Kensington dads, in my era, came in all flavors. Some drank too much, others were overbearing, and some ignored their kids. Most dads, however, did their best to protect, provide, and set a good example for their children. They weren’t perfect, but who is? We are all human and fallible, after all.
During the nineteen forties and fifties, when I was a kid, most people in Kensington were of Irish, Scottish, English, German, or Northern European descent. There must have been a kind of strange traditional “rule” that British Isle and Northern European men not kiss or hug their sons. Daughters were okay, but the son’s when they reached a certain age were treated differently. Italians, on the other hand, seemed to have no problem with kissing their sons.
I cannot remember one time where my dad kissed or hugged me. When I went off to the military, he shook my hand. When I came home on leave or for good when discharged, he shook my hand. I thought nothing of it. To me, it was normal, and I did the same with my son, although I wish I hadn’t.
Dad showed his love in other ways. He spent many hours teaching me how to drive, took me for the test, and then never let me use his car again. 😊 When I was about eight years old, I visited him after school every day in his poolroom. If he weren’t busy, he would teach my brother and me how to play pool, or he would show us his many trick pool shots.
My dad was ritualistic, and he liked to do the same thing, the same way with almost everything. For instance, he used the same bowl for his morning oatmeal, then cleaned it after he finished and put it away safely, so no one else used it. Another ritual was our Sunday trips downtown.
Every Sunday, dad would load my brother and me in his Hudson car, and we would visit one of Philadelphia’s many cultural locations. Over the years, we made numerous visits to the Franklin Institute, the Rodin Museum, The Art Museum, The Natural History Museum, the Japanese Gardens, Independence Hall, the small Aquarium on the Schuylkill River, and wherever else he could find.
After we were exposed to the cultural offerings of Philly, dad took us downtown, where we always went to Horn and Hardart’s first. Pie and coffee were our go-to foods. H and H was a fun place for kids. Put a nickel in the slot and open the door to get a piece of apple pie. What could be better? Next on dad’s mental list was a visit to the arcade on Market Street. He gave us each a handful of nickels, and we played whatever pinball machines we wanted. Once in a while, he would show us his skill in being able to put the ball exactly where he wanted it to go. I guess his proficiency at playing pool helped him be a good pinball player as well.
My dad was a kind of movieholic. He loved the flicks, and that was the main event of the day. We saw movies at the Boyd, Fox, and Goldman Theaters, but there were many others on Chestnut and Market Streets. We saw every kind of movie. Dad liked all genres.
Before we went to the movie, we always went to the Nut House to buy candy. I used to like those mixed licorice candies. Dad had one rule at the movie theater. All candy must be consumed before the movie started. He didn’t like the noise of eating while watching the film.
When the movie was over, we got back in the Hudson and took Fifth Street back to Allegheny Avenue. Then on to Howard and Wishart Streets. Mom and my grandmother always had a roast beef or pork meal ready. Dad liked fruit for dessert, and I remember we often had the fruit cocktail that came in a can. He also favored fruit pies. I think he believed the fruit was more healthy even though it was full of added sugar.
In nineteen eighty-two, I moved to Atlanta for business, and my family visited a few times. It was always a great time, and I tried to do fun things with them. During a 1986 visit, I found a poolroom in suburban Atlanta, and my brother-in-law, my dad, and I went to play a game or two. It was fun to see my now 77-year-old dad could still play a mean game of pool. We had no chance of winning.
The evening after we played pool, and we were all tucked away asleep, I heard my mother yelling for us. I ran to the room, and dad was on the floor. I gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation, while my brother-in-law pumped his heart. The ambulance came, and we followed it to the hospital. I already knew the outcome before the doctor came to inform us. The next day we sent dad for his first trip on an airplane, back to Philly, where we buried him at Resurrection Cemetery in Ben Salem.
Every Father’s Day since then, I have ordered flowers to be placed on his grave, as I do for my mom on Mother’s Day. When I’m in Philly and visit his grave, I always take a piece of fruit pie or a cake with fruit on it for him.
Happy Father’s Day Dad, and to all the Kensington dads, still with us or playing pool with my dad in the beyond.
Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.
To hear the audio version of this article visit https://mercyrow.com/blogs/podcasts-audio-frm-philly-tales/kensington-dads