Goodbye, Papa.

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Martin Ubaldo “Marty” Marino

Nov. 11, 1934 ~ March 14, 2014

In a world of unique individuals my father might have been the uniquiest. He was a high roller who hit it big. Twice. He also hit rock bottom. Twice. Unfortunately that last hit was a doozy. After that, Phoenix’s highest-flying realtor mostly “worked” from home. First it was online gaming and later the stock market, which, come to think of it, is really the same thing.

We all have our own unique vantage point on other’s lives. You may have known my dad as “Marty the realtor”… or grandpa…or golfer. “Marty the political campaign manager” or “Marty the original Suns season ticket holder.”  “Marty the colleague” or “Marty the card player.” But we all knew him as “Marty the forwarder of factually questionable spam.”

To me, Marty was dad. And my dad was a paradox: An extroverted recluse. A curmudgeon with a heart of gold. He wore his vices on his sleeve, but hid his virtues under a Grumpy Cat exterior. My father was a virtuoso reaction provoker. You could not spend more than 5 minutes with my father without either loving him or hating him.

Most likely both.

Usually at the same time.

When I was a child we would vacation at Pajaro Dunes, a lovely semi-private beach. But as my dad aged, he reverted to the NY kid who longed for the hubbub of the boardwalk. He began to holiday on Mission Beach, San Diego’s answer to Coney Island. He rented on the promenade. Always with a second story balcony to watch the girls and talk smack to the fellas. My dad was still talking smack in his 70’s.

In the mornings he would greet the world with vocal renditions of Sinatra, Bennett and Hoagie Carmichael. Picture the Mission Beach boardwalk at 8 am on a midweek July morning: A few fit joggers & bikers power by. Locals kibitz over coffee. Hung over college kids stumble home. But mostly families that stayed up too late are trying to grab a few more moments of shut-eye. And there, on the balcony above it all, is my retirement-aged, 260 pound, shirtless, chain-smoking Italian father belting out “Fly me to the moon” overpowering Sinatra on his massive boom box.

No, it wasn’t good.

And, yes, he knew it.

But for a month each summer people would walk past our rental either snickering or grimacing.

In my 49 years I cannot recall a single incident in which my dad was not the center of attention. And it wasn’t that he was intentionally seeking attention or a reaction. He was just a smidge larger than life.

Ideas were important to my dad. He had them. Articulated them. Argued them. And he always won the argument. Usually because his idea was persuasive. When it was not, he had perfected a technique I call “vocal Darwinism”: Survival of the loudest.

Words were important to my dad as well. He used them often – either in the declarative or the exclamatory. If you used a word wrongly you would receive a lesson on its Latin etymology, delivered in the declarative exclamatory.

Inside of my father’s home, where the lion spent the lion’s share of the last 25 years, the most common words addressed to him began, “O Papa.” The “O” could be pronounced with shock, joy, fear, dismay, gratitude, or exasperation. As in “O, Papa!” when he went out of his way to help one of us, or when you caught him, a man in end stage congestive heart failure, sneaking an entire box of sodium enhanced prepackaged spareribs for breakfast. Most of my father’s favorite words cannot be said in church.

My dad was an Italian. A New York raised, swarthy, chain wearing, chain smoking, looked like a mafia Don and sounded like one too, Italian. In case you would like to be an Italian, there are 3 essential words you need to know. My dad made sure we knew them: Capish (understand), Stai Zitto (shut up), and Luie Monjagovol, an untranslatable expression useful for all occasions…mostly for those rare times when you could not use any of the words my dad really preferred using…the ones you cannot use in church.

My father was extremely funny. And sarcastic. Unfortunately, sarcasm often goes over one’s children’s heads…and when it does it often carries decades long consequences. For example, when I was seven and writing the obligatory post-Christmas “Thank you” notes, I made the mistake of telling my dad that envelopes “taste bad.” He said, “That’s because the glue is carcinogenic.” I was always learning important things from my father, like how to pronounce “carcinogenic” and that envelope glue was a dangerous yet unregulated substance. I didn’t lick envelopes until I was a high school junior. I was working as a Suns’ ballboy when one night Ron Lee, a highly personable Suns guard, half licked a ticket envelope and handed it to me to finish. I licked my finger and used that to finish the envelope. I looked up and the entire team was staring at me. I had no idea that they were wondering if I was a racist for not licking an envelope after a Black man. With full conviction informed them, “Licking envelopes is stupid. Y’all are going to die of tongue cancer!”

My dad’s name was Martin Ubaldo Marino. I once asked him why he always wrote “Marty.” He told me “Martin Ubaldo” was long and WOPy sounding so he had it legally changed. I saw him write “Martin U. Marino” on something last year and asked him when he changed his name back. He had no idea what I was talking about.

I live in fear of what other great fictions await my discovery.

My dad was the strongest man I knew. As a kid I would hold on around his neck as he swam underwater 2 complete lengths of our long swimming pool. I could barely hang on due to the water resistance. It must have taken tremendous strength to propel his enormous body and mine through that water. I would have to let go on the first leg to get air and catch him again on his way back.

My dad broke racial barriers long before it was fashionable. In the late 1960’s, Phoenix was a very Anglo town. The first time I laid eyes on an African American was in my house. Asleep. Connie Hawkins had flown into town to look at homes and was tired. So my dad, who sold the early Suns players their homes, brought him over for a nap. Back then professional sports were divided not by management and labor (they all made about the same money), but by color. My dad and trainer Joe Proski socialized with White and Black alike. It took me years to realize that they were the only ones doing that. He never mentioned “justice” or “reconciliation.” He just lived it.

If we did something hard-working or noble my dad said, “You’re a good man, Gunga Din.” I lived to hear those words.

Here is an event which summarizes neatly my father as a dad and grandpa: He beat us to the hospital for our daughter’s birth…and then entertained himself and the hospital staff by loudly and extensively hazing us all over the hospital for being “late to our own child’s delivery!”

Boys always learn the important things in life from their fathers. Here are…

10 life-lessons I learned from my dad:

1. Tools are something you buy…but for someone else to actually use.

2. Do stuff you don’t like simply because you love your kids: Bouncing a Lincoln Continental all over Northern Arizona forest roads to take two teenagers fishing comes to mind. Can you imagine anyone more out of place in a forest than my father?

3. Everyone gets to win in a deal. My dad was a very moral businessman: “Never let anyone get screwed, Matt.” He once told me when some friends hatched a get rich quick scheme.

4. Care for people. One Christmas he was ordered to “tone it down” by the Salvation Army: When he drove up to the house and saw how poor the family was, he loaded the whole tribe into his Fleetwood Brougham and took them on a shopping spree to a warehouse store.

5. It’s better to be kind than nice. My dad was not a nice man. But he was a remarkably kind one. He would come to your aid no matter how ridiculous a situation you had gotten yourself into. But he would ride you on it the whole time.

6. Your gifts can be a stepping-stone or a tombstone. The same pride that made my dad a legendary real estate agent also made him too proud to return to it. Don’t be a victim of your gifts.

7. You can save a lot of money by making your own cigarettes…but money is all you are saving.

8. For a man for whom religion was a regular target of his sarcasm, I learned a great deal about faith from my dad:

-He taught me to read the Bible beginning in the Gospels. I had started the Bible twice and got bogged down in 2 Chronicles both times. Who starts a book 2/3 of the way through? My dad taught me that it is really a collection of books, and that the New interprets the Old.

-I learned to stick with it. On three occasions I thought about quitting the ministry for something that would pay better. Each time my dad was the one who beelined it to my house to talk me out of it. “Why would you do that?” He said. “You were made for this.”

-I learned that what we say and what we mean aren’t always the same thing. Last month, my father, the vocal atheist, called me concerned about a lack of faith by a close family member. The conversation was both funny and profound…

Dad: What are you doing?

Me: At 6:30 A.M. on my day off?

Dad: You aren’t sleeping are you?

Me: Not any more.

Dad: Do you know that  ____ doesn’t believe a GD thing about Jesus Christ. Can you believe that? I mean… JC. Who doesn’t love Jesus, GDit. What the H. Everyone loves Jesus Christ. Even I love Jesus Christ! And I do, dammit. I do love Jesus Christ. GDit. Who doesn’t believe anything? C. I mean really NOT believe anything. What the H?”

Me: Dad, Have you considered contacting Guinness? You might have set a new record for blasphemies in a conversation for Jesus.

Dad (after an out of character apology for his word choice): You need to do something about that! You need to talk to him!

Me: Dad, you have spent 30 years mocking faith. And you are surprised that he took you at your word? I have always known you had a secret thing for Jesus, you just protested too much. But I really think you should have that talk. Be honest. Let him know that, although you have big issues with the church, that you actually think quite highly of Jesus and it bothers you that he doesn’t.

I don’t know if that conversation ever happened.

9. Number nine takes a little setup: My dad went to great lengths to avoid exercise. If he had a religion, it might have been named Exercise-avoidance-ism. This religion had at its theological core the doctrine that “every human is allotted a certain number of heartbeats at birth and that if you want to waste yours exercising, that is your business.”

So, #9, I learned that His theory on “the conservation of heartbeats” is probably flawed.

10. Speaking of flawed, the worst day of a kid’s life might be the day he finds out his dad is flawed. And my dad was quite flawed. However, one of the best days in a man’s life is the day he finds out that his flawed dad is still quite human and, in many ways, quite holy. One day last summer he and my stepmother came over unannounced and told us that she had had beaten cancer.  They had never told us that she had cancer-it might have been the only secret my father ever kept. That day, the only time in my life that I saw my father cry, he threw his arms around my stepmom, squeezed her hard enough that we feared for her safety, and blurted through his tears how much he loved her and how lost he would be if anything happened to her. I will never forget that day. It told me my dad was growing…becoming more alive…even as his body was obviously dying.

As I thought about a memorial to my father I thought, “This will be the first time someone gets the last word on Marty Marino.” But as a Christian, I don’t actually believe that I have.

Dad I love you. And I miss you already.

See you later.

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23 thoughts on “Goodbye, Papa.

  1. I truly loved this blog Matt. I hope I get to meet your dad in heaven! He was right, you are meant for this. Blessings to you, my friend.

  2. Dear Matt+,
    May my children write such a moving tribute to me when I die. Thank you for opening your heart in this way with us. My eyes are brimful as I smile my way through your loving and honest vignettes.
    Prayers for you and your family, and for the repose of your dad’s soul, who I am convinced is resting in the arms of Jesus now.
    Blessings,
    Sue+

    Writing from suburban Baltimore.
    The Rev. Susan Oldfather+
    Cell: 925-381-6927
    Email: therev.sko@gmail.com

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. Matt, from your loving, no-varnish description, I could just see your dad in front of me. Sounds similar to some of the older relatives of the kids I went to school with, in the working class area of Chicago where I grew up. And yes, I suspect I really would have liked your dad if I had met him.

    God’s comfort and blessings to you and your family as you continue to miss him. And love him. I look forward to meeting him, by and by.

  4. Dear Matt & Family,

    Thank you for posting this moving portrait into your father; I wish I had known him! I hope you and the family are experiencing some amazing peace and comfort.

    • Thank you, Jessica. Yes, God is good and present.

      I hope you are well. It would be great to see you sometime soon and catch up on your life after high school.

      Lux Christi.

  5. What a beautiful, loving tribute to your father, Matt. May God’s loving presence comfort you and your family as you mourn.

  6. What a beautiful and honest tribute, Matt. I agree about finding out one’s father is flawed… that’s a rough day. Your words are proof that you, like Jesus, saw every part of your dad and loved his whole being. That is real love and a challenge to each of us. Well said, and well done.

  7. What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man. Some parts of your piece remind me of my dad — which makes it doubly sweeter. Prayers for all who loved him in this life.

  8. Beautiful, Matt. I wish I could have met your dad. I have the same philosophy on reserving heartbeats, because the number we have is limited, which goes along well with my “Why would I run if nobody’s chasing me?” mindset.

    I often say that you can measure a dad by looking at his children, and knowing what I know of you, I would say he was a great guy. Peace of the Lord be with him, and with you….

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