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Mary Nicotera: Even at 86, Dad still rules the roost

My earliest memory of Dad was as a small child, being rescued by his mammoth, strong arms from an undertow as it tugged at me in the waters of Pleasant Beach, Ontario. Not long after that, I remember Dad crouching down in the back of St. Peter and Paul’s Church in Hamburg, letting me lean against him for the hourlong Mass because I’d had hernia surgery and it was painful to sit. That was my Dad then, and as he is now at 86. Like many dads, he’s a big brawny bear with a kitten’s heart.

Dad was famous in my hometown of North Boston. At dinner time, he’d summon me, my siblings and our trusty dog, Rex, in from the neighborhood with his ridiculously loud, shrill whistle.

Dad was also the funnest dad around. In the days before seat belts, and before we knew better, he’d pack a bunch of us kids in the back of the station wagon, drive to the top of Zimmerman hill and bound down that hill like it was a roller coaster. We bounced around and had a ball.

And partly because of Dad and his persona, our house and yard attracted swarms of kids. Of course, Dad presided with his dark Italian eyes, arms of steel and booming voice. When necessary, he unceremoniously tossed out the miscreants.

We often spent our summer vacations at Allegany State Park. Extended friends and family took over several cabins in Red House, gathering for meals and bonfires. At night, my adventurous Dad would take us out to spot for deer, bears and other critters. At the beach, he’d organize a game of war. We’d take turns sitting on his shoulders while trying to force the opponent off and into the water. It was a blast.

Dad was a contractor and knew a lot about architecture. He was always remodeling and fixing things around the house. We’d judge how hard the task was by the number of times he’d swear, and that old furnace in the basement brought out the worst in him. Dad once decided he didn’t like a wall. He grabbed a sledge-hammer, took down that wall and our house was suddenly an early example of “open concept.”

My mom left our house when I was 12. This meant that Dad had to raise me and my three siblings on his own for a few years until he met and married my stepmother. Through those years there were some challenges, but he always made sure we had time for fun and family gatherings. This is when the annual Christmas Eve pizza parties started, which continue to this day. Back then, Dad would make his yummy pizza and allow each of us a small glass of Ripple wine to toast the occasion.

When boys started coming around to date me, Dad made a point to stand like Mr. Clean and flex his crossed arms as we left. And he gave the boys that look. You know, the one that made it very clear that the date had better go well. Or else. But ultimately, I cried on Dad’s shoulder the first time a boy broke my heart.

Dad is 86 now. He loves the grandkids, old movies, sweets, the Buffalo Bills, PGA tournaments and meat and potatoes. He has good and bad days. Dad spends a lot of time in his easy chair watching TV, is a pro at the remote control and takes a lot of catnaps.

But Dad still has his booming voice, big, strong arms, mischievous look, great sense of humor and big belly laugh that we’ve known and loved all these years. He still rules our roost and is the coolest, funnest Dad – ever!