There are a million things I could tell you about my late father. How strong, handsome, kind, honest and decent he was. How he adopted me and how I bear his name – though I’m certainly not worthy.
My father was born with almost white-blonde hair and took part in the U.S.-based Italian-Fascist pro-Mussolini Youth. Like my grandfather (named after the Holy Rosary), he somehow made it into the military. During the Korean War, he became an MP and practically invented the term “police brutality” fighting the bad guys. He was pulled off of a troop ship to become an MP at the 11th hour – because of his wife Viola’s prayers.
So off to Italy, Casablanca and Holland he and my mother went. She was gorgeous, like Queen Rania of Jordan (with green eyes), and everybody loved them as a couple.
The main thing about my parents was you wanted to be good while around them because they were so good. Films like “29th Street,” “The War” and “Frequency” reflected my relationship with my parents.
Viola and Anthony LoBaido
Totally non-materialistic, no less greedy a man ever lived. My dad collected a million dollars worth of 1930s and 1940s baseball cards, but someone stole them from my grandmother’s attic. His family also stole his inheritance. Yet he would smile and say, “I’m happy with what I’ve got – you, Carol-Donna (my sister) and mommy.”
My memories of him are limitless. To begin, his smell, reading me a story about a fire engine and killing mosquitoes in my room during the summers with a towel. I imagine him holding me in the shower as a little baby when I was turning blue with asthma and then going to work without sleep. Always my guardian angel.
I remember him reading his giant Catholic Bible with Jesus’ words highlighted in red.
I often had terrifying nightmares. One time I was so scared I ran into my parents’ bedroom and peed all over the floor. There was my endless sleepwalking. My dad would follow me into the den where I’d stare out at the Robert Moses Causeway through the huge glass doors.
When I was about 4, my father went to his Uncle John’s funeral. I slept by the front door because I thought if you went to a funeral that meant you were going to die.
Consider the first day my father took me to work with him as a carpenter. I was (again) about 4 and somehow managed to cut my hand open to the tune of ten stitches. My mother was ready to kill him! And then kill me after I sawed the living room couch in half that afternoon in protest. I so wanted to be like him in every way imaginable.
Our home rested on the Great South Bay of Long Island. It was idyllic – something out of “Huckleberry Finn.” We had ice skating in the winter, baseball and riding bikes all summer. My dad was our Little League coach, and we won the championship behind my pitching. Jon Matlack, the left-handed star of the New York Mets, was my idol. As fate would have it, his daughter Jennifer became my student at Texas A&M.
We’d stay up late and watch old “Twilight Zone” and “Stark Trek” episodes starring William Shatner. My favorite was “The City on the Edge of Forever” featuring a young Joan Collins. That tale involved a trip through an arch back to the 1930s that changed the world forever. It always reminded me of the Delicate Arch in Moab, Utah, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Mo.
My father seemed bigger than life in his favorite green sweater – telling me how he’d once seen the Aurora Borealis or about the World War II newsreels of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing. He was always building something amazing, delivering puppies or counseling us through hurricanes.
He had such strong faith. He could watch “The Exorcist” and then sleep like a baby.
He would often say, “Jesus is everything. Never forget that.”
We’d play ice hockey at Argyle Park, and when my hands froze he would put them under his armpit. On my 10th birthday, he took me to see the Long Island Ducks play, the team that inspired Paul Newman’s film “Slap Shot.”
My father worshipped my mother, and the only other woman he ever mentioned was Susan Anton (who served as the model for almost every girlfriend I’ve ever had). He never tired of teasing me that I was in love with Lindsey Wagner of “Bionic Woman” fame.
I remember when he dropped me off at the theater to see a Noah’s Ark documentary. When he came to pick me up, I said, “Daddy, it’s there! I will go and find it someday!”
I remember waiting for my father to come home from work in his paint clothes so we could have batting practice and I could pitch to him. I’d listen to the F-14 fighter jets and small propeller planes fly over from Grumman Aerospace. I played on a Sandy Koufax national championship team and had the highest batting average. My father could make anyone a ballplayer it seemed.
He was tough as nails. When I broke my ankle at baseball practice in high school, I still had to go a mile on crutches every day to the bus stop for three months. My father put extra padding on the crutches. That’s it.
Every night my father took me to the track to run at Babylon High School – then 500 sit-ups. When I caught a pass in the end zone at homecoming for our state championship team, St. John the Baptist, I remember looking into the big crowd and immediately seeing my father and mother.
“Way to go, Ant!” he shouted.
In the fall of 1999, I was hired as an international correspondent by WorldNetDaily.com. My father e-mailed me: “Wow, Thailand, campfires on the beach, cobras, stars … I wish I could be there!”
I eventually went to Turkey on assignment to look for Noah’s Ark – my lifelong dream. While hiking a mountain near Kazan looking for Noah’s anchors, I began to fall … but it seemed an angel caught me.
Soon afterwards my father emailed me: “As you know, I always tried to build our family an ark.” American society changed radically in the 1960s. However, in the 1970s my parents still gave me the 1950s, and I will always adore them for that.
Shortly after I went to Turkey and Denmark, my father e-mailed me again: “Come home. Can’t think. Your mother has liver cancer.”
I returned to the U.S. and catered to my parents’ every need and whim. On their 50th wedding anniversary, I made them a special breakfast. I cooked their favorites every night: fettuccini Alfredo, roast chicken and eggplant Parmesan.
On the night my mother died, May 22, 2002 (I swear this on my parent’s graves), I was doing the dishes. My mother was in a coma with the final stages of liver cancer.
And then all at once I felt her whispering in my ear. “Anthony, I’m going now. Come in the bedroom.”
I walked into my parents’ bedroom, and just as I reached her she took her last breath. Then my father went off to kidney dialysis. That’s the kind of rock he was. When he left, I had the ultimate thought: Jesus had to raise Lazarus because when He felt the pain of Lazarus’ sisters, it was too much for even the Son of God to bear.
When my father died four months later I missed being with him on his deathbed by 36 hours – this after flying all the way from Cape Town, South Africa. He had gone home to be with my mother, the other half of his soul. They were one in life and one in death.
I still think of them dancing, so young, good-looking and healthy on a special 8-mm reel of an engagement party I keep.
I sometimes think of sneaking up to my parent’s bedroom after my mother died and hearing my father saying, “Viola, when I was at work painting or playing baseball with Anthony, you were always with me. …”
They met at 14, married at 18 and never even kissed anyone else in all of those 50 years.
Believe it or not, my parents have appeared to me five times as angels over the past four years – twice in Belize, then in Cape Town, at Volcan Pecaya in Guatemala, and then just last November in Branson, Mo.
Sometimes, it’s as though I can actually hear my father saying: “I know when something’s wrong … you’re my son.”
And also: “You’ll never know how much I love you until you have a son of your own.”
Someday when I have a little boy, you know what I’ll name him – as the closing lyrics of “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics seem to have been written just for us:
I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away.
I didn’t get to tell him all the things I had to say …
I think I caught his spirit, later that same year.
I’m sure I heard his echo in my baby’s newborn tears.
I just wish I could have told him in the living years.
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