It’s a perfect San Francisco Saturday-in-June afternoon in North Beach. Sunny with a hint of fog in the air, a bit breezy.
I’m sitting in Caffe Greco on Columbus Avenue enjoying one of Greco’s specialties: a double Greco Grande cappuccino.
A mouthful in more ways than one.
My father Al really liked this place.
I love that it’s still around, even though my dad isn’t. He passed June 23, 2009.
He was born November 28, 1928 to Italian immigrants Battista and Rita Imperial who headed straight to San Francisco from Italy in the 1920’s. He and his sister Mary grew up in North Beach on the Montgomery Street Hill. He attended Galileo High School and the University of San Francisco.
I could say a lot about my dad.
I could tell you he was 6’2” and wore a size 15 shoe. That he loved roasting and eating chestnuts at Christmastime. That he was a regular at St. Brendan’s 7:00 am mass for many years. That he loved Herb Caen, the legendary, long-time San Francisco Chronicle columnist. I could tell you he was a college basketball referee in his 20’s and that he liked playing Pedro and that he showed up at many of my after-school tennis matches in his suit and tie.
That he saved everything I ever wrote in school.
Well, maybe not everything. But he saved quite a bit.
But what’s really coming through about my dad in this moment – as I look out at the bustle of passers-by, cars, and bicyclists on Columbus Avenue – is how he liked people. And, it seemed, everybody took a shine to my dad: Bartenders (he worked in the wine and spirits industry), co-workers, friends, parishioners, even strangers. In an era when human interaction and connection was critical for business success, my father was a champion. He had an approachable, affable, charmingly self-deprecating way about him. And he had a well-honed sense of humor.
In a “Mad Men” era, my father was mercifully progressive. I remember when he brought me to work one day when I was about 5 or 6 way before it was “a thing.” I have a memory of sitting at his big wooden desk at Max Sobel Liquor Distributors in the then very industrial South of Market district of San Francisco.
I think having a daughter was a bit challenging for my dad. I have two older brothers who had paved the way, and he knew the drill with boys.
Let’s just say I set a precedent.
We were in many ways alike, so at times our relationship was not an easy one. He had a way of trying too hard with me sometimes, but I guess you can’t blame the guy when, for a time in my eyes, he couldn’t do anything right.
Ya know, during those teenage years.
Maybe I’m remembering everything wrong. But this is how it feels right now.
Yet sitting here today reflecting over my double Greco Grande cap, I gotta hand it to my dad. Despite not having children myself, as I’ve moved through life, I more and more deeply appreciate the Herculean task and mission that being a parent is.
Especially these days.
The sacrifices, the surrenders, the responsibilities, the worries, the uncertainties, the joys, the sorrows.
And at this moment, I honor my dad for all of it.