Category Archives: Father’s Day

Solstice of Midsummer

Busy week! Bloomsday last Tuesday, Juneteenth yesterday, and now here comes the Midsummer solstice this evening of the 20th. It is the moment when the sun reaches its zenith at the Tropic of Capricorn, and this time around, it occurs at 5:44 PM Eastern Daylight Time. More or less––the precise moment will depend upon where you’re at within your time zone. But you get the general idea. It brings the arrival of summer by the almanac, though in traditional circles we think of this as midsummer, for once this moment passes, already the days are beginning to decrease in daylight, and in the constant rearrange––each day being slightly different than the one before and the one to follow––we are on the way now toward winter.

The calendar will continue to be busy. In Sweden and other Arctic countries, it is the annual Midsommar celebration. Here in the States, it is Father’s Day on Sunday. And the celebration of Midsummer in other places is set around St. John’s Eve on June 23 and St. John’s Day on June 24, celebrations you might think of as opposite sides of the coin from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact, the early Church assigned the birth of Christ to the days that follow the Midwinter solstice, and the birth of St. John the Baptist to the days that follow the Midsummer solstice. This was done by design: Christ is depicted as the Light of the World, coming in the darkness of Midwinter. Legendary magic attends both: at midnight on Christmas Eve, animals are said to speak or kneel and pray, and St. John’s Eve is the setting for William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Some will say it’s set at May Day, but I would disagree, and so would Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which is currently closed due to Covid-19 quarantine, yet streaming for free, online, until June 28th, its 2013 production of the A Midsummer Night’s Dream… the photo above is a promotional shot from the play (and please join me in making a donation there, if you can, in exchange for the performance––the Globe operates thanks to the support of those who visit, and right now, no one is visiting).

Glad Midsommar to you, solstice greetings. A very happy Father’s Day to all our fathers––those that were given to us and those that we’ve chosen. My dad, he used to joke about it, calling it Jack Ass Day, a habit he picked up from his own dad, my grandfather, Lazzaro Cutrone. I never got to meet that grandpa––he died long before I was born. I think of that sometimes. I see pictures, and a few home movies, and he looks like a great guy. I think about the children of my nephews: how they all knew my dad, their great grandfather, and that makes me happy. And then I get to wondering about the great celestial workings: our planet spinning on its axis, orbiting the sun, the sun spinning as well, the Milky Way spinning, too, in the even greater mechanics of the expanding universe. Sometimes it makes my head hurt, and sometimes I have a fleeting grasp that it’s all connected: you and me, the people we love, the planets and stars to the edge of the universe, and even the parallel ones, as well.

If I can, I’ll write again come St. John’s Eve. Happy Midsummer.

 

Sliding into Second

It’s Father’s Day. I was so lucky as a boy to have both Mom & Dad and Grandma & Grandpa––my mom’s parents––all in the family home. This is the way of my people. We Italians don’t disperse well; we gather: we gather for a good meal, we gather as a family, and we don’t strike out on our own so much as bring others into our fold. My husband Seth, God bless him: he knew soon after he met me, some twenty odd years ago, that he was getting not just me but my whole family, too: an entire clan. He seems to like this, but it’s no wonder: his grandmother was Italian, too. She married and became Emily Winter––a name that could belong to any good Daughter of the American Revolution––but her birth name was Tomassina Emilia Vacca, which is about as Italian as you can get.

And so it is that when I was a boy I had two fathers at home to celebrate each Father’s Day––my dad and my grandpa––which was pretty wonderful. There were plenty of others we celebrated, as well, for in my family we think of many people as family… not just mothers and fathers and blood relations but even friends of the family. Two years after my grandparents arrived in this country, their second daughter––my mother––was born. My grandmother, nine months pregnant, knew the baby was about to arrive, but when the doctor came, he told her she was wrong and he packed up his medical bag and went on his way… but a few minutes later Grandma went into labor and it was the next door neighbor, Philomena, who delivered the baby. And so all her life, my mother called her Mamam, for she was like another mother. Mamam had children, too. There was Josephine, and Nicky, and Frank, and there was Benny, who would bring me a toy every time he came to visit. We called him Uncle Benny. He would do things like throw pennies on the floor because he didn’t like them in his pockets, or put his little Pekingese dog in my playpen with me, or see my Aunt Anne & Uncle Joe off on their road trip back home to Chicago by getting in the backseat of their car and then hopping on a train back to Brooklyn once he knew they had reached their destination safely. I don’t think he even stayed for coffee.

When his wife Phyllis gave birth to their second son, Johnny, Uncle Benny decided he would ask Joe DiMaggio to be the godfather. Not that he knew Joe DiMaggio. But I guess Uncle Benny really liked Joe DiMaggio. He wanted to name the kid Joe, in honor of ol’ Joltin’ Joe, the Yankee Clipper, but Phyllis insisted they name him after her father, and he went along with that, Benny did. But he decided he wanted things his way with the baptism, and so on the 12th of June, 1948, during the 6th inning of the Yankees game at home in New York (Yankees vs. Cleveland), with the Yanks defending the field, Uncle Benny scrambled down from the stands at Yankee Stadium and and ran out to Center Field to ask Joe DiMaggio if he would be his son’s godfather. There are a bunch of newspaper clippings in the family scrapbook about this event, which made the New York Daily News, a sort of Keystone Kops adventure on the field, as Uncle Benny rushes to chat with Joe, is pursued by cops and umpires, then slides into second base before being apprehended and taken off to Bellevue Hospital. One headline reads: Nabbed but It Took 4 Cops and Ump. All the newspaper stories say that the perpetrator wanted Joe DiMaggio’s autograph. But we know better. Uncle Benny was family, after all.

Uncle Benny’s antics make for some of our family’s best stories, and my dad was one of the best tellers of Uncle Benny tales––all of which are true, even though they seem too fantastic to be so. Even generations who never met him, like my nephews, know the stories. They are legendary family lore. If we are lucky––and I know that I am––these are some of the best things we get from our fathers and our families. Happy Father’s Day.

 

Photos: Here is Uncle Benny asking Joe DiMaggio if he’d be godfather to his new son. Joe declined, but at least gave Uncle Benny an audience. Above: That’s Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto slapping his knee as Uncle Benny slides into second base at the foot of umpire Cal Hubbard. Behind him, one of four cops in pursuit. Photo clippings from the New York Daily News, June 13, 1948.

The 16th of June also brings each year Bloomsday, a literary holiday based on the novel Ulysses by James Joyce. Click here for last year’s June 16 Convivio Book of Days chapter about Bloomsday.

 

Monte. John Monte.

I couldn’t tell you why, but my dad had a pseudonym that he used for things like dinner reservations or those occasions when you’d get to a restaurant and have to wait for a table. “It’ll be about 20 minutes. Name please?” “Monte,” he’d say, sometimes adding on, “John Monte.” Where the name came from I have no idea, and why he needed it is anyone’s guess, too. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that “Cutrone” is sometimes not an easy name for folks to spell here in the States, so that might be the reason, or it may have had something to do with a calculated disassociation from a more infamous John Cutrone, a Mafioso in Brooklyn who met his untimely end in 1976. Whatever the reason, like an actor or sports star attempting to throw off the paparazzi so he could just have a quiet meal, it was accepted fact that when we went to a restaurant, my dad, the auto mechanic from Valley Stream, was John Monte.

I think about that sometimes when I make dinner reservations or call in to order a pizza. I half expect the name “Monte” to come out of my mouth someday, as I become more and more like my dad as the years pass. A good example: telephones. I hate calling people on the phone and I greet incoming calls with suspicion. This was my dad, too. To this day, my mom calls people up, just to chat. Dad, on the other hand, would announce whenever the phone would ring, “I’m not home.” Back then phones had no caller ID; they just rang and you picked up the receiver and said hello and if it was you who picked up the phone and if the person at the other end of the phone line asked for Mr. Cutrone or for your dad and if you caved, if you said, “Hold on a minute,” and motioned to him, Dad would glare at you and then after he got off the phone he’d give you hell. No one ever just called to chat with Dad; they called because they wanted him to help them do something, like fix a roof or move a wall. It’s no wonder he disliked the phone.

Dad worked up until he was almost 90. We worked at the same university, and sometimes I’d call his extension, usually because I needed something, and sometimes just to say hello. I’d dial 7-2295, and if he didn’t pick up in two rings, I knew he wasn’t at his desk. But when he did pick up, he’d answer with a somewhat singsongy hello, where the first syllable went up as the second syllable went lower. And then I’d say hello, and then he’d say what he always said when we were at work: “Hi guy.” He never said this at home, just at work. It’s what he said to all the guys who worked with him, and at work, I was just one of the guys. The guys who worked with him thought he was in his 60s, maybe 70s. He certainly did not look like he was 89. It was probably a decade or two that Dad would tell his fellow workers, if they asked how old he was, that he was 65. Sometimes that’s just how Dad was. He’d tell you what he thought you wanted to hear. That he was 65. That he felt fine. That his name was John Monte.

It’s our second Father’s Day without him. Days like Father’s Day are never easy when your dad is no longer here to wish a happy Father’s Day to. But we’ll gather all the same, my mom and my sister and Seth and me, and we will eat together. At the table, I will sit in Dad’s seat, because this is what I do now. I’ve done it since the day he died, and it felt odd then, and sometimes still does, but I know I am meant to sit there, and that I am meant to remind everyone that whenever we wished Dad a happy Father’s Day he’d always reply, “You mean Jack Ass Day,” and we will laugh. This year will be not as bad as the year before. Each year, some measure of sadness is replaced by a greater measure of… not sadness.

In Italy, Father’s Day is celebrated on the 19th of March: St. Joseph’s Day, and there is something particularly beautiful about that, as we celebrate a saint who cared for his family, protected them, provided for them, taught his son good, practical things. It is a perfectly logical day to celebrate all fathers, those we were given and those we have chosen. It certainly was the model that my dad followed. Perhaps if we celebrated on that day, too, when we wished Dad a happy Father’s Day, he would have simply said, “Thanks.”

That’s my dad and me at the Photobooth at Nunley’s Amusement Park in Baldwin, New York, probably about 1967 or 1968.