Conversations About My Father: Tough Guys With A Soft Spot For Dad

A few weeks ago I set out to engage people in a conversation about their fathers. Through the experience the depth of emotions provoked in talking about "dad" struck me, and the powerful sentiments stirred by distant memories seemed to surprise even those who were sharing their stories. The discussions were often deeply personal and I am grateful to all of those who shared glimpses of their fathers. I hope you enjoy the collection of stories and that you share your own Father's day story in the comments thread.

Former NYPD Detective Bo Dietl sat down with me for a captivating interview about his childhood and his late father. Growing up in a tough neighborhood in Ozone Park Queens, Bo Dietl's German immigrant father ran a strict household. In a community that had strong ties to organized crime and would later serve as John Gotti's home base, Bo credits his father's disciplinarian ways from keeping him away from a life of crime. Saying candidly "He used to beat me into the ground. My father always kept me in line and even when I started working at 17 I had to be home at 9 p.m.."

Recalling the last time his father was physical with him, Bo says without a hint of bitterness "I came home and he started slugging me ... I never hit him back. Finally, the next night I came home and he came after me again and I grabbed his arm in mid air and I said Dad ... its over ... that's enough." Bo has four children himself now and "has never picked up a hand to any of them." It is his father's lessons and love he reveres while choosing not to dwell on his methods -- "He kept me straight in so many ways and it's the respect that my father put in my head growing up that made me who I am ... he taught me the ethics of working hard, about integrity, and about honesty." Recounting his most poignant memory, a time when his father was near the end of his life, paralyzed and in the hospital. Bo came to see him with a photo he had taken in the oval office with President Reagan in 1986. Choking back tears he recalls "I was so proud ... I was so proud ... that I was finally able to say to him 'I guess I did alright ...'"

Legendary Detective Joe Coffey and I chatted about his mild mannered dad and the effect he had on raising one of New York's greatest cops. Joe Sr. led a "rough and tumble life" starting out as a beer truck driver for Irish gangster Owney "The Killer" Madden during prohibition. Later he applied his driving skills to a more legitimate, but as it turned out, no less dangerous business of package delivery for a recently started United Parcel Service. As a charter member of Local 804 of the Teamsters, Joe Sr. also served on the executive board and it was his resistance to Mafia infiltration of his union that lead to his son becoming a New York City Police Officer.

After Joe Sr. had rebuffed advances from Mafia thugs intent on getting their hands on the lucrative pension funds of the union, a contract was put on his life. In October of 1946, Joe and his father were returning from a trip to the grocery store with Joe's mother when two shots blasted through the window of their tenement foyer. Joe's dad jumped on him to shield him from any other gunshots and his mother climbed the stairs to call for help. This terrifying moment led the 8-year-old to read "every book ever written about the Mob" and ultimately resulted in him joining the NYPD, where he went on to lead the investigation to catch the Son of Sam and locked up some of the most notorious gangsters of the 20th Century including John Gotti, Paul Castellano and the Irish Westies. Joe's dad passed in 1988, but he says he thinks of him every day and adds with a chuckle, "How can I not? United Parcel trucks are all over the streets."


Andrew Greene graduated from the Naval Academy in 1988 and reported for duty on the USS Tortuga (LSD-46) serving on board for 4 years. In January of 1992, he left the ship and reported for Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL training with Class 183 in Coronado, California. Following training he reported to SEAL Team TWO in Little Creek, Virginia, and completed one and one-half deployments before leaving active duty as a Lieutenant in January of 1995. He continued in the Naval Reserves with Naval Reserve SEAL Team FOUR until May of 1997, leaving the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander.

Andrew was born in 1966 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and spent his formative years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the oldest of four brothers. His father, David Lockwood Greene was in the Navy, and Andrew remembers the family moving around a lot when he was growing up. As all military families experience, Andrew's mother looked after the family while his was on deployment. Andrew says "we missed him when he was gone, but he always came back. He was (and still is) a very, very important part of my life and I consider him to be one of my greatest influences. He inspired me to serve in the Navy. I think of him every day, hoping that my children will look up to me one day the same way that I look up to him now."

What are the three words that best describe your dad?

Andrew: Patient, honest, committed.

What's one thing you never got a chance to say to him -- or still haven't told him?

Andrew: How much I appreciate all of the sacrifices he made to give me and my brothers everything we needed.

What's one key lesson your father taught you?

Andrew: Be patient with your children -- give them enough room to grow and make mistakes on their own, but be close enough to give guidance and help when they need it.

So many cues we take from our fathers are non-verbal -- how did your father carry himself and how did that influence you?

Andrew: He spoke softly and always carried himself with an air of confidence.

What was your favorite thing to do together?

Andrew: I always liked to help my Dad fix things around the house. He was -- and still is -- very 'handy' with repairs of all types. I can remember when he used to work on our 1972 Nova in the driveway. I would get to hand him spark plugs or oil filters or the timing gun when he was working on the car -- and I was so impressed that he knew so much about the car and the engine, and that he could fix it with his own hands...

What is one quality he has that you wish you had more of?

Andrew: I wish I had more of his patience as I raise my own three children.

What's one of your favorite memories of your father?

Andrew: One of my favorite things to do as a boy was to go onto the ship with my Dad and one of my brothers early on Saturday morning when we were young. We would have breakfast with him in the wardroom and read or watch cartoons while he finished up a small bit of work, and then he would take us home to enjoy the rest of the weekend. To be a kid and spend a few hours on a Navy warship as a guest of your Dad was such a great experience...