Remembering My Dad

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.

Dad's favorite coffee spot: Cafe Greco in San Francisco
Dad’s favorite coffee spot: Caffe Greco in San Francisco

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.

My Dad, Al Imperial and his sister Mary in the 1940's
My Dad, Al Imperial and his sister Mary in the 1940’s

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.

My family at the Russian River
My family at the Russian River, circa 1964

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.

My Dad, Al Imperial at 60.
My Dad, Al Imperial at 60.

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.

Coffee at Caffe Greco in North Beach
Double Greco Grande Cap at Caffe Greco in North Beach

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.

Mission accomplished.

Thanks, Dad.

Cup of cappuccino coffee with design in foam
Thinking of you, Dad.




15 thoughts on “Remembering My Dad

  1. I had the great privilege of growing up on the same block as the Imperial family. Sue, you hit on every one of Al’s wonderful qualities. I’ll never forget his booming voice and quick smile. His many words of practical wisdom still resonate with me – I mentioned him to a mutual friend only about a week ago! He would have loved this post – and so do I. Thanks for keeping Al’s memory alive this Father’s Day.

    1. Thank you, my friend! Yes, it was with great joy and ease that I wrote this tribute, especially sitting smack dab in the neighborhood where my dad grew up and where I actually shared many cups of cappuccino with him myself. Cheers… here’s to our dads…

  2. Hi Sue,
    This is such a wonderful tribute to your dad. I enjoy reading your blog so much, Thanks for sharing.

    1. Donna, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so heartened you like my blog. I am grateful for the inspiration and will continue to do my best to entertain and say something meaningful and interesting!

  3. I did not know about this blog, Julie and John, and I look forward to staying in touch.

    Thanks, Sue, for the sweet memories of Al. I love how he lived, his infectious laugh, and how generous he was with his time. I also enjoyed those chestnuts, and the two-dollar bills he always kept on hand as tips.

  4. Sue,
    I loved your tribute to your dad, Al Imperial, and reliving a bit of the old time San Francisco that I grew up with.

    1. Margaret, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to write it — in North Beach, no less. One of my intentions with my blog is to invoke memories of the Bay Area — particularly SF and the North Bay — as this is where I grew up as well. I know there is a big audience I can connect with in this way. So I hope you continue to tune in! 😉

  5. Julia,

    Thank you so much for such a beautiful story. My Dad, Tom Foley was a true San Franciscan as well. A stubborn Irish. It was just my brother and I and in those days girls wore dresses, stockings and patent leather shoes. So here I was a stubborn (I took after my Dad) girl who hated my brown plaid wool skirt, white tight collar button down with a brown sweater uniform.

    We grew up in the Mission district near St. Francis Diner and Las Palmas.

    My Dad was a teacher who loved his students. When my Dad passed away he had students who were all grown up come. They all made a poster with various work they did as a student and my Dad’s comments on their work. We cherish this work of art.

    Happy Father’s day Dad.
    Your girl always

    1. Hi, Karen,
      I’m Sue Imperial, the author of “Remembering My Dad.” I’m a longtime friend of Julia’s and her newish blogger of
      “Perennially Speaking.” Thank you so very kindly for sharing your sweet reminiscences of your dad. I’m glad my piece
      was able to elicit such a lovely reaction and response. This is precisely one of my hopes with my blog, so stay tuned
      for more! Cheers… 😉

      1. Sue,

        Thanks for the memories of San Francisco, and of Dad.
        He was one of a kind. I still miss him, but your reflections
        help to keep him alive in our hearts.
        (and yes, I still have some of his $2 bills….)


  6. Sue,

    Thanks for the wonderful memories of Dad, and of growing up San Francisco.
    He was truly one of a kind. I miss him and think of him often, and your reflections
    help to keep him alive in our hearts.
    (I still have some $2 bills….)


    1. Aww, thanks, Rob! It was a joy to write and to remember. Funny, Aunt Kath mentioned the $2 bills
      as well… how could those have slipped my mind?

  7. I had the pleasure of working for The House of Sobel as well as your dad back in the day. He was a very memorable person: a tall man and those big shoes, and certainly a very nice person. Coincidentally, he was a good friend of a former neighbors of ours in Windsor who grew up with your dad in North Beach. His name was Rich Baptista, and he was just a great guy as well. I remember your brother from the industry, as I moved on to Southern after Sobel closed shop. Very nice remembrances of your father.

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