In Loving Memory: Henry F. De Sio, Sr.

My dad's footsteps. I woke to the sound of them every morning for years, sometime just before six. Right at the crack of dawn. I could hear them pass outside the bedroom my brother and I shared as he got ready for work.  

My dad was a high school teacher. He worked in one of the most economically disadvantaged communities in the state. And even though many of his students came from families of little means, he always wore his Sunday-best shoes to class. It was the tapping of those hard-soled shoes against the brick-tile flooring in the hallway that produced the heavy steps I heard at the start of each day.

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There was something about the sound of those footsteps. They meant something to me. They represented the qualities in my dad that I most admired: responsibility, discipline, respect.

Responsibility. Those footsteps offered assurance every morning that all was well. My dad had a way to provide for and take care of us. He worked hard always and that gave me a sense of security. The son of immigrants raised during the Depression, that was something he probably didn't have in his childhood.

Discipline. My dad's students could count on him at school, just as my brother and I could at home. He showed up for work every day. If he missed more than five days of work in his twenty-three years in the classroom, I'd be surprised. More than that, he showed up fully for his students. He prepared for hours the night before. And he didn't just teach the subjects at hand, he mentored his students to be leaders.

Respect. It was the obvious reason he wore his best shoes to the classroom. I remember the care he took to shine those wing tips some nights. Greeted by teens wearing blue jeans and "ACDC" T-shirts, it seems he could have gotten away with more casual attire. But he didn't dress to where his students were at that moment--he dressed to where they were headed in their lives. He believed in his "kids" before they even believed in themselves.

My brother and I weren't untouched in all this. From him we learned about the importance of family, faith, and community. We also learned to confidently step into our own leadership.

Today, I hear different footsteps in my house. They are smaller, a bit more hurried, and sometimes less sure of the ground beneath them. But they are equally purposeful. The footsteps of my two boys have been imprinted in places I never imagined we'd ever be.

I am always mindful that we couldn't have gotten where we are in our lives if it wasn't for my dad. And I never hear my sons' footsteps without thinking of his. The nature of my dad's illness and the miles between us made it hard for my boys to really get to know their grandfather. I know it's up to me to help them learn about him through the stories and by my example as a father. Just as my brother and I looked to our dad, my boys are counting on me.

That makes his very big shoes for me to fill.

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