My Dad was a character. A man of great complexity and contradictions but also a man of great affection. It was almost as if James Joyce and and Damon Runyon got together and created this larger than life person.
Leo Joseph Nolan was born on this date, St. Patrick’s Day, 1934, and you couldn’t find a more proud Irishman. The stereotypical Irish in America is either a cop or a tavern owner…he was both. In the early sixties he opened up NOLAN’S PUB on Park Ave. in his home town, Long Beach, NY. It became an institution and is still there today!
After a couple years he decided to enter the “family business”. His father was the former Chief of Police and so Dad decided to become a cop. He graduated from the police academy in 1964 as my Grandfather looked on proudly. He eventually earned his gold shield and became a homicide detective. He retired from the department in 1974 due to an injury (and that is a whole other story!) and moved us to Florida. Being retired and moving away from family was not a good thing for him as some of the demons that haunted him took control.
Dad was always a sentimentalist. He was tough as nails but every time he watched TITANIC (the Clifton Webb version from the 50′s) he’d be balling his eyes out when the young boy decides to not get in the lifeboat with his mother but rather go down with the ship with his dad. Loyalty was very important to him. It’s something I cherish highly from my friends and family as well.
When I was 11 and told him I wanted to be a cartoonist he couldn’t understand it. Although college educated, he was still a blue collar guy. He had two nephew’s with masters degrees from Pratt Institute and one was laying brick and the other delivering pizza at the time so he couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of me wanting to become an artist.
As usual, I went off in my own direction and did what I wanted to do and as a result of determination and hard work became successful in my chosen career. All the years I was doing big projects in comic books he’d ask about what I was doing, but it’s not like he ever read anything I ever worked on until…
In 2000 I took over the art duties on REX MORGAN, M.D. I had been on the strip for about a year or two and we were doing a storyline about the dangers of black mold in the home. Rex’s wife June was in the basement and commented about a terrible smell down there. One morning my phone rings. I answered it with the obligatory hello and without missing a beat the guy on the other end says, “I know what the smell is in the basement”. It was Dad.
“Oh, yeah?”, I replied.
“It’s a STIFF!”, he says.
I laughed so hard. The former homicide detective immediately thought of a crime scene and a body. What this told me was for the first time, he was READING my work! Comic books weren’t his thing, but this, in a newspaper that came into his home and the homes of his friends…that meant something!
I always felt he was proud of his first born son that came home from the hospital, with a big shamrock pinned to his blanket that St. Patrick’s Day in 1962, but after that phone call, I was sure of it.
Dad sailed off to the other side of the horizon in 2004 and I miss him dearly. His laugh and sense of humor was contagious. So every year on this day, I raise a toast to himself. God bless you, Pop! Happy birthday.