“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” MARK TWAIN
As June is Father’s Day month, my thoughts drift back to all the vivid memories of my late Dad, Fred Rich.
He was a Wakefield native born in 1908 to recent Italian immigrants and grew up on Water Street. When I was 10 he acted as Master of Ceremonies at a Red Men’s Marching Band reception honoring his boyhood friend, John Volpe. (He played baritone and to this day my eyes swell up when I hear a John Philip Sousa patriotic march on the Fourth of July.) I remember him saying with pride : “Son, shake hands with the next Governor of Massachusetts.” That was in 1960.
So I now publicly confess to all my fellow Wakefieldians that yes, it’s true; I once, and only once, supported a Republican !
My earliest memories of Dad were those of him teaching my six brothers and me how to box. He was a collegiate (Tufts University) /amateur pugilist and built a boxing ring for us in the barn out back of the family homestead at 1 Franklin St. where I still live. Those boxing skills paid off during my weekly bouts with my boyhood friends, Steve and Brian Murphy, and for the record, I never lost a fight!
Dad took me to the exhibition charity matches at Boston Garden and introduced me to some of the legends like Middleweight Champ Sugar Ray Robinson. I remember down and out, homeless former boxers asking him for money. He never gave them any saying most had become alcoholics and would only spend it on booze. But he always took them to a nearby restaurant and treated them to a hot meal. At his wake some of these same boxers showed me the watch Dad had given them during the Depression when he was a prize fighter.
My Dad’s greatest disappointment was having to drop out of college because his family couldn’t afford the tuition. He was a whiz at math and went to work at the WMGLD where he worked for 47 years as a bill collector/accountant. At his wake in 1973 former customers told me how he never cut off their power if they couldn’t pay their bill on time.
Just before her death in 1986 my mother told me a story that took place shortly after they were married. It was the Great Depression and Dad got laid off. Desperate to find work he left his family and hitched a freight train to New York.
My Mom called her brother to fetch Dad home and when he got back he looked like a hobo—he hadn’t eaten and was down to skin and bones, had grown a beard and was coatless in the middle of a frigid winter. Horrified, Mom asked what he had
done with the new overcoat she had recently bought for him? Dad said he had given it to a homeless man who was even worse off than he was.
Later in life I learned that Dad was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis—a lay Catholic fraternal group that followed the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, who stripped naked in his town square and gave up all his inherited wealth to live a life of poverty following the teachings of Christ. When my Dad died at the age of 65 after suffering a heart attack the previous year, he asked to be buried in his sackcloth robe.
My greatest regret is in knowing that after raising 10 kids and working so hard to provide for his family—my Dad never lived long enough to enjoy one day of retirement. If I could have him back for just one minute I’d tell him that he was the greatest man I’ll ever know.
So all you sons and daughters out there—if your Dad is still alive—don’t make the same mistake I made. Tell your Dad today and every day for the rest of his life how much you love him.
“I watched a small man with thick calluses on both hands work fifteen and sixteen hours a day. I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I need to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example.” MARIO CUOMO
Fred Rich LaRiccia