Happy Birthday to My Hero, My Dad


“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”  

~Clarence Budington Kelland



Reblogged, and edited from an earlier post on my other blog, Gardens Eye View.



Today my dad (Eugene J. Abel, Sr.; better known as Gene) would have been 82  87 years young.  Born as the Great Depression was starting, to a mother who wanted a girl, in the city of Philadelphia, so began my dad’s life.



He was the second son of two children.  His mom, who came from a poor Irish background, stayed at home although I think she may have worked at some point. His German father was strict and worked on the railroad.  They did not have much money, and both his parents came from large families of 13 children each.  And my grandmother revealed to me later in her life, that she married at 19 to get out of the house and away from her unhappy life.  It did not turn out to be a happy adult life for her either, as she viewed it.



Isn't he the cutest baby
Isn’t he the cutest baby

My Dad graduated high school, went to work and met my mom.  He was drafted into the Korean War towards its end, but did not see any action due to drinking foul water on maneuvers in Texas.  The war ended and he came home gladly as he always said, he hated the army.  As opposed to his older brother, my Uncle, who made a career from it.



He married my mom in 1954 after she graduated from nursing school as an RN.  He was going to night school after the war to get his accounting degree.  He could only go part-time because he had to earn a living.  They started a family in 1956, and had 4 children in 5 years.  During this time, my dad continued to work during the day, and go to school at night, while my mom stayed home and raised us kids.  She would work on weekends while my dad took care of us.  To say this was non-traditional is putting it mildly.  How many fathers in the 1950s cooked and cleaned and took care of the kids?  Not many.  And how many parents really shared everything:  work, kids, household?  Not many!



We moved to Indiana, in the fall of 1962, where my dad had a new job.  From the city to the country without batting an eyelash.  Mom stayed home at this point, and dad drove an old clunker of a car, an hour each way to work, always making sure my mom had the station wagon.



So you can see my role models were very different (at least that’s what my friends always said).  And my dad was the consummate kid.  He loved to play with us.  When we were growing up in Indiana, he came home from work, and was always playing ball with us or some other game.  He even made folding the laundry fun.  We never folded laundry without having a sock fight, and he would usually start it.  My mom used to say she had 5 kids, and she was right.  But first and foremost, he was always our father.  He disciplined us, even though I think it hurt him more than us sometimes.



1949-my dad as a young man
1949-my dad as a young man

But what I remember most was the love.  The complete unconditional, non-judgmental love and acceptance of all of us with all our faults.  He never dwelt on those faults either.  He would look at the positive.  He would talk with us.  He would let us make up our minds, and make our own mistakes.   He let us live our lives even if he didn’t approve.  And you never really knew if he didn’t approve, because again he did not pass judgement.  He was the proud dad, and he always made you know just how proud he was of all of us.



My dad was loved and admired by all who met and knew him.  I used to work summers, in the same company where he worked, when I was going to college.  You could see the admiration of his co-workers and the employees he supervised.  He had many friends, and I never remember anyone ever saying an unkind thing about him.



And his sense of humor, and story telling was legendary.  It was the Irish in him, I suspect.  That dry, slightly sarcastic way he had of saying things that was so endearing.  We loved to hear him tell the same stories over and over again, or have him sing his silly songs.  Those that know me well know I inherited his sense of humor; dry and sarcastic as well.



My dad on the left with a friend
My dad on the left with a friend

And I think the garden was his solace.  It was where you would find him puttering in peaceful happiness.  He even planted cactus, at their house, when my parents moved to Arizona.  That was when the bottom dropped out though for my dad.  He had lost his job at about the age of 50, and tried a few of his own businesses that failed.



He fell in love with the weather in Arizona when he took me to graduate school there.  So they moved there in 1985.  My mom knew something was wrong…I think we all did even though we tried to believe it was just depression.  It turned out to be early onset Alzheimer’s.  My dad suffered with this disease for almost 15 years until it took his life in 1998 soon after I was married. He was only 68.



Amazingly though he never lost his sense of humor or his love for his family.  He would continue to garden until the disease took so much of him he did not know us anymore.  He suffered in silence, never wanting his family to be hurt or affected by the disease because that was the kind of person he was.  And for his sake we never showed the pain we felt, or made him feel like he was incapable of anything he wanted to do.  It was the little triumphs, like when he could walk from the car to the house or still feed himself, that sustained us and at the same time pierced our hearts with a searing pain.



So I remember the man with the song in his heart and all the things we shared:  gardening, our love of old movies, story-telling, discussing politics and the news.  He was the listener and I was a talker.  His were the huge shoulders that I cried on, and that held me up when I needed them.  His voice, the heart of my father, was silenced long before his body gave out.  I really lost him soon after the disease started.  I was 28.  To say I miss my father can’t even begin to express the love, pain, sorrow I feel daily.  I feel his presence, though, whenever I am in the garden.  In that place of peaceful solitude that sustains my soul, that puts me in touch with him and his memory.  And maybe that is why I love it so, why I feel the compulsion, the yearning to be out there.  To be with him if not on this plane of existence then in another with his spirit.  So today I am celebrating the man, and my memories of my dad, on this his birthday.  It is the least I can do after all he has done for me….I love you daddy!!!




“Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.”
~John Ruskin




Special Note:  

Thank you to all who have read this celebration of  my dad’s life.  It seemed fitting to bring this memoir back.  I hope my siblings read this, and hopefully find some solace.  The picture at the top of the post was taken when my dad was in the middle stages of the disease.  The disease even made it hard for his brain to tell his body how to smile, but smile he did even though he had to work at it.  He is pictured with his trusty buddy, our dog, Banditt.  They were never apart until my dad was so sick he had to live in a group home.  It broke Banditt’s heart, I think, and his health declined until he died a few years before my dad.  They are together now, and I know Banditt was there to greet him.  I wonder what my father would have thought of this blogging thing, and of his daughter’s writing.  I am sure he would be proud smiling that fabulous grin beaming ear to ear…..


All other photos and original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Living From Happiness, 2014-2016.  Any reprints or use of other photos or content is by permission only.

12 Replies to “Happy Birthday to My Hero, My Dad”

  1. Oh, Donna. This broke my heart to read, especially the part about having Alzheimer’s for 15 years. My mom had it for only 2 and that was more than enough. But look at all the beautiful, loving memories you have! You are more than blessed and I raise my glass to you and him in tribute. What a beautiful post!

  2. Oh Donna, this is such a moving post, I can only dread how you feel as my own Dad is still with us at 80, we try to make the most of our time, but your post is a reminder not to take anything for granted. Your Dad sounds like a fine man, the gift of not judging is rare. Alzheimers is a cruel disease, I lost my paternal grandmother to that condition. And 28 is far to young to lose a parent, 68 is no age at all. I am glad you find your garden a solace and a place to enjoy your memories. You’ve written a wonderful tribute to him Donna. X

  3. This was very touching – my heart hurts for you reading this, and my own personal reasons are tied to it. Mom started with memory loss in her mid 60’s, and will be 82 this year. She has little to no words left and doesn’t know who I am. Just some fleeting moments of happiness. I can’t wait for the day when she’s released from this disease.

    1. Oh Christie, I know you have been dealing with this heartbreak too for a long time now. I send you many hugs and much love my dear friend….you know I am here if you ever need to talk. It is hard for people to know the pain unless they have dealt with a loved one who has had this awful disease.

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