Thirty years ago, my dad's life was gone without a moment's notice. He was 51 years old at the time. Today is his 80th Birthday!
My Dad - Michael J. Hart - the son of Felicia & Michael Hart was born in Bayonne, NJ on September 29th, 1933. He graduated from St. Peter's Prep High School in Jersey City where he excelled in academics & sports. He married my mother Cecilia (Sharkey) Hart at age 19.
They had nine children: Michael, Colleen, Jimmy, Sean, Tish (that's me - #5!), Kevin (our brother born on 10/22/59 who passed away on 10/24/59), then along came Kathy, Maggie, & Brendan to complete our family.
At the time of his unexpected death, Dad served as a Section Chief for the NJ Turnpike Authority where he had worked for 26 years. For three decades, he was a respected sports official - referee and umpire - who loved officiating football, basketball & baseball games for the Shore Conference during any season.
He was joined by other incredible men and local dads - close friends all - who could transform the lessons of determination, courage, and iron will on the playing field to lessons young athletes would carry with them for the rest of their lives.
"The Fab Five" or "Peterson's Riviera Posse" as we affectionately dubbed them - especially on Thanksgiving Day - included Bob Bratton, Chris Brusgard, Mac Sutherland, Hal Clayton, Joe "Rad" and their young dashing apprentice Angelo Frangione.
When we moved to the Jersey Shore in 1959, our 1st home was across the street & in the shadow of the mighty Pt. Pleasant Elks on Arnold Avenue. Dad became a member of this club where people still gather fifty years later to help others - especially kids & the disabled. He signed up to be a Pop Warner Football coach in the 1960's and the rest is local history...
For a man gone-too-soon, he had accomplished a lot...
Ceremony and tradition collided with pain and shock in the weeks following June 13, 1984 - the day Dad died as a result of a car accident. But oh my gosh! Nothing could prepare my family for what happened next! The people, they came... from everywhere & by the thousands leaving our family feeling so embraced but utterly speechless at times.
Thirty years later, every face who honored my dad with their presence is still etched in my mind as a reminder of how wonderful the communities that had touched dad's life really were. I found the resolve to move forward thanks to the support and love of many.
As years passed, I never lost sight of the fact that there had been no shortage of town fathers to watch out of my peripheral vision when I missed my own dad and/or needed examples on how to keep my strength, courage, discipline, spirits or sense of humor high.
I knew that within my reach to watch were incredible men like Don Fioretti, Bob Bratton, Hal Clayton, Eugene Ward, the gentle giant of Forman Avenue "Poppa Tom" Jordan, Havard Lee, Marino Palisi, Mr. Monaghan Sr., Fred Adams, Rod Smith, Bob Hoffman Sr., Jack Baker, Mr. Risden, Don Clark, Stoner Estelle, in the later years family friends like Charlie Brady and others... all solid civic-minded giants from all walks-of-life.
What I learned from all of this is that there is significant inspiration everywhere if you just look for it. You didn't have to live in the first circles of their families and friends to know these men served our communities & country, educated generations of our families by example, in the classroom, at the firehouse, at the Elks, on ball fields everywhere, and at their businesses.
These awesome men built and ran our firehouses & local businesses; coached our children; ran our police department; presided over our schools; recruited extraordinary people who could follow their lead, taught young men & women about the rules of the game, and engaged in endless volunteer activities that always helped people.
For Dad's 80th Birthday, it's also so important to celebrate all my amazing uncles who kept me connected to Dad's memory by simply being themselves!
Forever in my heart is Chris Brusgard - Aunt Mary's husband, father-to-7 more glorious cousins, one of Dad's best friends - who walked me down the aisle on my wedding day 27 years ago this month; and Everybody's "Uncle Wally" - Walter Gunsiorowski - Mom's only brother-in-law and Aunt Mary's husband - whose love of family, country, coupons, yard sales & the Old Guard had no bounds.
To this day, I enjoy a special bond with Uncle Dan Sharkey - Mom's brother, Aunt Margie's husband, hard working oil man, father-of-eight and our family's honorable Marine - who never told us until fifteen years ago that he was at the Choisin Reservoir during the Korean War; don't forget "Tis Himself" 89-year old John Conaghan - my Mom's eldest 1st cousin, Aunt Nonnie's husband & our family's oldest living patriarch & one of my best friends - who taught me how to live with the music of a fiddle-in-my-heart; and finally fond memories are always reserved for former #1 NY Giants Fan Uncle Bruce Hart - Aunt Maureen's husband, Dad's only brother & my beloved godfather - he was our family's "Emeril Lagasse - Chef Extraordinaire" who literally announced the birth of my son Scott to the world using a giant billboard on Route 88! LOL!
The devotion & commitment of all these men to the issues they cared about and to the people who were important to them lasted upwards to 35-&-40 years at a clip. Some examples in life do not get better than this...
My dad had a life-interrupted but while he was here he enjoyed great friends and communities that appreciated him... I wrote this Blog Post to say thank you to all of you on Mickey Hart's 80th Birthday!
Your wonderful presence in my life while Dad was living and the remarkable opportunities I've had to learn from you during the past 30 years of Dad's absence made a big difference in my life and in the lives of my kids & our giant extended family.
I'm humbled and grateful. I honor all of you and your families on this special day.
With Utmost Respect & Love,
A song for my Dad on his birthday:
"If I could get another chance, another walk, another dance with him
I'd play a song that would never, ever end
How I'd love, love, love
To dance with my father again
Thirty years ago... "Never dreamed that he would be gone from me"
"If I could steal one final glance, one final step, one final dance with him
I'd play a song that would never, ever end
Cause I'd love, love, love
To dance with my father again"
Happy Birthday Dad!
Always missed; never forgotten
I love you.
Your Tisha xo
*Lyrics by Luther Van Dross - from "Dance with My Father Again"