By Kevin Gaughan
One hundred years ago, on June 14, 1919, my father, Vincent Gaughan, was born. He passed away in 1993. Like all dads, he was exceptional and ordinary, human and, in the eyes of his seven children, superhuman.
And as we honor all fathers this month, here are a few stories about my dad, offered in the hope that they bring to mind your own.
Born into an Irish Catholic family in South Buffalo, to a waterfront grain scooper and his fiercely willed wife, at an early age my father evinced unusual drive. He opened his first business while still a teenager, and went on to found several local enterprises and serve on the board of directors of a number of national corporations.
My father was a worrier. My thin frame always concerned him. When I was young, once a week he’d place me in my Radio Flyer wagon and pull me to a nearby doctor’s home to weigh me on a scale.
In my early 20s, when I contracted an infection while sailing the Nile River, he had a medical plane pluck me out of a remote African village, his swift actions saving my life.
And he was an American father. At dawn every Fourth of July, he’d shake the house and rattle the neighborhood by firing a miniature cannon he kept in the basement just for the occasion.
But most of all, my father loved his five daughters. Early on, when our parents and we seven children shared one upstairs bath during chaotic school mornings, he’d rather miss his plane than rush his girls.
“Why don’t you tell them to get moving,” my mom would exclaim. “Oh, they’re fine,” he’d reply, as he phoned an airline in search of a later flight.
Those airplanes carried him on his life’s true journey: public service. He worked with three American presidents: Harry Truman, for whom he co-founded the Young Democrats of America; Lyndon Johnson, whom he thought profane but progressive; and John Kennedy, with whom he formed a lasting friendship.
In autumn 1972, one of my dreams came true as I headed off to Harvard College, my parents meeting me there for a first-day orientation. As the seemingly endless day progressed, I gathered intelligence on where the best parties would be that evening.
At dinner with my parents, I yawned over the entrees and told my dad the day had been long and I was done in.
And off I went to a succession of festivities, ending up at 2:30 a.m. at an off-campus club jammed with roaring bands and raucous students.
At perhaps 3 a.m., I made it up to the club’s top floor. Across the dark, smoky, noisy space in the midst of the packed bodies, I saw a familiar figure. He was dancing, laughing and spinning his partner across the floor. It was my father and mother.
Sheepishly making my way over, I caught my dad’s eyes. As he gave my mom a twirl, over his shoulder he smiled and said, “Gee, Kev, we thought you turned in early.”
When I think of my father, I think of him in that moment. Seeing the gleam in his eyes, so bright it made the dark room light, I realized that my dad was filled with joy. The best kind of joy. The happiness of a father.
Kevin Gaughan is a Buffalo attorney and civic leader.