Published in the March 19-April 1, 2014 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Robert Airoldi
Thirty-three days. Thirty-three days after my mother Barbara Airoldi passed, my father George Airoldi died. Those 33 days were the longest they ever spent apart, and it was too long for Dad.
This is a love story that began in 1956. George was introduced to Barbara by my dad’s best friend who was dating my mom’s best friend. They were in each other’s weddings and remained life-long friends.
My dad knew his best friends for more than 75 years, many of whom will be at his service March 29. They should know my dad thought the world of them.
And it was that example of friendship and loyalty my dad set that made him my hero. When I was perhaps 6 or 7, my dad began dragging me San Francisco 49er, Giants and Warrior games. I was in awe of the games — and him. One time when I was about 8 or 9 we were at a 49er game at Kezar Stadium when a fight broke out that turned into a mini riot. My dad told me, “Put your hands in my back pockets and follow me. Whatever you do don’t let go.” So, as always, I followed his instructions without question. He guided me to safety, got us out of there, and from then on I knew who my hero was. It wasn’t any athlete or actor. I may have admired them. But dad was my hero. And he still is.
That cold, foggy Sunday afternoon at Kezar, we bonded through sports and family. For more than three decades, hundreds of Sundays were spent in the Candlestick Park parking lot with my family and friends. And even more weekends were spent in our San Jose backyard, then later our Capitola home, celebrating someone’s birthday, anniversary, holiday, graduation, or just the fact that is was the weekend. My parents loved nothing more than throwing a backyard barbecue with people they loved.
Second to his family was my dad’s love for teaching. He taught physical education at John Muir Middle School in San Jose for 36 years, then retired in 1996. He once told me — jokingly, I think — that he sat at the same desk in the same chair for 36 years. He even said he used the same pencil his entire career. OK, so that part was a joke. Before he retired, the school named the gym after him and it will forever be known as the George Airoldi Gymnasium.
I spent many hours in that gym. Starting when I was about 12 or so, he was paid to open the gym from 7 to 10 p.m. a few nights a week. If I got my homework done, he said, I could join him. Of course, I made every effort to complete my homework and hang out with dad.
I saw my dad cry just four times before my mother and the love of his life died. The first was in 1972 when his mother unexpectedly died from a brain tumor. Four years later, his father died shortly after moving back to Italy. The third time was in 1982 when the 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the legendary game that included “The Catch.” Finally, a few years later we were having a heart-to-heart talk in his backyard. I was about 25 or so, and was visiting for some celebration or other. He was asking when I was going to get married and settle down. I was honest, and told him I’d marry when I found the love of my life. Then I told him that if I ever have kids, I’d raise them just as he raised us … with discipline, structure and love.
I’m really going to miss my dad’s stories — the ones he repeated over and over again … thankfully. He had sayings I repeat to this day, some of you whom I know have surely heard. They always begin with: “As my dad would say …”
How do you process the immense, overwhelming grief of losing both parents in such a short time? I have no idea. What I do know is that I have the example of my parents, and the love of my siblings, my dad’s brother, my six nieces and nephews and many other aunts, uncles and cousins.
I have the love and support of great friends and a caring community. I’m blessed to have had my mother and father for almost 55 years. I’m even more blessed to have called my dad my friend and hero.
Dad, say hi to mom. Tell her I love her. And, as I told you repeatedly, I love you. I miss you both.
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