Ralph R. Bruschini of Glen Cove, 1957-2014
As many of you know, today marks one year since my dad passed. I thought I’d take some time to try to share what his life was really about, at least from my eyes. I’ve become a bit of a collector of stories over the past year to help me in this task. Writing this will discomfort some and bring tears to my eyes, but most of us aren’t guided by holy books or even our schoolteachers. Instead, we watch the way other people live. No matter where life has us, we all have a post from which to shine our light with the blessing of our lives, and my Dad happened to have shone his brightly.
After he died I wrote about the squeaky shoes he wore and the last-leg Volvo(s) he drove around so his family could have nice things. I wrote about how he used to drive drunk drivers home. One of his childhood friends wrote about how he was the kid who let the younger kids run the ball and be the star. A bartender who’d know wrote how he was the one guy who never said a bad word about anybody, and that nobody ever had a bad word about him (it was literally true, as I’d found when I pursued the matter when he was alive). So as I learned, people weren’t saying this because they knew him or because he was my father. Rather, it was universally true.
And what follows is, to the best of my knowledge, also true. Some words may come as a surprise, but that’s because my Dad didn’t like to take credit for anything. He didn’t think higher of himself because of his title, though people always wanted to be nice to him wherever we went. But that’s not to say he didn’t have his battles, most of which he fought in silence. At the end of his life, he had terminal liver and pancreatic cancer, but apparently never told us.
One of my earliest memories of us together brings me back to us playing basketball on a cold October afternoon in front of the house. As he sprinted past me for a perfectly-executed layup, I asked him, “Dad, why did you stop playing sports?” He responded, “because I had to go to work.” I was seven or eight years old, what did I know?. I’d thought maybe he wasn’t an athlete (and thought I’d been confirmed by his batting performance at the PBA summer baseball games they used to have). Around the same age, I remember his eyes would light up whenever I came home with a history project. So one time, in the second grade, I asked him why he’d always told me America was the greatest country in the world. “Because we are free. In other countries you take a test to decide what you do with your life, and you need special permission to go anywhere.” I always knew he hadn’t finished college, though he was a well-read, intelligent man. As a victim of the over-diagnosed ADD generation, I assumed maybe he was lazy, or lacked the discipline to finish.
Unfortunately, I learned much more about my Dad after his time on Earth. I learned that his father had left the family when he was a young man. They’d fallen on hard times. My Dad stepped up and worked in a grocery store and as a bartender to make up for the lost income and make ends meet. He worked at the Harrison House, now the Glen Cove Mansion (where he met my mother); and at the Starting Gate, now J.D. Gates. My parents began dating one evening after my Dad’s father tragically passed away. My mom walked into “the Gate”, to find my Dad, alone at the bar. And that was that. Over the past year, this helped me understand what he’d said about America. I thought about his rise–my Dad had gone from Brigati’s grocery store to bartending at different places. Maybe for a while he thought for a while that was the highest he’d go. But then he was called for the Glen Cove Police Department in 1984, when the future of freedom in the world still lingered uncertain. Over the years, he studied hard and advanced first to Sergeant, and then to Lieutenant. Now I realize he understood that his mobility would be all but impossible under the tyranny of a Cuba or USSR. Indeed, he did get to see inside the Iron Curtain when he went on a call to the Kremlin’s Glen Cove retreat at Killingworth. He was debriefed by the FBI afterwards.
Something else that sticks out in my mind was one morning on the way to school when he brought up an award speech Jamie Foxx gave for the movie Ray: “Stand up straight like you are somebody!” I think maybe that’s how he thought of himself.
And an officer was who he was. Of course, in recent years our discussions would escalate to our own little Cold Wars, which would always end with, “what are you so worried about?!” He’d always laugh about it, and he’d leave newspaper clippings on the kitchen table about good cop stories. At times, I think he’d agree about the Bill of Rights or ticketing, but could not break from his steadfast defense of the law enforcement institution. However, his “doctrine”, if you will, did come out one day while we watched Third Watch, (which I’d actually got him into watching). It was when “Sully” explains why he didn’t arrest a heckler. “When we’re out here, we’re solving problems.” His face lit up when he heard that, and he said, “He’s exactly right”. Indeed, “Sully” was my Dad’s favorite Third Watch character.
And I always knew his values were more clearly expressed with his actions, which I’ve only learned from second-hand stories. For instance, in recent years the practice of “taking care of” tickets has been shunned and in the news (though every cop I know says it’s the right thing to do). Well, he’d tell people he’d take care of it, and then he’d pay the tickets himself. Another cop told me of one time he’d been a second away from striking an inmate and was stopped in his tracks when he heard my Dad scream at a level that almost shook the building. A friend told me about the time he got pulled over for serious but victimless offenses-“the other officer left and your dad came. I could’ve gotten in trouble, but I was more afraid of your Dad!” Everybody who worked with him tells me that he was the kind of leader who you’d want to do things for, which is apparently rare in this age! I heard one story of when a prominent politician tried to get him to change a Department Policy, to which my Dad responded, “I don’t work for you!” I am told this line was what everybody wanted to say, but he’d said it!
Which isn’t to say he wasn’t tough on criminals-quite the opposite. One evening we woke up to find my mom’s car stolen from the garage. He had it back by the time I returned from school.
One of my last good memories with him was over the summer in 2013. Him, my mom, and I met at the Marriott next to the White House for dinner. I remember there was a brief, eery pause in the conversation as ELO’s “Hold on Tight to Your Dreams” played, and that’s when I knew things were about to change. But that night, we went all over DC. We went to Ford’s Theatre, where of course he imitated Crazy Joe Davola’s “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” declaration. Him and my mom debated what the meanings of the monuments were about, and of course we had to visit the national Law Enforcement memorial. I think his proudest moment was visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, when we got to go “under”, which is where we were told a GCPD patch is displayed among many from all over the country. He was so proud.
My Dad wasn’t the most talkative, but knew what to say at the exact moment it was needed. I had my first real accident years ago by the car wash. Of course, I called him right away. I was so upset and embarrassed and thought he’d be angry. But he knew exactly what to say, and helped me get the car I’ve got now. I believe I’ve seen him in dreams on two occasions, and he still knows exactly what to say. Both times he looked as he did when he was young, but even better. We were sitting in the living room, and I asked, “Dad aren’t you dead?” In his way of mocking pretentious questions, he responded, “Who told you I died?!” With that smirk he had when he joked. He looked at my mother–“I loved that woman!.” In the second dream, and the last time I knew it was him I asked again. This time he clarified, “nobody really dies.”
I sure hope so.
Over the past year, I’ve realized that if I put myself in his shoes, I’d say he did the best with what he had. He gave us-Krista, Julie, and I-what is called a “generational blessing”. He went before us, and because of his good deeds, people who we don’t even know are nice to us, and we get good breaks and favor we didn’t ever work for–not a bad job at all. Now, it’s up to us. As for me, he’d always told me his dream was for me to follow in his footsteps, and I guess that’s why I brought up the ELO song–I feel like if he could send us a note, he’d write, “hold on tight to your dreams.” I don’t know what God has in store for me in this life, but my Dad’s example of decency, honesty, compassion, and just “being a man” (as he’d tell me whenever I didn’t want to do something) will be my foundation for the rest of my life.
When it’s all said and done, I hope I learn I’d made him proud. And when I miss him and I feel his presence return, as if I’d just totaled my car and he’s sitting next to me, telling me there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. And we agree to settle for the words of a certain Irish blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.