I took it all in. The ornate architecture, the blue curtains, the wooden seats.
As I made my way to the stage, I tried to imagine him running down the aisle as a freshman, or perhaps playing the bongo drums onstage as a sophomore, or even walking out the side doors right before he left for the last time.
With my hand on his shoulder, I followed my dad into the auditorium of his alma mater, Bennett High School, a building he had not stepped foot in for more than 50 years. Adorned in an honorary blue graduation robe, my dad – Frederick J. Fanaro Jr. was finally graduating from high school.
Growing up in the Fanaro household my older sister and I heard many things. Sayings like “Don’t cry over spilled milk” and “They don’t like your apples, they don’t have to shake your tree” were as common as my Cocoa Puffs and Choose Your Own Adventure books. Something even more frequently told to us was the importance of education.
In these conversations, stressed by both parents, my father portrayed a more serious side. No matter how hard he tried to mask it, there was a sadness in his eyes, a look that said he knew he had unfinished business. Although I may have suffered from selective hearing during my childhood, I always listened to my father when he stressed the importance of school. I realized early on that when I achieved, he achieved, chiefly through the smile on his face. In short, working hard in school made my father happy and gave him something I would later discover he sacrificed at an early age.
My father entered high school in 1960. It was a different world and he was a different young man in it. He was rebellious and independent, wanting more than anything to strike his own path.
Hearing of the rising conflicts in other parts of the world, my father felt the need to serve his country and so left high school to enlist in the Marines in his sophomore year.
His decision would take him in unimaginable directions, including time spent in the Philippines and joining the drumming corps. My father would become a genius drummer, learning how to play entirely by ear.
Years later, he would meet my mother while playing in a band. The years he would spend in the Marines would define my father as an individual.
Through Veterans Affairs, my father would finally close a chapter in his life that had remained incomplete for far too long.
And so my sister, mother and I sat in Bennett High School’s auditorium in the very seats my dad may have frequented to watch him walk across the stage. My father proudly led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, was honored with an award, and finally received his diploma.
My father is a proud man who has asked for little throughout his life. Here he was now, wearing a cap and gown, cheered on by teenagers who recognized his sacrifice and adults who were thrilled at being able to witness his moment in the spotlight.
Once he returned with his diploma and sat down in the audience beside me, I looked deep into his eyes and immediately noticed a change.
There was a peace, a calmness I had never seen before. Though the moments on stage were few, and the walk through the hallways of his alma mater had ended, graduating from high school gave my father closure.
All of his struggle, all of his regret was worth it.
I count myself as lucky for many reasons. I grew up with wonderful role models in my parents. I have a supportive sister to share life’s challenges with. I found the love of my life in my husband, and we just welcomed our first child, Leo Frederick, into the world.
On this day, I felt lucky for a different reason: My father just graduated from high school and I was there to witness it.