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This Is My Father...

dad

      This is my father, Morris (Modesto) Cascio. He was born on August 19, 1919. He passed away far too young in 1994. I think about him every day, but recent events in our country have brought him more to mind than usual. Why? Well, I keep imagining how he would be reacting, what he would be saying, what his hopes and fears would be for the lovely great grandchildren that he never got to know.

     See, he was an Italian kid off the streets of New York whose name was changed from Modesto to Morris by the school system as a way of assimilating immigrants in those days. Along with his siblings, Dad stood in bread lines during the Great Depression to bring food back to the tenement in which his family lived. Once a week, the family shared a dessert--a tiny cake that my immigrant grandfather would cut into six equally small pieces so each member of the family could enjoy a bit of sweetness.

     World War II was swelling when Dad graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in Brooklyn. There was no money for college, so he did some work as a photographer, and then just before entering the Army, he married my mom, a woman he had know for several years, the younger sister of two guys who were friends of his. The story goes that he charmed her by approaching her when she was sixteen and asking her suavely, "Feel like a soda?" That was a line she never forgot, and in later years she admitted that her instinct was to provide a smart-aleck response, but she was enamored at the time and said, "Sure." The rest, for our family, is history.

     Dad entered the army, was trained in communications in various locations around the country, my mother traveling with him--two kids off the Brooklyn streets finding themselves in places like Kansas, Texas, and California. But then my father was sent overseas to the "Burma, China, India Theater," stationed in a remote outpost in the Himalayan Mountains, channeling secret communications with a small group of other soldiers. He sometimes flew with the Flying Tigers, delivering important documents to various outposts.

     Many years later, when talking with me or my brother or sister or anyone else about his army experiences, he never bragged, he never complained about the emotional pain of being removed from his young wife, he never spoke of the hardships of being as removed from the busy streets of his youth as he could have ever imagined.

     No. Dad, like thousands of others, did what he had to do. He fought for democracy. He fought against hatred. He fought the dictators who were trying to mold the world in their image when, he knew from personal experience, that the world is made of many images, many colors, many beliefs. Dad believed instinctively that all that matters in the end, whether in a Brooklyn tenement or the Himalayan Mountains, is how you carry out your beliefs, how you treat others, to what degree you value fairness, equality, opportunity.

     After the war, my dad, one of my uncles, and two of their Brooklyn pals all took jobs with the government in DC, careers they valued, work they saw as important, roles they took pride in. Dad was no fool--he was not afraid to question those in power, but he also knew that in that post-War era, many of the people in power were inclined--for whatever reason--to listen. Dad, and others who experienced life events similar to those he experienced, had an instinct about what was essential to maintain the joys of life for all--joys such as the opera music that floated through our home every Sunday as Mom prepared an Italian dinner, or the dancing that he would do with Mom complete with moves that made others on the dance floor stop and applaud, or the powerful affection he was not afraid to display openly for his family, friends, and anyone he felt was helping to move the world in a more understanding and equitable direction. He did not judge by political affiliation, race, creed, or any societal designation. He valued actions.

     Once, when a friend of his criticized the fact that an African American family had moved into an all-white neighborhood of Vienna, VA, my father calmly looked at his friend and said, "That man is moving into a bigger house than you or I have and in a better neighborhood. Instead of asking if his neighbors will associate with him, you should be wondering if he would want to associate with us."

     So these days, as I read the childish tweets of a vindictive, small-minded president whose actions fuel the hatred that lingers in our population, a president who denigrates the very people who work diligently day and night in the interest of all people in this country (as my father, uncle, and their Brooklyn pals did), a president who does not have the courage to acknowledge that he was born with a sliver spoon in his mouth but not everyone was, I think increasingly of my father and the men and women of his generation, the ones who helped save the world from the very dictatorial actions and societal hatred that we are now seeing arise in our own country.

     Dad was not one to make big pronouncements, so he would probably not have said, "This is no time for silence," but he was a man of action and belief and he would have helped figure out a way to promote equity, empathy, sympathy, and understanding, even if it was just on an individual, personal level. Even if it just meant saying, as he sat with friends listening to opera or jazz, or as he rested from a dance with Mom, or as he toiled into the wee hours of the morning in his CIA office, something along the lines of what he said to his friend that day about the African American family. Dad would have helped spread the word of fairness through modest, meaningful actions, actions learned from a life whose roots he never forgot, always valued, and used as a way to direct his own life.  

     Sitting in his backyard just a year or two before he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Dad was savoring the last bite of a steak he had expertly cooked on his grill. My mom, my wife, and I chuckled as he made a show of slowly savoring it, swallowing it, and sipping the last bit of his wine. When finished, he pushed gently away from the table, looked at his empty plate, and said, "That steak was so good, I hated to see it end." 

     I thought then, as I think now, "Yes, Dad, exactly...it was too good to end."

 Copyright Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.