In her Words
Understanding my Father
It’s never too late to talk
By: Jenny M. Montalbano
During a rare walk to the grocery store when I was 6, my dad did something he had never done before nor would ever do again: He held my hand as we crossed the street.
My father never paid much attention to me, other than berating me for sucking my thumb past age 3, interrogating and punishing me for eating something he had wanted or reprimanding me for talking too loud.
Even a carefree frolic in our small aboveground pool would be silenced by his vocal tirades, yelling at my sisters and me if we accidentally splashed water on his beloved tomato plants. His consistent “no” to any question I asked, whether I wanted money for the movies or to use the house phone, trained me to stop asking.
In my teenage years, I realized baseball was the one event that lightened his demeanor. I began to watch the Mets games on channel 9 alongside him, trying to learn the players’ names and understand a bunt from a pop-up. My father’s disregard for my memorized statistics taught me that the game was more important than anything I had to say.
At 22, I married my first boyfriend and happily moved out. On weekends, I would go back home to see my parents, but my father’s complaints about everything from my leaving the front door unlocked to not turning off a light prompted fewer visits.
During my 20s, I began to grasp the severity of my father’s alcoholism, depression and emphysema. Through the years, his illnesses brought on a barrage of ambulance calls and revolving hospital stays. Worse yet were the numerous medications that transformed his personality into a roller coaster of manic-depressive emotions.
Shortly after New Year’s Day 2001, Mom called to say my father was hospitalized yet again. The urgency in her voice when she requested that I call him moved me to do so right away.
When he answered the phone, his voice was sad. Instead of rattling off complaints over hospital food and too few visitors, Dad asked about my new job, which prompted me to talk about my recent divorce and the Mets’ chances of winning the pennant that year. Our conversation flowed, and I didn’t want it to end. But Dad was tired, so he thanked me for calling. And I promised to visit.
When I do, I walk quietly toward him with the whisper of “Hi, Dad” and the sign of the cross. An “Our Father” plays through my head as I fixate on the hollowed-out letters etched in granite: Joseph A. Montalbano 1/19/29 – 1/10/01.
As I brush away the wind-spread remnants of petals, twigs and ribbons from his grave, I talk to Dad about my pressures at work, new Internet dates and how the Mets just might win the pennant this year.