Mike Goonan, My Dad, Part 1,

Death smiles at us all, all we can do is smile back. (Marcus Aurelius)

On August 4th 2019, my Dad, Mike Goonan, passed away, a few weeks after he turned 95. I was incredibly blessed to have him for the first 49 years of my life, but even so, I still feel robbed. No one can live forever. I had really been hoping that my Dad would make it to 100, and for a long time, it seemed like he might, but whenever I talked about him living into his hundreds, which was often, he would smile at me very gently and say “Judy, don’t wish that on me”. My Dad really hated being old. He kind of sort of made his peace with it by the time he turned 90, but not really. And, he knew that this life isn’t all that there is: I used to relish the idea of throwing a 100th birthday bash for my Dad, but he did not relish that idea. I remind myself of that often.

My Dad was born in 1924 to a couple who came to America from County Mayo, Ireland. One of the stories he told me from his childhood highlights how the term “fighting Irish” came to be. My Dad spent the first five years of his life in an area that was and still is called The Flats of Holyoke; The Flats were and still are a tough neighborhood. When it came time for my Dad to start first grade, his Father sat him down and taught him a few things about how to handle himself, and how to defend himself; my Grandfather impressed upon my Dad the importance of defending himself and his property, and taught him a little bit about how to fight. On his first day in first grade, he spotted another first grader reaching for his (my Dad’s) pencils, so he did what his father had taught him to do, and he immediately punched the kid. The Nuns sent him home, and told his parents that he wasn’t ready for school. My Dad loved telling that story, and whenever he did, he would smile from ear to ear and throw his head back and laugh and laugh and laugh.

WWII loomed over my Dad’s teenage years; Hitler and Naziism were a threat he faced squarely, even as a young kid, at great personal cost. When he was old enough to do so, he enlisted in the Army and became a combat engineer, but even before that, he spent years at odds with his father over defense and foreign policy issues. My Grandfather had spent his childhood in Ireland under English rule: unfortunately, he was blinded by his hatred for the English. As my father used to describe it, even for years before he entered the military himself, his relationship with his Dad consisted largely of him telling his Father that Hitler had to be stopped, and his Father imploring him to stay out of English wars. I never knew my paternal Grandfather; I am pretty sure that he was a force to be reckoned with, but my Dad was a force to be reckoned with too. When the time came, my Dad enlisted with all of his childhood friends. When he left for basic training, his Father was displeased: it was the last time he ever saw his Dad. My Grandfather was killed by a drunk driver while my Dad was in boot camp. My Dad always said that if his Dad had lived long enough to understand everything Hitler did and how bad he really was, he would have agreed with my Dad’s decision to fight in WWII.

My Dad ended up fighting in the Pacific. Peleliu was one of the battles he fought in. He was with the 154th Army Combat Engineers Battallion, off the coast of Peleliu. He was on some kind of work detail, and when he returned at the end of the day, he learned that all of his buddies had volunteered to go to Peleliu, and in his absence, they signed him up for the mission too. They became part of a group known as the Forty Fools. Whenever my father spoke of this, he would smile from ear to ear and throw his head back and laugh and laugh and laugh. My Dad’s experiences in the Pacific and what he told and mostly didn’t tell me about those experiences deserve their own post. I have known for a very long time that Peleliu was beyond horrific: my Dad never told me that. I learned a little about it from other people, but there is far more for me to learn. Part 2 of this series will focus more on Peleliu, and what my Dad didn’t tell me about that battle.

My Father enlisted to fight in WWII over the vehement objections of his Father because he believed in Truth over all else, and there was no price he wasn’t willing to pay to stand up for The Truth. This theme repeated itself throughout his life. He became interested in or at least open to the conservative movement sometime in his 30’s. His sister used to read mainstream magazines, and he would peruse them, but he knew that he was only getting one side of the story, so he sought out alternate media, and found National Review. He was a loyal subscriber for the rest of his life, but his involvement in conservatism consisted mainly of reading and talking until he met my mother: she took things to another level. A few years after they were married, but before Roe v Wade, the two of them attended some kind of local political seminar which focused on efforts at the time to legalize abortion in Massachusetts. Afterward, they were speaking with a woman they had never met before, but who became a lifelong friend. She looked at both of them and said, “This is terrible. We have to do something.” According to my Dad, when she said that, he just smiled and said nothing: it was his intention to continue saying nothing, but my mother chimed in and said “Oh, yes, Mike and I would love to help in any way we can.” Whenever my Dad relayed this story, he would smile from ear to ear and throw his head back and laugh and laugh and laugh: he told me that the thought that ran through his mind when my Mother voluntold him into the Pro-Life movement was “Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?” True to form, he graciously accepted the challenge, and spent the rest of his life-the next 50 years- being a compassionate and eloquent voice for Life.

I stated at the beginning of this post that my Dad hated being old: he really did. When he was around 70, he suffered a near fatal heart attack: in the aftermath of that, he was in a great deal of pain and discomfort. I was helping to care for him at the time, and at one point, he looked me straight in the eye and said “I have been preaching about this stuff all my life. It is time for me to start practicing what I preach.” About 20 years later, I was sitting with my Dad in the cardiologist’s office waiting for the doctor. My Dad was in a whimsical mood that day, and out of nowhere, he started describing to me in graphic detail how the body breaks down with old age-it was morbid stuff, but he was smiling from ear to ear and occasionally laughing through his whole description of it all: I was stunned. He was describing death in graphic terms, with a smile on his face the whole time, and his smile was so contagious, I found myself smiling too: I laughed nervously, and I said that I was amazed that he could talk about death in such a vivid way and laugh. He threw his head back and laughed and laughed and laughed, and he said “Honey, anybody over the age of 90 who can’t laugh about it has a problem.” My Dad faced death just as bravely as he fought for Life.

This post and the posts that will follow about my Dad are and will probably continue to be a sort of stream of consciousness type of writing: I apologize for that, but if I wait until I can do something other than stream of consciousness, I will be waiting forever. There is so much I want to tell you about my Dad, but for now, know this: when death smiled at my Father, he smiled back. He embraced Life, he fought for Life, both for others and for himself, but he also smiled at death, both as a young man and as an old man. He loved Life, and he laughed at death: my Dad was and still is the greatest.

20 thoughts on “Mike Goonan, My Dad, Part 1,

  1. “This post and the posts that will follow about my Dad are and will probably continue to be a sort of stream of consciousness type of writing…”

    No apologies needed here Jac; I studied Joyce and Faulkner in college. I look forward to forthcoming SoC commentary.

    This post made me cry because I lost my best friend two years ago but didn’t have the time to prepare for it (instantaneous 4th stage cancer). I had to see him suffer from complete loss of mind and ability and frankly, his death was almost a relief because I, selfishly, did not want to see my father, my mentor, my life coach deteriorate in such a manner.

    I remember as I was growing up and moving on to the adult world, the first person I always called was my father:

    “Dad, I’m graduating magna cum laude; Dad, I got the promotion; Dad, I am engaged to that handsome man I brought home for Christmas!”

    He was always the first person.

    I understand what you’re feeling right now.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Better make it “Lights out” here, hermano, .and all. Enjoy your lunch, ST! G’night to everyone Stateside. Peace be in and with us all! Chao for now. Back here later on….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hyp, your facility with finding apt lines from a lovely variety of bards in the Western canon leads me to ask: Wouldja, occasionally, introduce us to a wordsmith you enjoy? Not to dissect the work, but to experience it: Associations attached, etc. If I’m off the mark here, ignore this, but I thought I’d ask.

    Liked by 2 people

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