Friday, June 17, 2011
This column is a Father's Day present for John Mullarkey of Albany from his nine children, 20 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
It all started when I got an email from his youngest daughter, Elaine.
"I'm sure you receive many letters about people of greatness," she wrote. "Well, my father fits that description. I have attended so many funerals this past year, and I have learned so much about people after they are no longer here. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to learn more about a person before their obituary is printed?' I would like to celebrate my father before that time."
I was intrigued, so I went to visit her dad. And he's even more impressive than advertised.
He quit high school at age 17 to join the Navy after Pearl Harbor, leaving his childhood sweetheart, Agnes Correia, behind. They wrote each other every day.
He served on the USS Hornet in the South Pacific. Then he came home, married Agnes, and worked his tail off as an electrician to support their growing family.
For an extremely humble man, he's proud of a lot of things: proud of serving in the Navy, proud of being Catholic - he's one of the pillars of St. Ambrose Church, doing everything from serving on parish committees to sweeping the floors - and proud of being a member of Local 595 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for more than 50 years.
"He can recount stories about every job he ever worked on, including the names of the electricians he worked with," says his son, Tom. "He always felt best about helping the women and minority workers. He grew up on the tough side of town, and he has a soft spot for the less fortunate."
Most of all, he's proud of his family, bragging about them every chance he gets.
"One of Dad's greatest qualities is the fact that he does not judge any of us," says his daughter, Cathy. "He tries to be constructive and helpful instead of critical."
A few years ago, he found out that one of his grandchildren is gay. His response was to burst into tears - not because the child is gay, but because of what the poor kid must have suffered from the social stigma.
He and Agnes - an extraordinary person in her own right - were married for 63 years until she died last year.
His kids make sure he's not alone. At least twice a week he has dinner with one of them. After everything he's done for them, they consider it a privilege do a little for him.
Every morning he picks up his granddaughter, Jillian, 9, and takes her to school. Then he gets his daily visit from Jillian's little sister, Callie, 20 months. He reads to her from her favorite book, "Humpty Dumpty," and they play together. She bosses him around, and he eats it up.
After he and Callie have lunch together, he goes to Casper's Hot Dogs on San Pablo Avenue and shoots the breeze with some longtime buddies. Then he spends the rest of the day visiting shut-ins on missions of mercy.
He's the salt of the earth, the kind of person who made America great. Happy Father's Day to him - and to all you other good dads, too.