I want to inform my readers of the passing of my father, Albert Caggiano, on Sunday, June 18. It was sudden and unexpected. There is a lot that I can say about him, but since this is a food blog, I wanted to focus on that. My dad loved food. After he retired two years ago, one of his true joys in life was going out to eat. He was not big on hobbies, and aside from watching sports and reading, he did not look forward to much besides eating. I’m really not ashamed to say that. We are Italian after all.
Most Italians do the whole “Sunday Dinner” thing, but for us it was always on Saturday night. As I got older and life was busier, I still made sure to be home as much as possible on Saturday nights. My mom would cook something amazing; an entree, sides, and dessert. I would mix up some cocktails or sangria. He really liked martinis (gin, straight up, extra olives—I know that order by heart). Much like I am passionate about whiskey, he felt the same for gin. We took turns surprising each other with bottles of whatever from time to time. He loved my mom’s cooking and baking, much like we all do, but he got particularly excited for Saturday nights. That afternoon he would start saying something like, “Did you see what mom is cooking tonight?” Whenever he ate, he raved about her cooking. He also said to me after any martini he had in a restaurant, “Not as good as yours”.
As most moms and wives do, she pestered him to eat a little bit healthier. He would say, “Do you want me to be the healthiest person in the cemetery? When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go”. I will always think he was gone way before his time. Any person who loses someone special would. But he was a believer in things being predetermined. “My time”, as he would say. As it turns out, his cause of death had nothing to do with his diet. Even in this great sadness, I can at least take solace in the fact that he enjoyed life and got as much out of it as he could.
He loved Indian food. He loved sushi. His favorite restaurants were probably a tie between Cafe Bella Vita on Staten Island and Portuguese Manor in Perth Amboy. Often times we would order the same thing, or both order something the other would like so we could split it. Our tastes were very similar. But there were times when his tastes did not make sense. For example, he loved that sushi contained seaweed, but at the same time he hated grits (of all things) with a passion. I always busted his chops about that.
Though he passed away on Father’s Day, we did get a chance to celebrate it that Thursday before. Since I was going to be away that weekend, I told him to pick whatever restaurant he wanted. He chose Toki in Red Bank and ordered his usual beef negamaki. Little did I know, it would be our last time eating out together, after so many restaurant visits in my life that I would never be able to keep track of. On a positive note, this also meant I got a chance to give him his Father’s day gift and card. The inscription read, “Thank you for being the best dad in the world.”
He was not one to dwell. He was not one for spectacle. He kept things short and concise. He was never negative. He had the answer to any conceivable question about anything–it was uncanny. If someone was upset or had a problem, he knew exactly what to say to spin it around to the bright side. In all that he did for us, and all of his care, he wanted nothing more than my mom and I to have as happy and worry-free a life as humanly possible.
In getting back to food and drinks, I cannot help but smile at the times where he would nudge me and say something like, “You know, we haven’t had sangria in a while”. I would tell him I’d make a pitcher and he would say, “What do you need? Let’s go to the store.” His favorite dish may have been my mom’s chicken cutlets. He would give those subtle hints. She would say, “I’m gonna make some kind of chicken Saturday”. He would ask for cutlets and she would let out a sigh and say, “Again?!” After retirement, he did the shopping. Whatever my mom and I needed was there. Even if I mentioned something in passing without much thought or planned on getting it myself after work, sure enough, it would appear. I have to admit, he spoiled me much more than I could ever deserve.
For those reasons, I am trying my best to think of how amazing my dad was. I am trying to keep thinking those happy thoughts. To honor his memory that way. Whenever I have cried, I can hear him telling me not to. All he wanted was for us to be happy, and he did a damn good job of making that happen. I will miss everything about our relationship, forever and always.
I love you, dad.