Impressing the Tough Guy by
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Me and Dad on my 23rd Birthday


His favorite athlete was Rocky Marciano.

This story only makes sense if you know a bit about my father.

He was born in 1920. His father had owned a livery stable in Hoboken, NJ, so Dad grew up toting hay bales etc, which made him very strong. After Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the Navy. Due to some experience in construction, he joined the Seabees and became a heavy equipment operator, building airstrips in the Pacific theater. He was shot in the knee by a sniper, so for the rest of his life he had a trick knee and got a small monthly check from the VA. He had been, among other things, a light-heavyweight boxer, a bouncer/singer in waterfront bars and clubs on Hoboken’s once infamous River Street, a longshoreman, a truck driver and a debt collector…for a loan shark. Even years later, long past his wild days, people who mistook his usual quiet demeanor for timidity learned to their detriment that he was not to be pushed too far. He once decked three guys who had catcalled my Mom at a stop light, and then compounded their error by letting Dad talk them out of their car to discuss it at the next one. His favorite athlete was Rocky Marciano.

He was a tough guy, and not big on verbally expressing emotions.

At fourteen, I took up SCUBA diving. At one point, after I had been diving a few years, my friend Jim took up the sport. At the end of his basic lessons, when he was going to do his open-water checkout dives, he asked to borrow a key piece of gear, a “bouyancy compensator.” I had just bought a new one, top of the line and expensive. I let him use it.

After my friend had left, Dad asked me why he had seen someone leaving with my brand-new BC. When I told him, he asked why I had not loaned Jim my old one. I explained that the old one had a leak, which I could deal with, but it might be a problem for Jim. I didn’t feel I should loan someone else a piece of dive gear that was causing me problems.

My father stared at me for a few seconds, then smiled, nodded, squeezed my shoulder and said “Dave, you really are a good-hearted kid.”

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.

Tags: father, son, admiration, pride.
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Wonderful to hear the sweet words you remember from you tough guy dad Dave.

    He obviously had a good head and a big heart – just like his son!

    • Dave Ventre says:

      In the late 50s, Dad was given a choice to get in or get out completely (of the North Jersey outfit, which was the model for the Soprano family). He decided that freedom and longevity were more probable using his mechanical genius and becoming a mechanic. Had he chosen otherwise, how very different my life would have been!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    It sounds like getting that compliment from your dad was worth it’s weight in gold, Dave.

  3. Marian says:

    Dave, this is an amazing portrait of your father. I can see and hear him. You had to be tough to survive what he did, but he had an empathetic heart. Love this story.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Your dad was a tough guy (what a history!)with an appreciation for the good nonetheless. Good on you for reminding him about doing the right thing, and him for recognizing it.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    He may have been a tough guy, but your father taught you a valuable lesson in his complement.

  6. Suzy says:

    Lovely story, Dave. I was expecting him to lecture you about “neither a borrower or a lender be,” but instead he was proud of you, and that’s great!

  7. Susan Bennet says:

    It says here in the Reply Box that I should say one nice thing about your story. Sorry, I cannot. There are three things I have to say:

    Loved your and your dad’s life story!
    Loved how you weaved your tale and brought us to the warm-hearted ending!
    Wowed by handsome handsome at 23!

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