A letter to Michael O’Connell Sr., 1942-2007

Dear Dad,


It’s been 10 years since we last got to talk. There hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t thought of you, and I find myself speaking of you often even to those you never got to meet.

First things first, I have some good news: almost three years ago I became a dad myself. I’ve got a little boy named Franklin and he’s the most adorable child ever. Also he can also drive you nuts. For Pete’s sake I hope I didn’t cause you that much grief when I was his age. We get to have so much fun together, though, that it’s all worth it. I’m remembering now things that you and I did 30 years ago I can do with him and it makes me smile. Things I had long ago forgotten are coming back to me. Remember when I used to jump on your bed and we’d play the game “crash”? Okay, it’s not really an actual game but Franklin loves to climb up on me and crash down to the mattress like I used to. He’ll jump on the bed and look at himself in the mirror and I’ll call him a little monkey and it’s 1985 all over again. Mom and Dad and monkey on a late Sunday morning.

I met my wife about a year after you passed. It wasn’t long after I met her that I knew we’d marry and have a family. I remember once asking you how you knew that Mom was the right person for you and you didn’t really have an answer, just that somehow you knew. Yup, that’s how it happens. My wife’s name is Leia and she is my greatest companion. She is my constant encouragement and the best mother a little boy could have. She knows a lot about you, of course, and she sees you in me every day.

Five years ago I left Binghamton, a move I know we’d discussed many times. Yeah, Binghamton just wasn’t doing it for me anymore and Leia and I decided to move closer to her family. We live in Northern Virginia now and though they’ve got the usual group of morons here there are many people who are genuinely nice and I think it’ll be a good place for Franklin to grow up. Honestly, though, I don’t think you’d like it: everyone here is a terrible driver.

Not long after we moved I started another journey that’s now near its completion. I’m becoming a public school teacher, Dad, endorsed in middle and high school English and social studies. High school English teacher. Real original, I know. Well, over the last 10 years I’ve just become more and more and more like you and I thought I’d make the transformation complete. I started out by teaching kids at our local community center during the summer, then became a substitute teacher during the school year, then a teacher’s aide, and now I’ve just received my official teaching license from the state of Virginia. You and I both tried a few things before we found our calling to be teachers but we found it eventually.

I don’t think I ever told you, Dad, but over the last 10 years I’ve realized more and more how much you meant to me. It’s too bad you had to leave when you did, because I think we were just beginning to have an actual mature, adult relationship. There have been many times over the past decade I wished I could have asked your advice about something but of course you weren’t there. But somehow you were there and I’ve been able to sort of piece together the things we would have talked about and the advice you would’ve given me. Something sunk in and somehow I was able to figure it out, even with you not here. I remember what you said in that last meaningful conversation we had, just a few days before you were gone, that things were going to happen I didn’t expect or plan on, and I would have to deal with them. There have been plenty of such occurrences and your advice has been most appropriate.

I’m sorry I didn’t listen more attentively to all your other advice before that, when I was a teenager and probably didn’t think it was so important. Somehow, though, I can hear your voice 20 years later with something that I would have ignored and see now its wisdom. I find myself saying things to Franklin you would have said, or doing things you would have done. It’s scary sometimes, but not in a bad way. Turns out that I turned out just like you: husband, father, teacher. I wasn’t any of those things 10 years ago, yet here I am.

You’re my greatest idol, Dad, and I guess it’s hardly any coincidence that we ended up so much alike. Remember when I was a kid and said I wanted to be like Joe DiMaggio or Frank Sinatra? Over the last 10 years I realize the person I wanted to be was you. I had no better teacher and no better person to emulate than the man who lived right in my own house. I was lucky to have you for a role model even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I wish I had told you then but it took me a while to figure it out. I did, though, and that’s all that matters. You taught me so many wonderful things and somehow you’re still teaching me. How to be a good husband, a good father, generous, fair, honest, and faithful. Franklin’s going to hear all of it, too, of course, because that’s what being a dad is all about.

I learned from the best. Thanks, Dad.



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About moc

My name is Mike O'Connell. I am 35 years old and live in Northern Virginia. I am a teacher, a musician, and an enthusiast of all things American.


A letter to Michael O’Connell Sr., 1942-2007 — 1 Comment

  1. This is a wonderful tribute Mikey. I sure can feel the love. Your dad had quite the presence and I am thrilled it continues as you go through life.

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