A better obituary of a great man

8 Nov

In J-school, you learn to write an obituary during the first week of class.  Obit writers are the low men on the totem pole and their job is to follow the formula in chapter 1 of journalism textbooks: name, when he died, who he left behind.

But when the man who was practically my father for the past seven years passed away, these data points of his life seemed insufficient.  Age 65.  Ex-SNET employee.  Survived by his daughter, brother and mom.

Stuffy pictures are boring. This is who Dennis really was, mugging for the camera and grilling on Father's Day.

Sure, Dennis was dedicated to his job and loved his family, but that wasn’t who he was.  I feel like I have to share with all of you what an amazing person he was.  Many of my friends never had the opportunity to meet this extraordinary man, so in a show of bad journalism, I am about to write a 600 word obituary to tell you a little bit about Dennis D’Agostino.

Dennis was a creature of habit, usually wearing the same FDNY baseball cap and Northeastern sweatshirt (partly to annoy me as a BU alum…).  He is the only person I know who had “dress jeans.”  After some wear and tear, the dress jeans became casual jeans, which eventually became cut off shorts that he wore riding our tractor mowing the lawn—one of his favorite past times.  The only things worth wearing on your feet were “sneaks,” though he did don a pair of sandals for my luau themed high school graduation party.  My mother even got him to wear a Hawaiian print shirt for that shindig.

He loved watching sports—Jets and Yankees.  And even more than watching, he loved criticizing the teams every move.  For instance, my deep rooted belief that a batter should always bunt to advance the runner if someone is on first comes from watching many summer afternoon baseball games with Dennis.

My mom and Dennis before a family friend's wedding.

He was Italian to the core, showing love through food—and lots of it.  From fresh pasta to stuffed mushrooms, Dennis never came into our home empty handed.  And in return, there was always an incredibly pulpy orange juice waiting in the fridge for him—while he spoiled my mother, she spoiled him right back.  He was a snob about New Haven pizza, toting uncut Tolli’s pies out to Old Saybrook every Friday night, which we would reconstitute in the oven while watching Two and a Half Men.

Dennis gave the most thoughtful presents—you could tell that he really put a lot of time and effort into picking out the perfect thing.  I still get compliments on the beautiful hoop earrings he got me for my 17th birthday.  And they came wrapped in Dennis’ signature paper—bright silver wine bags, tied up with ribbon.

One of my favorite memories of Dennis was last September during our drive out to Chicago.  He must have already been sick, though we didn’t know it at the time.  While my mother and I moved into my new apartment, Dennis just disappeared, as he was prone to do.  He enjoyed having his alone time and exploring.  When he returned, he had take-out menus from every restaurant within a mile of my apartment.  Dennis was big on take-out food and even if the restaurant didn’t do take out, they did for him.

Down in Baltimore for a baseball game.

But even all of these anecdotes and memories don’t convey the biggest thing about Dennis: he was the most selfless person I know.  He gave and gave to make the people he loved happy.  And we all loved him back.

I miss him so much.  Watching a baseball game without him will never be the same, and I’ll never be able to order a fresh tomato pie or grilled chicken sandwich without him crossing my mind.  But I think that as time passes, I will just be thankful to have known him.

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