Tag Archives: Support

Part Six: Dusk And Summer

I had no outlet for my grief after my father passed. All I knew was that I needed to honor his fight, his bravery, in some endearing fashion. I could not bear the thought that after everything he had gone through battling pancreatic cancer, then suddenly that was it. To believe his life ended that way betrayed what he had endured. There had to be more. I simply refused to use two of the coldest words in our language – the end.

Six months after he passed, I sat behind my computer and typed this sentence: I lost my father between dusk and summer. So began the telling of a myth.

Life is a series of stories waiting to be told. They are inside all of us to be poured like a good wine, a little at a time. Sipped. Savored.


Some stories are real. Some embellished. Some take a life all their own.

Some simply possess magic from the start.

You just need to believe…

In honor of my father, I proudly donate proceeds from Dusk and Summer to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research. Together, we can make a difference.


Does Heaven await beneath the waves? One man needs to know.

When his dying father whispers a cryptic message to him, he has no choice but to summon his courage and begin the quest of a lifetime. It’s a race against time to realize his father’s wish and fulfill his own destiny; it’s a discovery of the unbreakable bond between father and son. It’s a journey of the heart that unfolds where only the Chosen exist – in the moments between Dusk and Summer.

“A poignant, metaphoric conversation between son and father. A story that will warm your heart.” –Yvonne S. Thornton, M.D., bestselling author of The Ditchdigger’s Daughters

The author will be donating a portion of the proceeds from this book to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.

Dusk and Summer is available at:
Amazon: US |UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | India | Brazil
CreateSpace | Smashwords
Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes (Apple)

Part 5: A Saint Goes Marching In

Part 4: Lazarus

Part 3: Faith and Windows

Part 2: Phone Booths and Four Words

Part 1: Renovations; Shaken Foundations

November 1 – Purple Hope and Saints


Part 5: A Saint Goes Marching In

It was a gut-wrenching decision for me to make.

My good friend Chris listened patiently on the phone; I had called him when my father was released from the hospital and into hospice. For some time I’d been agonizing over writing a eulogy for my father. The thought of it haunted me every day. I remember our conversation clearly.

“I can’t do it, Chris,” I told him. “I mean, I want to write it now while I can, while I can still think clearly. But if I do, it’ll be like I’ve tipped the scales somehow, like I’ve given up. I’ll never do that to him.”

There was a long pause until my dear friend said simply, “I know you. You’ll know when the time’s right. You’ll figure it out.”

You’ll figure it out.

Life had come full circle. I knew writing my father’s eulogy would be a transcending and sacred moment, but the feeling that I needed to do it at the proper time overwhelmed me. I believed strongly that my psyche would be plugged into the universe, into all powers unseen. I believed that somehow I’d have a hand in dealing his fate.

My father battled out from the hospital not once but twice. He battled out from hospice, for God’s sake. His war became something of myth to me. This beast of a disease – pancreatic cancer – tore at him with teeth and claws, and while my father staggered from his wounds, he never gave an inch. His sword still sliced the air. He suffered so much, yet fought with a will I never knew could exist in any human being.

I shared Father’s Day with him. We went to a restaurant; he sat across from me. By then chemotherapy was no longer viable. His body could not tolerate it. Inner fortitude was now his only medicine. An oxygen tank clanged against the table; my father constantly poked at the tubes in his nose. He didn’t eat much of his pasta. He didn’t eat much of anything. But there was one part of the meal he really enjoyed. I ordered my father an espresso. I made sure to have a double shot of black Sambuca added to it. My mother complained, but I didn’t listen, nor did I care. My dad was going to have his drink come hell or high water.

There was one thing about our lunch that I’ll never forget. It actually happened after I dropped my parents home. My wife commented that my dad’s shoulders had become so thin, so frail. The funny thing was that I never noticed. Not once.

All I saw was how much bigger he’d become in my eyes.

It was my last Father’s Day with him.

Near the end, his body systematically shut down. It started with his hands. The very hands he’d made his living from, the very hands he’d used to help so many people over the course of his life, now betrayed him. He couldn’t hold anything in his grip; cups would slip from his fingers. It was so difficult to watch. He could barely walk on his own. Each breath of air was a battle within itself. My father was admitted into the hospital a third time.

All through my father’s battle with pancreatic cancer, our rally cry had been never drop the ball. I said it to him all the time. I wrote it on his hospital room’s blackboard in bold letters; the nurses knew better than to erase it. I still had my New Orleans Saints jersey hanging in his house. I did everything in my power to let my father know that he wasn’t alone in his fight. I channeled so much of my own positive energy into him. But there was one odd thing: my father never spoke our rally cry. I was the one always telling him never drop the ball. He simply listened.

It was a Saturday, and I arrived at the hospital as usual. About a week before, my father lost his ability to speak. He said some words, but they were incoherent ramblings. He often stared at a distant point on the wall. I made my way to his room, but this time, something was different. Horribly different. As I walked the hallway, I heard someone crying out in pain. I lost all sense of time; reality blurred. Oh God oh God oh God, my mind raced, please, don’t let that be him. But I already knew.

I entered the room to find my father moaning in anguish. His hands clawed the sheets. My blood froze.

Then a miracle occurred.

My father saw me, pulled himself from the bed, clutched my arm and said, “I’m giving you the ball now. You run with it.”

It seemed a scene scripted for a movie and even then, I might have had trouble believing it. I’m sure most people would as well. But it did happen.

They were the last full sentences he would speak to me.

My father never dropped the ball. He never dropped the ball. In his mind, he was running for that touchdown. Somehow, even in the end, my father had the strength and awareness to hand me the ball.

He scored. He found a way.

He figured it out.

And I realized all at once he had passed me the torch…

I then prayed to the Lord to take my father. He had nothing left to prove; the man was a champion’s champion. But I still had one thing left to do. I recalled my dear friend’s words and four days later, in the dying light of dusk and summer, I wrote my father’s eulogy.

When I finished, I honored him with a shot of his favorite drink, Johnnie Walker Black. Then for the first time since he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I sobbed.

I woke the next morning, Thursday June 28, 2007, and laid in bed for nearly an hour. I visualized my father in my mind’s eye. He was there, vivid, young. Whole. Healthy. As I’ve always known my father. As he will always be. He was walking the beach, gazing across the sea he so dearly loved. The sunshine was brilliant. My father was smiling. Yes, he’d scored that touchdown. And I know with every fiber of my being that I had made a connection with him that morning – I plugged into the universe as I knew I would – for not long thereafter, I received a call from the hospital that my father had passed.

I did not witness his death. On the contrary, I witnessed the miracle of his rebirth. For though his body faltered, his soul grew larger and larger.

I buried my father in my New Orleans Saints jersey. The very one I hung proudly in his house. My mother said in disbelief, “But he’s a Giants fan.”

I shook my head. “Yes, but he’s my Saint now.”

He filled that jersey like I never could. Talk about plugging into the universe: the Giants won the Super Bowl the year my father passed on. The following off-season, the Giants traded one of his favorite players, Jeremy Shockey, to the Saints. And as I’ve always held steadfast to my faith, the Saints won the Super Bowl the very next year. I flew to New Orleans to watch the game that weekend, proudly wearing a new authentic team jersey. As I celebrated our miracle championship amidst thousands of fellow Saints fans, I could feel my father watching me – and I knew he didn’t mind wearing my Saints jersey at all.

But what of my father’s identity, you may be wondering. What of the notion I believed he led some kind of superhero double life? Did I indeed ever learn the truth? I’d like to share with you my answer from a passage straight from my father’s eulogy:

“And so it came to my suspicions. After thirty-six years, I had to learn the truth. Two days after my father had given me the ball, I spent the morning in his room. I waited for the nurses to leave. I drew the curtain closed. And then, using the inner voice I always had, I looked under his bed…

There lay a dusty pair of boots. Across them, neatly folded, pitted with welding burn holes, a red cape. I took them gently from under the bed, and the sweet comforting smell of grease and diesel fuel and long, backbreaking hours of labor filled my nose. I hugged them close, leaned and kissed my father upon the head. Carefully, I placed them in a bag and hid them where not even my wife could find them. And they’ll stay hidden, until I have my own children, until I’m man enough to fill those boots and cape, until my kids know of the superhero their grandpa was, and until Superman can fly again.”

(Part Six: Dusk and Summer soon to come)

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Part 4: Lazarus

Part 3: Faith and Windows

Part 2: Phone Booths and Four Words

Part 1: Renovations; Shaken Foundations

November 1 – Purple Hope and Saints

Part 4: Lazarus

My dad loved the ocean. I think it was one of the few things, if not the only thing, that brought him true peace. He used to be an avid scuba diver and explored many of the shipwrecks littering the bottom of the sea around New Jersey and New York. He gave up his flippers, however, after a close call beneath the surface of the waves. My dad said he knew he’d been a lucky man and wasn’t about to tempt lady fate twice. But that didn’t keep him away entirely. He owned several boats over the course of his life and loved to fish, loved to sail. Loved the ballad the high seas strummed in his ear. He told me once, long before he’d gotten sick, that when he died he wanted to be cremated, his ashes spread at sea. It wasn’t something I took seriously.

How could I? I’d waited all my life for my dad to be there for me. As I grew older, we finally grew together. The childhood I’d been deprived of was finally achieved as an adult. Once we both left the family business, things blossomed. My dad became my buddy. Sure, we clashed heads at times, but friends often do. Strange as this may sound, I saw a lot of myself in my dad and by recognizing that, I learned a lot about myself as well. I realized we were very similar and not just in a father/son way. It opened doors for me I never knew were there. In many ways I guess an innocent child with wide-eyed belief still existed within me then – I believed my father would be a permanent fixture in my life forever, much the way I believed that Santa really ate those cookies I’d left for him, the way I believed the New Orleans Saints would win a Super Bowl one day. Much the way I believed that my father led a double life as a superhero.

Faith. It’s an intangible, invisible beacon that guides me. Nearly every decision I’ve made has been based on the blind notion it will lead me where I’m meant to be. My faith, at times, has wavered. My faith, at times, has crumbled. But always, I have followed.

I never lost my faith even when my father’s chemotherapy stopped working.

I never lost faith after he required a wheelchair for lengthy walks and his muscles began their slow descent into atrophy.

I never lost faith through his first stay in the hospital, as the days dragged into weeks and weeks, and the doctor’s only offering of solace was a meager there’s nothing left that can be done.

I never lost faith as his stomach swelled hideously with cancerous fluid, and he was forced to breathe with the assistance of a tube.

I never lost faith during his second stint in the hospital, when eventually the doctor released him into a hospice, near death and a forgotten man.

Never drop the ball, I’d say aloud to my dad.

Never drop the ball, I’d whisper into his ear.

And I certainly didn’t lose faith after my father figured it out as he always had in life. Figured it out and battled his way out of hospice to go home. To keep fighting.

“Your father told me that if it wasn’t for you, he’d be leaving hospice the only other way…” his neighbor and good friend Danny told me.

I refused to believe that. My father rose twice after all had buried him, given up on him, not because of me, but because of the man he was.

There are many aspects of my father’s suffering I’ve suppressed. I’ve slammed doors shut inside my mind, trapping the horrors within. I don’t wish for them to escape. Scotch and wine tempers them sufficiently, until the next time they shriek and pound their fists. I witnessed my father agonize slowly from the inside out. No man or woman or child should endure such a fate. Yet through the suffering, and beyond anything I can ever hope to articulate, I witnessed a transformation.

A rebirth.

I learned the truth behind everything I’d ever wondered about him.

His identity would be revealed…

(Part Five: A Saint Goes Marching In soon to come)

Part 3: Faith and Windows

Part 2: Phone Booths and Four Words

Part 1: Renovations; Shaken Foundations

November 1 – Purple Hope and Saints

Part 3: Faith and Windows

At first, the chemo worked. At least it seemed to work. We didn’t know what to expect. My dad was holding up pretty well. His spirits were high, and his attitude belied the fact he was a sick man. “When you see me panic, then you know it’s time for you to panic,” he once told me. In all my years, I’d never seen him get flustered. Never seen him sweat anything out. He was cool as a cucumber. He was part Indiana Jones, part Cool Hand Luke. A throwback from another era. My dad was all man.

He never complained about what life had dealt him. What might have spun inside his head was a different matter, but his thoughts and emotions never broke through the surface. He went about the biggest war any one person could wage like he was waking for work. He rolled his sleeves, squared his jaw and got down to business. If there was anyone who could conquer this, anyone at all who could figure a way to overcome it, I knew damn well it’d be my dad. He wasn’t going anywhere.

I firmly believed it with all my heart, even if no one else did. I wasn’t being naive; I stuck to my faith. Sometimes in the darkest of hours, the simplistic of ideals burns most brightly. I admired the way my father carried himself, and I set out to emulate his example – to do otherwise would’ve betrayed the strength of his character. My father displayed no signs of weakness or cowardice, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to, either. When we spoke, we spoke only of what he’d accomplished that day, and what he’d be conquering tomorrow. When our eyes met, I made sure belief burned in my eyes. I wanted it to blind him.

Yes, at first the chemo worked. My dad started losing his hair, so he shaved it – ironically, just as I do. He looked good bald; he joked that he was still the better-looking one between the two of us. The chemo made his fingernails brittle & discolored; still he laughed, saying they now resembled the shell of a New Zealand mussel. His appetite was sound, but the days after chemo treatment really sapped his strength. He still managed to putter around his yard, although now he sat and rested for longer moments on his bench, relishing the sun upon his bare scalp.

One day, my father told me that he’d researched pancreatic cancer on his computer. He said nothing afterward; the silence hung thick between us. I knew what it meant. I knew he’d read the numbers, studied the statistics, just as I had. “Numbers can’t measure the fight,” I told him. “I just wanted to know what I was up against,” he replied and left it at that.

There were tough days for him ahead. Even the times I could only speak to him by phone, I could hear it in his voice – a man strained from effort, gritting his teeth in preparation for the next round. After awhile, I didn’t know what to say. Our conversations were about improving his diet, simple exercises at home to help keep his strength, what day and time chemo would be for the coming week.

We had a significant snowfall at one point during that winter. My dad didn’t have the stamina anymore to run his snow blower as he’d been used to; he wouldn’t admit it and put up a pretty tough struggle when he learned I’d be coming over to shovel his walk & driveway. In the end, I won. Barely. But something occurred that day that has haunted me ever since. As I was shoveling, I happened to glance up at my parent’s house and there, silhouetted against the curtains, was my father looking back down at me. I’ll never forget the expression upon his face for as long as I live. He looked like a child who’d been told he couldn’t go out to play. His eyes were so sad; he didn’t want to be in his room, he wanted to be out in the snow, clearing his own property, chugging his snow blower along the block in search of neighbors to help. I turned away as quickly as I could, but it was too late. A spear had been driven through my heart. It was the first time during my father’s fight that I felt the enormity of the situation.

“What’s that?” my dad questioned one afternoon after I came to visit. I was holding a football jersey in my hand. As I mentioned in ‘Part 2: Phone Booths and Four Words‘ of my ongoing story, my father had been an amazing football player. He was also a New York Giants fan. But much to his chagrin, I veered off course. I’m a New Orleans Saints fan, as big as they come, and have been since I was six years old. “I’m going to hang this here,” I said, lifting the very first authentic Saints jersey I ever owned into the air. I had it customized many years before – the name PINTO was stitched along the back. “When you’re feeling down, or if you’re feeling weak, please look at the jersey and know that I’m blocking for you. You’re going to score a touchdown. Never drop the ball.”

That Saints jersey would make all the difference in the world later on.

The day came, however, that my father’s chemotherapy treatments stopped working…

(Part Four: Lazarus coming soon)

Part 2: Phone Booths and Four Words

Part 1: Renovations; Shaken Foundations

November 1 – Purple Hope and Saints

Part 2: Phone Booths and Four Words

The worry was obvious in my mother’s voice but there was something else, too, something I didn’t care for one bit. “They’ve found tumors all through your father’s liver,” she told me over the phone. The defeat in her tone was thick. I refused to acknowledge it. Even without knowing exactly what was going on with my father, my inner self already kicked into survival mode. The time had come to rise and fight. “Okay, so what do we do?” I replied. “What’s the next step?”

Of course, I never realized how many next steps would come. It would still be some time until my father was actually diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He endured blood work, tests, exams. The tumors on his liver revealed themselves first; little did we know the disease had already aggressively spread from his pancreas. My recollection from the point I got off the phone with my mother until the moment his prognosis became clear was a blur. It still is. I wonder if that’s a result of my own mind dealing with the situation – simply numbing myself to the point I felt and remembered nothing, ready to wage a war alongside my father against an invisible invader. I learned this much – had the enemy been tangible, I never would’ve hesitated putting my life on the line for the man.

My mother withdrew into a shell. I could tell her grasp on reality had been shattered; I saw it across her face, read her body language and heard it every day in her voice. There are times, even now, that I blame her for her reaction. Then there are times that I don’t. Her husband had a disease; I don’t know any possible right or wrong way to handle such a thing. There’s no field manual to help you cope. I just don’t know…what I did know however, painful as it was to admit, was that my mom had my dad buried before we ever stepped foot into the doctor’s office. I know she was scared. Who wouldn’t be? But no matter what my dad may have been facing, that just wasn’t the way to approach the fight.

All my life as a child and even as an adult, I’d meet people through our family business or around town who’d ask me which son of the Pinto brothers I was. When I answered “Joe,” their eyes would blaze with admiration. And without provocation, stories flowed from their mouths. “Your father was one helluva football player… He’d get hit but that sonofabitch would pop right back up…He played like an animal…There was this one time against Garfield High…Smallest guy on the field yet he hit and tackled like a monster…No one ever played the way your father did…” In many ways, being my father’s son was akin to having a dad who was a superhero. I’d hear the stories, the way his name was spoken with such reverence and think, “Who is this man?” It was as if he had some other life, some cloaked past he chose not to disclose. My father never spoke of such things. I’d never know his feats had strangers not gushed to me. That alone spoke volumes, lent great weight to his stature. I grew up thinking my dad was nothing more than a guy who came home tired and soiled from work but as time passed, I began delving deeper behind his alias. I sincerely began to believe there was a phone booth waiting for him in some secret location…

So there I sat in the doctor’s office with my parents. The doctor announced matter-of-factly that my father had pancreatic cancer. It had metastasized into his liver, and chemo would be the only option to keep it from spreading further. There would be no way to cure or remove it. His life expectancy was three to four months.

At best.

Without missing a beat, the man who always had everything figured out declared in a firm voice, “I’m taking the ball and running with it. I’m going to score a touchdown. I’m going to beat this thing.”

A rally cry had been born. “Never drop the ball!”

And the events to follow achieved near mystical status….

(Part Three: Faith and Windows coming soon)

Part 1: Renovations; Shaken Foundations

November 1 – Purple Hope and Saints

Part 1: Renovations; Shaken Foundations

“Christ, you look like shit.”

Those were my exact words over seven years ago when my dad arrived early on a Sunday morning to help renovate my basement. And he really did look like shit. His face was white as a ghost. “I’m fine,” my dad replied, “just must’ve eaten something funny last night.”

If only that had been the problem. Of course, neither of us knew there was a problem. But as the morning wore on, my father’s strength ebbed. I remember him huffing and puffing as we carried a panel of Sheetrock down the stairs, and I can still feel the pangs of my initial reaction – my heart simply sank. I kept a poker face, but it was the first time in my life that I realized my dad was getting older. It hurt.

I never wanted my dad to age. I never had him around much when he was young. My father worked grueling hours – typically three in the morning until nearly four if not later into the afternoon – as a partner in our family’s waste management business. It doesn’t get any more stereotypical than that; an Italian Jersey boy in the garbage business. My father worked insane hours even as a child. His skills were self-taught; he learned to repair gas & diesel engines by going to the junkyard, taking them apart & putting them back together again. By the time he was a teenager, he was repairing trucks for real. That was in addition to driving the trucks, running the yard, going to school & being involved in wrestling and football. Just think for a moment what the kids of today do to pass time.

My father always needed to know how something worked. Like those engines, he started by taking it apart. I guess you’d call it “reverse engineering.” I used to joke that he missed his calling from NASA. For some people, magic works through their hands, like a musician or surgeon. A writer. My dad offered his help to anyone in need of a repair or a project too big to handle on their own. He made the time, too, even after working a long day or on a weekend when he could’ve been relaxing. He installed new siding on a neighbor’s house once. That’s right – siding on a complete house. My father owned a garbage business, not a siding company. He rented the necessary equipment and off he went. You would never have known a professional didn’t do it. When I questioned how he achieved such a thing, my father answered quite simply, “I just watched a company doing it down the block and figured the rest out.”

Figured it out. It was that simple, that easy. My father figured everything out. He was the modern-day MacGyver. And with that, I’ve always held one belief – the day my dad stopped using his hands would be the day he’d die.

Years after renovating his own house and swearing he’d never go through something like that again, my dad was now toiling with mine. I asked for help, but here he was, basically doing it on his own. I was left watching…until he’d send me on a coffee run lol. “But I wanna do it,” I’d complain as he hustled about with my current house repair of the week. “You can watch. I’ll get done quicker that way,” he’d reply, a smirk across his face.

Watching my dad work was like watching James Brown perform. Sure, he’d share the soul, but he was the only one capable of conjuring it. I watched my dad many, many hours over in my lifetime. And I still hadn’t “figured it out.”

So… I never wanted my dad to age. Even as I became a man, I still felt like a child in his presence. He was larger than life. My father stood all of 5 foot five, and yet he loomed over me like a giant. A superhero. It’s hard to adequately describe the feeling; to this day, I can’t quite put a finger on it. Was it due to immaturity on my behalf, or some mystical aura my dad possessed? Do all fathers make their children feel that way? Will I do so for my own daughter? Like the elusiveness of Santa Claus, I suppose that’s part of the magic…

My father could barely walk up the stairs after taking that panel of Sheetrock down into the basement. He told me he needed a few seconds to catch his breath. About ten minutes later, he was no better. That’s when I told him to go home and get some rest. My father agreed; that alone was a rarity. “Probably food poisoning,” he muttered and walked slowly to his truck.

In life, intersecting points sometimes build to a crescendo, but you never see them. You’re completely unaware. If read in a book or seen in a movie, the foreshadowing might appear clearer.

Probably food poisoning.

If only.

A few weeks later, my mother called and told me they received news from my father’s doctor…

(Part Two: Phone Booths and Four Words coming soon)

November 1 – Purple Hope and Saints

November 1 – Purple Hope and Saints

November 1 means a great deal to me.

It marks All Saints Day in honor of all the saints, known and unknown.

On November 1, 1966, my favorite football team came into existence – the New Orleans Saints.

It also marks the arrival of another saint to be. On November 1, 1946, Joseph C. Pinto was born.

My father.

He would have been 68 today.

Pancreatic cancer claimed him at the age of 60.

And yes, November 1 marks the beginning of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

I think you may have heard of this deadly disease. It’s been in the news quite often lately. A little too much, if you ask me.

Truth be told, I’d never heard of pancreatic cancer before my father was diagnosed. Maybe that makes me sound a bit ignorant, uneducated. I don’t know. Maybe I was & still am. Cancer, let alone pancreatic cancer, was something that was always over there for me. Waaaay over there, in the distance. Another time zone. Another planet. Of course, I would hear cancer mentioned on the news – maybe spoken about in someone else’s conversation – but with so many horrible events occurring in today’s world as it is, I never paid strict attention. As with most everything in life, you don’t lift your head up and take notice unless it happens to you.

Then it happened to my dad.

The first part of my father’s brave story soon awaits…

(Part One: Renovations; Shaken Foundations coming soon…)