In a few short days the next major “Hallmark Holiday”, Father’s Day, will be upon us. And like Mother’s Day it gets us all talking about and honoring our fathers. So even though every day should be Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Children’s Day, its good every once in a while to stop and reflect on one of your parents.
My father was born Edward Joseph Drabik to Rose and Joseph Drabik on September 26, 1915. He was of Polish decent and like my mother came from a very humble background. He was the second of four children. His parents made their living by owning and running a small neighborhood grocery store on the South Side of Chicago. Back in those days the big grocery store chains were not as prevalent and neighborhoods quite often had two or three small independently owned stores within walking distance of several homes. These stores as well as the local taverns were the hubs of the neighborhoods.
Joseph died when my father was 10 years old leaving my grandmother Rose to raise three children on her own. The fourth child would come from a second marriage later in life. Being a woman and solely brining up three children in those days was very difficult. Money was very tight, so tight in fact that when my grandmother was “approached” by one of Al Capone’s men, Frank Nitty, to sell illegal alcohol in her store she agreed. I say “approached” because as a woman on her own there was no saying no to Al’s men – the consequences could have been enormous.
My father told me that one week my grandmother did not make her sales quota and when Nitty came to collect she was not able to give him the money he was owed. She was terrified and cried hysterically to him, telling him about the challenges of trying to bring up three children with no husband, working long hours plus having to make the sales quotas. Nitty was not pleased but gave her a pass and as he left handed her $50 free and clear to help with the children. I’m not so sure the mobsters in those days were all bad.
My dad was a very simple man who grew up with very traditional values. In his mind men had certain roles to fulfill and so did women. I will never forget the day he told me that he had never in his life done laundry. I was flabbergasted – I couldn’t believe it. But, as he said, he went from his mother’s house to married life and doing the laundry was always the woman’s job. I just had to shake my head.
My dad took his role as head of the household and provider very seriously. He always wanted to make sure we had what we needed and then some, probably to the point of spoiling us and especially me his only daughter. He also had a bit of a temper that was exacerbated when he drank. Thankfully he eventually gave up the booze. But I always knew he was there for me even when he did not understand me, my way of thinking or even my beliefs.
Both of my parents were devout Catholics. When my husband and I decided to get married we opted not to do so in the Catholic Church since he was a divorced Catholic and I did not believe in “buying” and annulment. My mother was furious with me. One day on the phone she told me that if I was not going to get married in the Catholic Church that she would not be part of the wedding. The conversation was very tense and it did not end in a good place. I found out later that after we had hung up my dad sat down with my mother and talked to her. He told her that he was not happy about our decision either but he asked my mother if it was worth losing a daughter over. My mother was not an easy person to sway especially when it came down to her religious beliefs, but by the influence of my father she gave in, called back and said she would support us and our decision. He was truly a man of unconditional love. I never realized how amazing that was at the time but I do now.
My dad’s last days were very tragic. He fell in his home and became quadriplegic. For 18 months he was relegated to the fate of being a live head on a dead body. He did not deserve that and I was relieved for him when he passed away. Always having been a very active man who loved to dance and play baseball, being quadriplegic was the worse thing imaginable for him. I knew he had suffered his hell on earth. One day after his death my mom handed me his wallet and told me to open it. I looked inside and saw all the usual suspects, credit cards, drivers license, insurance card, etc. But when I opened the billfold area I got the surprise of my life. There in the billfold area was a picture of me as a baby. My mom said she never knew that all this time he was carrying that around in his wallet. On the back of the picture in his writing were the words, My Precious Nannie (his nickname for me when I was a child). My mom said she felt the picture symbolized how he always had me with him and that I was always in his heart. I cried like a baby.
So, on this Father’s Day, I would like to honor my father, Edward Joseph Drabik. You were my rock, my safety net, my dancing partner, my mentor and probably the most Christian person I have ever known. I love you and I miss you terribly, Daddy but I feel your love every day. I am honored and humbled to be your precious Nannie!