My father, Frank N. De Marco, died on Tuesday, July 26, at his home in Ormond Beach, Fla. He was 80. I had the honor of being with him, when he closed his eyes in this life and opened them in his new life to behold the face of God.
It’s been a surreal circle of life for me this summer. On June 15 I welcomed my second baby girl, Olivia, into the world, and some 40 days later said goodbye to my father for the time being.
I wasn’t ready to let him go. We’d known for a while that because of certain health issues my Dad was moving toward a season of winter in his life, and yet his passing still seemed to strike us like an early frost. It’s been very surreal, this void in my parents’ house and in our lives. We are so happy that he is at peace, and yet we’re sad for us who remain behind on this journey.
The celebration of my Dad’s life that followed across the next several days was amazing. Family, friends, colleagues and even casual associates poured out their hearts and appreciation. He had touched so many people through his humor, compassion, good advice, positive thinking and demeanor. Truly he was as successful in life as any man could have been; not because of what he accomplished or how much money he made but because of the great things he invested in people. Things that can never be taken away.
For me, he was my hero, my rock, my role model, my quiet reassurance during the storms of life. I have so many memories of him. I was his youngest child, the last of four, and am mourning that he will not be here to enjoy the growth of my two little girls. But I also feel that I was a part of the best years of his life, his most productive and his most golden years, and I was as assured of his love for me as he was of mine for him.
Dad was such a positive thinker. He always said that if you could picture a goal in your mind, then you could achieve it. He read lots of motivational books, but his entire life was a volume of inspirational thoughts and encouragement. He had some great platitudes, such as “The Three Ts: Things Take Time.” He never stopped believing in me, my siblings or my mother, his wife of nearly 53 years.
He’d tell the corniest jokes, yet you had to laugh. Some I heard over and over for decades. He’d trick you if you weren’t paying attention, asking questions such as, “What color was George Washington’s white horse?” and “Where are the survivors of a plane crash buried?”
He had irresistible charm to disarm, and people went the extra mile for him—in sometimes silly and even politically incorrect ways—because they felt the goodness of his heart. He was a humble guy, yet got everyone to constantly measure their decision making against the question, “Would Frank De Marco Do It That Way?” He made placards that said “I Love Frank” and passed them out to every woman who worked in his office—and they proudly displayed them on their desks. When he was being wheeled back for his first open heart surgery in 1982, he encouraged the orderlies and nurses to sing the tune, “God Save the King.”
We spent many of my early years together at the beach in east Central Florida. He taught me how to bodysurf, how to float, how to throw a Frisbee. We’d spend hours just hanging out in the waves. He was so tan, yet I never saw a wrinkle on his face.
We spent time exercising together. When I was 11 or 12 we went to a fitness track at the local YMCA that included numerous exercise stations. We’d run together and then stop at each station. He was a good motivator to stay in shape.
He hit countless fly balls in my direction, and eventually I even started to catch them. He would pitch to me at vacant ball fields, and did so until he got tired of me hitting him in the shins with line drives.
He taught me how to ride a bike and drive a car. The bike took some time—when I took my first real bicycle for its inaugural ride on Christmas morning, I promptly ran into a parked car. I cried, but as always my Dad stayed calm. Driving went pretty well, although I had a close encounter with an oak tree. Dad stayed as calm as one possibly could during such an event. He taught me to assume that every other driver on the road could not be trusted to do the right thing!
We spent gobs of time together watching sports, especially Miami Dolphins football, Atlanta Braves baseball and later Florida State University football. We talked about plays and players. We’d both jump up when we thought a home run or touchdown was in motion. As we sat around, one of us would invariably pretend to karate chop the other in the abdominals, and the intended victim would quickly raise an arm to parry the attack. We’d take breaks and roll this little exercise wheel that gave my Dad “abs of steel” before that became a fitness craze.
Little chunks of memories float throughout my brain as I think of my Dad. I remember when he pulled me out of the swimming pool when I was still a toddler. I remember being six or seven and feeling very excited when my Mom said that Daddy was going to stop by a department store on the way home and get me an action figure of some sort. I remember getting hit by a stick in the woods when I was 11 or 12, and coming home full of blood to find my surprised father at home. He panicked only for a second, then cleaned me up and comforted me. I remember when he would comb my hair; he did it so gently. I remember him saying to me, “What a cute kid!” despite my dorky appearance as a child. I remember him taking me to movies such as Rocky and Raging Bull and watching the “Godfather” movies on TV with him. I remember the “meow” sound he would make that had everybody in the room searching for the mystery cat. I can still see him standing in the window when I’d drive off at night as a teenager or a college student, watching with eyes that prayed for my safe return home.
My Dad was part of that so-called “silent generation.” He served in World War II, preserving freedoms I have enjoyed all of my life. He often didn’t say much, but when he spoke he was wise and usually the life of the party. He was a man of quiet faith, anchored deeply in devotion and prayer to God.
The best way I can honor him now is to love my wife and daughters well, to do my vocation well, to seek to bring out the best in others. I want to have the same sense of peace at the end of my journey as I saw in his eyes.Right this moment, I am not sure where to turn next. The world is a lonelier place without your Dad. I know that he has taught me everything I need to know to live well, but right now I just simply want him. I need his reassuring voice. I just want to chit chat with him. It’s the middle of baseball season, and football season draws near.