I punched a girl square in the nose for calling my Dad four-eyes. We were in sixth-grade, she was a bully and I’d had enough of her bad-mouthing my father.
Growing-up, the truth is that I spent a lot of time defending my Dad and I know that my brother Seamus did too.
People didn’t understand our lifestyle.
In the country, my parents threw Gatsby-esque parties that went on for days at their big stone house with the Amityville-like, attic windows.
When we moved to suburbia, the lettered-up pace cars in the driveway, cases upon cases of sponsorship hats, t-shirts, beer, coolers and golf towels in our garage were the talk of the neighborhood for the kids and great fodder for disgust for their parents.
It seemed exciting and wild from the outside but inside, it was tough being Tom Curley’s kids. Unlike many who were paid to love and adore him, we just did. We loved and adored him because he was our Dad and because that is what kids do. It’s supposed to work that way.
Doesn’t it work that way for you…?
What you might not know about my Dad is that at his core, the man was a survivor. The universe aligned in weird ways to make this—him—happen. In many ways, he should not have even lived.
You might not know that my Dad’s mother, my grandmother, was murdered. She was murdered by her ex-lover, a police officer who shot her the night she told him that she wanted to go back to my grandfather to try to make it work. The cop shot her, he shot himself and he left behind a wife and eight kids.
This was too much for my grandfather who, after receiving the news, left town and his kids. My father was three-years-old.
My Dad and his older sister were sent to live with their maternal grandparents. My father adored his grandfather; my great-grandmother despised my father. Both parts to that part of Dad’s story are important: I believe that my soft-spoken, humble, great-grandfather imparted my Dad’s work ethic and incredible generosity of spirit and that my Cruella De Vil, great-grandmother gave him his tyrannical, totalitarian, all-consuming drive.
Perhaps Dad’s grandmother blamed him for her rebel-daughter straying. Maybe it was because he reminded her too much of her son-in-law—a bumbling lawyer with a photographic memory, who chain-smoked Lucky Strikes and disappeared into the underbelly of the streets of Boston only to be found years later in the room of a boarding house, near the dog tracks, by a private investigator, hired by my mother, against my father’s wishes—not so lucky with all his strikes…
In between trips to Boston twice yearly to be measured for new clothes, my father was left in the hands of an abusive governess, was diagnosed with Polio, and was shipped-off to boarding schools and summer camps as soon as possible, for as long as possible.
You might not know that my Dad thought his mom died in a car crash…
One night, at summer camp, sitting around the fire it was suggested to my then, teen-counselor dad, that he learn the truth of his mother’s death. So, he snuck out of camp, hitch-hiked to the library, made his way to the basement and found the hard facts in the soft glow of microfiche.
I believe this moment forever changed him.
What you may or may not know about my Dad is that he had many other interests—loves—other than racecars.
His first love was a girl named Sally who died of Leukemia. A couple of years ago, he shared with me in a letter that he never fully got over losing Sally. He still considered her to be the love of his life.
Dad’s next love was a German Shepherd dog named Heidi who made both business and pleasure trips with my Dad up and down the East Coast from Mallet’s Bay, Vermont to Daytona Beach, Florida. Loyal Heidi, rode shot-gun in the chocolate-brown Corvette, never complained about the heat or the cold or the music and, I imagine, easily sat in the percolation of my Dad’s thoughts and silence for hours at a time.
Heidi was the perfect companion for a guy like my Dad.
My all-consuming love for dogs probably stems from Heidi, who once saved toddler-me from the farmer’s combine after I crawled out the screen door, crossed the road and slipped into the cornfield one hot, harvest day.
When Heidi died, Dad was bedridden with grief for days. He was inconsolable even by another one of his loves—my mother.
He married my mother because she was hot and smart and it was the summer of ’69. My mother married my father because he was cool and because her mother hated him. Also, my mother didn’t want to marry the doctor she was engaged to. And, like I said, it was the summer of 1969.
Dad and my mom ran off to Ireland to elope just six weeks after he hired her as a waitress for his steakhouse called T-Bone’s that he owned with Ken Squier—another one of Dad’s loves of the brotherly kind.
His mother and Sally’s deaths were just the beginning of a long line of tragedies and fabulous events in my Dad’s amazing life that created the man you think you knew.
And then, there were the stories…
Dad was a great storyteller. A true Irishman blessed with the gift of the gab, he could hold an audience of one to one thousand. He was fanatical and fantastical. He told stories about hitch-hikers he picked up on the way to Montreal who threw drugs out the window before coming up to the border. He shared grizzly accounts of what he thought was trash all over the road turning out to be body parts from a Hell’s Angel hit by a semi-truck. At Thanksgiving, he held court at our dining room table in front of the entire University of Vermont hockey team (and at least three large, turkey carcasses) while he told stories about the panty raids and drill sergeants at his alma mater.
Gory stuff and racy stuff—Dad told every kind of story. Some of his stories were absolute bullshit! And, you knew it. But, he was so cunning and so deliberate in his delivery that his wrath of authority took hold of you like a soft noose that tugged at your neck attached to your heartstrings. Always a tough critic of his audiences, god forbid you should smirk or have heartburn or shift your weight from one ass cheek to another. He’d single you out and let you have it.
If you were smart, you locked-down and you listened. Period. It’s what you did.
Particular and suspicious, he thought everything was a conspiracy. Everything. Including if a favourite pen went missing from his desk. “Who took my god-damned pen?” he’d bellow. Everything would stop and we’d all look for his pen. It would turn up in his briefcase.
Perhaps someone did take the pen. And then, snuck it into his briefcase while the rest of us searched and he ranted. Perhaps…
If you are reading this, you probably know that Dad was a character. He was righteous about being right and all about fairness. And, he was incredibly unfair, uneven, irrational and sometimes, unkind.
He loved sailing, beating the system, breaking the rules, gambling, The Kentucky Derby, driving fast, little kids, the ocean, loud opera, blazing his own trail, that my birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day and dogs. He was a hard-core, dog lover and a lover of the under-dog.
He was enigmatic, mercurial and a big dreamer who made dreams comes true…
I want you to know that Dad told me he had no regrets. I know that some of you reading this cannot believe this is true but, I’m his kid and I’m telling you that it is because I saw that it was so in his beguiling-blue eyes.
For me, as his daughter, hearing that he was regret-free was both extraordinary and admirable—a relief to hear this from a man who had really and truly lived and experienced life to the fullest.
And, upon his passing, knowing this also leaves me incredibly sad and mystified…
In my teens and 20’s, I spent a lot of my life honing my skills to be more like him. And then, between estrangement(s) from him about which I will never fully understand (like, perhaps, is the case for some of you), I wielded the distance to learn from his mistakes and to wrangle in some of my own. As a business woman, a wife, a mother, a friend, a sister and a daughter, I think of him all the time in terms of what to do, what to stop doing, what to NEVER do and what to keep on doing…
When we reconciled several years ago at a lunch on the U.S. Canadian border, I asked him if he was proud of me.
“Am I proud of you?” he said throwing his hands up in the air. “Of course, I’m proud of you! You are a mini-me and I’m proud of me!” he added as he poked his finger deep into his heart…
I am honored to call Tom Curley my father and I am grateful for the gifts that keep giving. I loved and adored him. Thanks for reading and for being a part of his life and, therefore mine. I appreciate it and you.