Sure, we have those special days – those “Hallmark moments” – to observe special events. Yet, for many baby boomers, like New Yorker Jane Paznik-Bondarin, we have started remembering year-around those who have influenced and enriched our lives. Jane recalls her father, Sam Paznik.
I usually write about my father on St. Patrick’s Day, odd since his name was Sam, and we have no Irish ancestors. But he took his first step onto American soil on St. Patrick’s Day, 1915, age four, greeted by a parade after having been quarantined on Ellis Island until doctors determined that the missing digit on my grandmother’s finger resulted from injury not leprosy. Told by his mother that the celebration was in their honor, he continued all his life to mark St. Patrick’s Day as his own, wearing a Shamrock and eating (kosher) corned beef and cabbage.
I miss my father on Father’s Day only in the abstract. I loved him in the unreflecting way we love parents who were good, honest people who didn’t “get” us. We were not much alike: He was a natural athlete while I was bookish and physically awkward; he was a raconteur who thrived on knowing people while I was quiet and standoffish.
We didn’t spend time together, but one day stands out in memory — the day he took me to register to vote. He stayed home from work but appeared in the kitchen in a suit and tie. We drove to an office building in a part of Queens I’d never been to and waited on plastic chairs. He was uncharacteristically quiet in room full of strangers. When I was called to the counter, he rose with me as I surrendered my birth certificate for inspection. As I filled out the required paperwork, he leaned down and said into my ear, “This is the most important day of your life.”
Really, Pop? It was 1964, I was eighteen, a sophomore in college. Although enmeshed in the campus civil rights movement, I was also besotted by a handsome classmate named Chuck. “Today you assume the responsibility of being an American,” my father continued, and the man on the other side of the counter nodded his approval. “Voting is not a privilege, it’s a duty you are required to fulfill every year. Remember that.” The man on the other side of the counter nodded again.
I do, and I have. So far. Voted, that is, every year, and when I do, my dad is beside me. He loved this country with the loyalty of the immigrant boy seeing his first parade. He listened to my lefty political ranting from the 60s until he died in 1991 and then reminded me there “is no place better.”
In a few months the spirit of my father will impel me into a voting booth, despite deep misgivings about the culture’s drift. This Father’s Day I miss my dad more than ever and need him to help me recapture the faith in the country he so loved.