I only ever saw my daddy cry once in my life. It was the day his mom – my Granny Grey – died. The man was the embodiment of strength and of “getting on with it,” regardless of the circumstances. I so much want to be strong like him but right now I just want to cry.From as far back as I can remember, my daddy was the strongest man in the world. I can’t recall a time when he ever indicated he didn’t think something that he wanted was attainable. If there was something he wanted but couldn’t afford to buy, he’d build it. From his own snooker table to extra rooms in our little house on Annesley Avenue, Dad always found a way to make things happen.
Life in Dublin, Ireland in the middle of the 20th century was not for the faint of heart. Unemployment and poverty were epidemic and a large portion of the country’s youth – the ones who were able to – left for foreign lands and the promise of work. God always brings a greater good out of bad things. And he brought out of this seemingly hopeless misery some of the greatest artistic, poetic and musical minds the world has ever known – along with some of the most resilient hearts.
My dad, Tommy Malone, was born into this environment that was at once both a swirling storm of the coldest misery and the warmest happiness. In homes all across Ireland, families would struggle to put food on the table, but there was never a shortage of music in the air. The Malone household was one home where music played a greater than average part in the daily comings and goings.
My Granddad Malone was a phenomenal musician. He had the gift of perfect pitch. This enabled him to join the Irish Army Band as a youth. My dad along with his brothers and sisters were also gifted with musical ability and, under the tutelage of my grandfather, became quite accomplished. Growing up in this environment, my daddy developed a keen ear and deep love of music. He played all kinds, but it was Jazz that moved him most.
Although he was able to play numerous musical instruments with fervor, the one I always remember most from when I was a boy is the trumpet. Dad would belt out “Round Midnight” by Miles Davis or “Work Song” by Nat Adderley and the whole neighborhood would be treated to a free concert. It’s possible that the mighty sound of the trumpet was not always appreciated by our neighbors in those connected houses – but the beauty and spirit of the music certainly was.
For someone born in a relatively small country, wanderlust is a reality, and my daddy was no exception. During the years of his youth he traveled all over Europe, most notably to London and Amsterdam, where he found himself, albeit temporarily, quite at home. But it would be the move he made at 42 years-of-age that would define his – and my own – future. On May 18, 1988, my dad, my mom and I boarded a plane on a journey that would take us to the other side of the world – permanently.
Texas is a land, very different from Ireland. Before my journey, I had romanticized it based upon the information I had available at the time. I believed Texas to be a mix between the world of the Ewing family on the television show “Dallas” and the Wild West. Somehow my nine-year-old imagination envisioned a place in which simultaneously I’d be riding a horse to school every day while being super-rich with swimming pools in every home. But the truth was stranger than fiction.
Moving to the U.S. was no easy challenge and for my dad the stakes were sky high. After all, he was no longer the lonesome traveler of his youth; he had a family now for whom he was responsible and he was taking us along on this gamble of a lifetime. But my daddy had the one weapon in his arsenal that is superior to all others: he had faith.
Dad always believed he was destined to make his mark on the world. He knew God put him on this planet for a reason. Of course, God gives everyone a unique purpose, but not everyone is open to it. My daddy embraced his. He had applied for green cards to come to America three years prior to our acceptance. In eighties-era America, immigration was a more contentious topic than it is today, although not quite as vitriolic. When that opportunity finally came around, my dad jumped headfirst into it.Of course he also had one other blessing in his life that made it more realistic to envision success – he had my mom. A true partner in every sense of the word, dad knew that no matter what difficulties they faced in this strange new world, my mom would be there fighting alongside him. There is indescribable value to that. Trust, loyalty, perseverance and vision are the kind of qualities that anyone who aspires to do great things must have in their partner – and my dad found it in my mom.Coming to America and starting with next to nothing, my parents never asked for nor expected anything from anyone. They had God with them, and He was sufficient. Everything else, they worked for. They literally started from the bottom and built a life that was enviable even to some who had been fortunate enough to have had a 42 year head-start on them.
There is no question that the U.S. is the land of opportunity, but simply the fact that an opportunity exists doesn’t make it an easy thing to seize. Dad worked extremely hard in this country, many times in jobs under brutal conditions. You see, in addition to being a phenomenal musician, my daddy was also a skilled carpenter and gifted chef – a true renaissance man.
Faced with a goliath of a challenge in America, Dad drew on his full arsenal of skills to gain momentum. Our first seven years in this country, he worked everywhere from blindingly fast-paced kitchens as a chef to rough and ready construction sites in the sweltering Texas heat; and he did it all without complaint. My dad had a vision; he knew exactly what he wanted and no matter how hard it was or how long it took, he would accomplish it.
With laser-sharp focus on his goal, Dad was eventually able to position himself to launch his own custom woodworking business. His professional reputation growing primarily through word-of-mouth, my daddy secured contracts of greater sophistication and his work can still be admired in some of the finest homes in Fort Worth and Dallas.
I learned countless lessons from my daddy, not the least of which was to keep my eyes on the prize. From time to time he would admonish me for becoming frustrated when things didn’t happen quickly. I can honestly say that I always wanted to learn these lessons well, although I failed quite frequently.
Whether my results were success or failure – each of which I’ve had many – I never had to worry about whether my parents were in my corner. The support I received from them both was unbelievable. Perhaps it was because he had so much ambition himself, my dad never knocked any idea I came up with regardless of how lofty and unlikely it may have sounded.
My early adult years were filled with learning, experimenting with new ideas, reading and searching for truth – but there was one activity my dad introduced me to that would shape many of my weekends to come: sailing. Dad had owned a sailboat in Ireland – Lulu – but found little time or opportunity to continue the pastime while trying to build a life in Texas. However, his patient and unrelenting work ethic paid off relatively quickly and he decided the time had come to buy his first American sailboat.
Having so many passions in life would make one think that there is not enough energy in one person to shine at them all, but my daddy blew that theory out of the water. Over the course of the ten years following the purchase of his first sailboat – a 16 foot O’Day Daysailer II – my daddy moved on to a 21’ San Juan, a Catalina 22 and finally moved up to his true baby, his Catalina 25.
Though each boat came with its own unique set of challenges, dad mastered them all. He joined the Lake Worth Sailing Club and spent many a happy evening both on land and water with close friends. When the urge struck him – and it often did – he would climb aboard his sailboat, cast off the lines and head out to catch wind. Many times he could be sighted from the 820 bridge sailing peacefully under the setting Sun.
My daddy never stopped teaching me things. Though I grew up and started taking on the world myself, in my own way, I never got to a point that I felt I couldn’t go to my dad for help. Truth be told, I never got to a point that I didn’t need his help. And regardless of what was going on in his life, he never got to the point that he was too busy to give me help. I never stopped learning from my dad – all the way to the night he died. Having Thomas Malone for my father was nothing other than a gift from God. It is a gift I will always be so thankful for. In our Roman Catholic faith, death of the body is not in itself a cause for sadness. Of course I am sad to lose the day-to-day ability to talk to my daddy; to pick up the phone and ask him for advice or to go out for a sail with him. But because I am certain the teachings of my faith are true, I believe in more to life than a sudden end upon death. Christ defeated death through His resurrection and shared that victory with all who believe in and trust Him. My daddy trusted Him.
Coping with the loss of a loved one in this life is a difficult challenge and most, if not all, faiths attempt to find some clarity about death. In my belief, death is not the end but the beginning – but it is not all sunshine and roses. The Catholic faith does not imply simply that all Christians go to Heaven and all non-Christians do not, though there are people who believe it does. Our faith holds that there are two judgments: one at the moment of a person’s death and one on the final day of judgment.
In reflecting on my dad and his life – both how he lived it and how he faced its end – a pattern emerges. My daddy was one of the kindest, most empathetic and caring men ever. He was gifted by God with talents in so many areas. But this is not what made him great. What made my daddy a great man is that he was completely unselfish in sharing these gifts. Whether it was doing jobs for people or teaching them how to do the jobs for themselves, dad was a giver. He was a natural mentor and took countless people under his wing, teaching them the things he was such an expert at.
My dad also had a deep caring for those who may have been less fortunate than him. Though he’d grown up not having much in the way of material wealth himself and what he attained later in life he’d worked so very hard for, dad always saw an opportunity to shine a little light on others. He would carry dog biscuits in his pocket, which he would secretly give to any dog he encountered. I could never understand why all the dogs around would flock to my dad, tails wagging; eventually I figured it out.
He also would never hesitate to give his own belongings away if he believed it would make someone else’s life better. I have personally seen him remove a bolo tie he was wearing and give it to a person who admired it. I’ve also seen him remove his cap and give it to someone who had none, but was turning red from sunburn.
I have no doubt God looked at my daddy’s life and was pleased. Was he a saint in life? Strictly speaking, no, but who is? The blueprint for my dad was: he loved God, he loved others and he never ceased working to make a positive impact on every part of the world he touched. He was humble, never seeking accolades or recognition. All he wanted was to know that he’d made somebody’s day a little better. He accomplished that time and time again. And God was always with him.
Though he lives on, Thomas Malone will be missed on Earth. His smile, his wit and his compassion cannot be emulated. His talent for solving problems and fixing things cannot be repeated. His knowledge and experience cannot be recovered. Even as people of faith who trust completely in God’s plan, we still mourn. And the fact that we mourn the physical loss of one of His creatures is the highest honor to God. It affirms that we are so thankful to Him for the gift of friendship, fellowship and love that He gave us. And maybe – just maybe – that is what matters most.
I only ever saw my daddy cry once in his life; on the day his mom died. He didn’t cry when he suffered setbacks. He didn’t cry when the crushing pressure of a brutal job market made him wonder if he’d made a grave mistake leading his family to a new land. He didn’t cry when a doctor told him with certainty that he had terminal liver cancer. He cried when his mom died. Well, my daddy has died. And though I want to be strong and steady like him, right now I just want to cry. Is it ok if I cry?