My Dad was also a loving husband of thirty-eight years to Sarah, and a fantastic grandfather to my son and possibly most favored uncle to a long line of nieces and nephews. A highly cherished brother-in-law to sisters and husbands, and a very loved son-in-law to the very sweet couple who created this wonderful family almost three-quarters of a century ago.
There are many other individuals that openly claim kinship of one form or another - the kind that no one can fully define but we always love them anyway because they bring to the table that irreplaceable richness and warmth of what it means to be family (first cousins once removed, second cousins three times removed, great aunts and greater uncles, various adopted animals and found stray pets, and a group of unrelated but very special folks - good neighbors who aspire to being much more than that, former apartment roommates who become something more like siblings, and even people from far away lands who are received with open arms (and probably had never imagined such chaos as this). And finally, a peculiar and sometimes questionable group of in-laws, a small band of bearded men seen wandering around suburban backyards with smoking barbecue pits or maybe the occasional campsite or a beach wearing cut-off shorts, grubby T-shirts, canvas tennis shoes and yes – those awkward black socks – these are the real "Outlaws". Genuine in spirit, steadfast in their ways, these five men - The Dads - were incredibly special people.
My Dad was an Outlaw (one of the original five) and was very proud to wear this badge of honor. I don't remember exactly when the first run of custom printed "We Are Family" T-shirts were made (yellow shirt, blue letters), or who came up with the idea in the first place, but this is how I imagine the story unfolding.
One hot summer afternoon in the late 1970's, a large bunch of jolly people were partying it up in the kitchens and open air back porches of one venerable albeit slightly worn three-flat apartment building somewhere on the Northside of Chicago - close enough to Wrigley to hear the occasional pop of a baseball being smacked out of the park and onto Sheffield and then the colossal yet dull roar of thousands of fans celebrating another Dave "King Kong" Kingman home run. Or, maybe the throaty bellowing of Harry Caray singing it like nobody else could for the seventh inning stretch. Side note – if there ever was a more tried and true Chicago Cubs fan, it was my Dad - he weathered those long painful years of no big victories, decade after decade. So, when the 2016 World Series happened, my Dad was more than overjoyed.
In the small fenced in backyard below these kitchens and porches were throngs of uncontrollably happy sugared-up children, some not exactly accounted for but still well loved, running around and screaming at the top of their lungs, showing off scraped up knees and Kool-Aid stains on their shirts. Hungry dogs trailing behind kids, snapping up abandoned hot dog scraps and goopy half-eaten ice cream sandwiches. Up on the deck, piles of sizzling barbecued chicken and ribs smoking on the grill, Uncle Henry's wonderfully uncomplicated yet sublime potato salad that nobody else on this planet will ever even try to recreate because that's just not possible, cases of ice cold canned beer in old aluminum coolers (Old Style, Miller, Schlitz, and maybe a six pack or two of something high end - Heineken or better yet, Special Export).
And then, that famous late 70's mega hit playing on the radio by Sister Sledge.
Taking all of this in from the third floor deck with an enormous wonderful grin on his face, a plate full of chicken and ribs, and a cold beer in hand was my Dad.
Love you Dad.