney. When I talked to my father that day, it was less of a confrontation and more of a conversation, so he knew how I felt about behaviors and how they affected myself and my sisters. Oh, well. I understand what you are saying about your life in the present.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Scott. I like to read stories like this, too, because when you’re growing up, you think your family way is the only way. It’s an eye-opener when you discover the different dynamics, as you mention.


  19. *HUGS*! Mark, I love stories. And this one is so beautiful, so honest in a raw way – I feel like I just got to know you way better. Thanks for sharing something so personal. ❤
    Diana xo


  20. My Dad passes away 8 years ago at 75, He was a very humble man who had an intuitive understanding of people and life. He had to leave school at grade 7 to help support his brothers and sisters. He married my Mum at 24 and I was born the next year. He worked a lot and was a man of endless energy. Although we did not spend a lot of time together I always knew where he was and he would take me to work with him delivering bread or, in later years, supervising those who delivered bread. He worked full time and built us a house when I was 3 -5. i didn’t see him at all those years. He was always understated and quiet and he was a man of great integrity and honesty. He loved watching children read and write or just learning in general. In his later years he spent time driving a school bus and volunteering helping children. I never felt I knew him very well as he was quiet and unassuming. Despite his education and starting out sweeping the floors in a bakery, he worked his way up to be the General Manager running a division for a commercial bakery, with 500 employees in 4 provinces. He was known to his employees as being a very fair and honest manager who did his best for them while making the business successful. I often met his employees and they would follow him into hell if he asked.

    I regret not getting to know my Dad better and yet I am very proud of who he was and that he was my Dad. I took him for granted when I was growing up and figured everyone had a Dad like him.

    It is hard when you are growing up to see your parents as individuals as well as parents. My Dad was a good person who I wish I had taken the time to get to know better – i would be proud to have him as a friend.


    • I wish your dad, in turn, would have taken the time to get to know you better, too, Paul. He would be very proud of the way you turned out, I must say. You show many of the traits that you list as admiring in your dad as you grew up. Thanks for sharing your experience here, my friend.


  21. I think we all have a problem with a parent in one way or another. Mine was my strict Victorian mother. I rebelled against the control. I think one of the best times of my life was the day it hit me like a thunderbolt that she was human, doing the best she could without intention of destroying my life. From that day I accepted her for what she was and although she still tries to control it no longer worries me. I’m just glad to have her around as I know you’d like to have your Dad. A lovely honest tribute to your Dad. None of us are perfect.


  22. What a reflective post. I guess we have to accept both the good and the bad parts, as we do with ourselves. After all, nobody is perfect.I expect your dad would be very proud of who you are today.

    A great post, Mark. It got me thinking about my own father, who passed away coming up 5 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We are what our parents put into us in many ways, Amanda, if we properly watched and listened. Nobody is perfect, for sure, and that’s what makes life so interesting every day. I hope my dad would be proud. Thank you for saying that he would, my friend. I hope you get satisfaction reflecting on your relationship with your dad, and sorry for your loss five years ago. We always carry it with us.


  23. Dad’s lived with me last 13 years, mother too but she passed 3 years ago. He’s 91. I could not have asked for a better father. 4th grade education he but busted his butt to send me to college so I could make a living “with a pencil, not my back.” I regret the times I insulted him or broke his heart but he’s remained in my corner always. I love him.

    Liked by 1 person

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