Superhero (A True Story)

My dad died last night. He would have been 91 later this month. I could fill a thousand blogs with stories about him and all of them would leave you feeling better about life.

He was a superhero.

We have a very narrow picture of superheroes today. Marvel and D.C. would have us believe that superheroes are larger-than-life characters with snappy costumes and snappier dialogue who always leave a trail of destruction in their wake as they save the day from a greater evil.

My dad was a different kind of superhero – the quiet, humble kind who always left a trail of goodwill. When he walked into a life – and he walked into so many lives – he did so with grace, offering generous gifts of encouragement, kindness, and laughter. I think he would have gladly shared all three even if it meant he could keep none for himself. He was that kind of man. But he never ran out.

There’s a character in a novel I’m writing who is based, in part, on my father. In recent years, dementia had begun to chip away at Dad’s brain. His long term memory was still pretty good. He knew his wife and his children (whom he continued to tease with impunity) and his grandchildren and even his great-grandchildren (that’s Luna in the picture above). And with little prompting, he could talk on and on about old friends. Or even invent stories about imaginary ones.

But his short term memory was broken.

“What’s on the schedule for today?” Then two minutes later, “What’s on the schedule for today?” If I added up all the times he asked his children, “How’s work going?” that number would require scientific notation [look it up] in order to fit in this blog.

The repetition wore heavily on another superhero (my mom) and to a lesser degree on my sister (a superhero-in-training who lives near enough to my parents’ house to save the day when called upon) and the rest of us, but there was little we could do about it except exercise our patience muscles. (We all have rock-hard patience muscles these days. Just try me.)

But here’s the thing – even with all that frustrating repetition, there was never any anger or malice or disappointment in my father’s words. His sincere interest in others, his desire to encourage, and his never-ending curiosity were simply stuck on repeat.

“That’s a lovely dress, Marilyn. Is it new?” Nope. It’s still the same dress that wasn’t new the last five times you asked.

“What’s for dinner?” Chicken. “What’s for dinner?” Chicken. “What’s for dinner?” Still chicken.

“Look at that beautiful sunset.” Yes, it’s lovely. “Look at that beautiful sunset.” I am. (I wasn’t.)  “Look at that beautiful sunset.” Sigh. Yes, it’s a lovely…oh.


He was seeing it each time as if for the first time. Beauty on repeat. And that’s when the character for the novel appeared. (The working title is Beautiful Sky, Beautiful Sky.)

Long before Evil Dementia first attacked my Superhero father, he was a famous athlete. Famous to me, anyway. We had a tiny basketball court just outside the sliding glass doors of our dining room. It was little more than a concrete slab, maybe ten feet by twelve, with a backboard and hoop attached to a gleaming, then rusting, silver pole positioned at the south end.

My dad had a deadly accurate set shot. He was good at pretty much everything he did, from sports to music to writing bad poetry, though he would only acknowledge this in jest or to tease his children. I loved all the ways my family played together, but I think I loved playing one-on-one basketball with Dad the most.

We had a little game that we played in addition to the one where you try to put the round ball in the circular hoop. Because neither of us was perfect, the ball would sometimes ricochet off the rim and bounce onto the grass, then make a beeline to the neighbor’s yard (if the grass was short – and Dad always took care of the lawn). Whenever this happened, we both would call out “I’ll get it” right away, fully meaning the opposite. It was a game of wills, a game of waiting to see who would give in and actually chase the ball, and it would often go on for more than a few rounds of “I’ll get it” before someone finally succumbed.

Usually, my dad.

He got a lot of exercise thanks to my unforced errors. (I’m not just talking about basketball now.)

Some time during the night, last night, an errant shot bounced off the rim and rolled onto the grass, making a beeline for the neighbor’s yard. I can see the ball from here, leaning against the trunk of a tree that’s older than I, waiting. The air is thick with a strange kind of quiet. The kind that follows the death of a superhero. It is a sad quiet, yes. But a reverent one, too. And strangely, one of hope. There is encouragement in this thick air. Kindness too. And if you keep listening, you’ll hear laughter. Your own, most likely.

He was that kind of man.

I look over at the ball. I think he missed this shot on purpose.

I’ll get it, Dad.

I’ll get it.

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  1. Steve, I am so sorry to hear of this great loss. To you and the community. I don’t know if you know this but my younger brother is named after your dad. They grew up near one another in Massachusetts and were together at Aurora College for two years. I’m sure lots of amazing stories will come tumbling out in the days to come. Enjoy them, and comfort yourself knowing he was loved by many.

  2. Read with tears running down my face. Your dad was a Super Hero who wove his magic on all of us blessed to be in his presence. His wit was always “on.” He told folks: “Debi used to make wonderful toast. Then she lost the recipe.”

  3. Beautifully written. I did not know your dad, but I know now where you got your grace and kindness.

  4. Beautiful, Steve. I have so many wonderful memories of your dad and mom. I’m betting the halls of eternity are ringing with even more beautiful music now that your dad is there. And I’m betting my mom is savoring the sound. May the God of all comfort cloak you in His peace.

  5. Sorry to hear of your family’s loss. Roger was a truly amazing and inspirational hero to many of us who had the honor of ever being in his presence.

  6. Wonderful, Steve! Your Dad was a very special man to so many of us. He will never be forgotten! He was witty in so many ways. Loved the faces he made as he directed us in choir. 🙂 He was one in 10 million! Love your whole family. Our deepest sympathies to you all.
    Love, Bambe

  7. I was looking through my AC/AU memories earlier today and smiled when I saw a program for Hanging of the Greens. Now I’m reading your tribute from Martha’s Facebook page with welled-up tears in my eyes. Sending love and prayers to all the Parolini family.

  8. Steve, you are a wonderful writer! I am blessed to know your parents and love them. Deep sympathy for your loss and prayers for your family during this difficult time.

  9. So many memories! So well written Steve. Your dad was so special and will be missed.

  10. So sorry to hear this news, Steve. Thank you for the beautiful tribute to your dad. I remember playing frozen tag with you dad and all of you in your yard- he was always so full of energy and fun. I also remember the themed birthday parties, and the way your dad bounded up our steps on the day that Martha was born to tell us the good news. Your parents traveled from IL to RI to provide music for my wedding- what a gift. Thinking of you and the rest of the family at this time of grieving.

  11. I can picture and hear it all in my mind thanks to the word pictures you conveyed.

    I’ll be praying for you and all of the people who love your dad.

  12. So sorry to hear this news. He was a good man. Loved to be in the congregation when he was leading the singing. This is a beautiful tribute to him. Prayers for the family.

  13. We are crying in California too. So many memories. Our all time favorite choir director. We had the joy of singing under his leadership in the AC choir, on choir tour, choir at the Aurora Church and at Camp Maranatha. More recently we connected at Homecoming and we loved it when he visited my parents and they would talk about the old days. That Greatest Generation is leaving us way too quickly. Thank you Steve for your wonderful true story. We will look forward to the complete novel. We experienced much of what you recorded only in our family it was my mom. Roger’s life will continue to be remembered through so many whose lives he influenced and hearts he touched. Blessings and prayers go our to the entire Parolini family.

  14. Your Dad and Mom/music were used by God to build a memory cushion of contentment for me to partner with my husband these many years as we served in a church which mostly never had a music program. Their love of serving their Lord set an example. Instead of discontent I had memories of choirs I had been a part of that fed over and over my love of this kind of music and I found myself content with what God gave us. He was used by God for sure!

  15. Wow, it is hard to think of attending an AU function, even after all of these years, without seeing your dad somewhere in the crowd. I did not know him well enough to run up to him and give him a hug, but I always thought of him as THE face of AU. His devotion to that institution and the students would not dare be questioned by anyone, well at least anyone who knew him, and I would venture to say that we all did, in one way or another. Your dad did have a keen sense of humor, one that his children kept alive through their own humor. Steve, your tribute literally gave me chills and tears, all at the same time. I cannot help but think that your dad’s passing is an end of an era. I am deeply sad, but I am also grateful that such a fine man was part of my journey. Love to you all as you celebrate his life. He will be missed.

  16. My mom told me the news today of your dad’s death. I went to take her to the hospital to see my dad who has just undergone open heart surgery at age 89 and 3/4. He is unfortunately experiencing some dementia now too after the complicated surgery.
    I too loved your dad. Both of your parents are so special to me. They took me into their home & family and I will forever appreciate that! Your story is beautifully written (it brought back to life some old memories) and I am sad for the occasion that you had to write it. He will be missed by so many, most of all his family whom he adored, I know. He lead a great life: so full & he gave to many many people & will live on in those lives as well. ❤️

  17. I wish I had know him but I am also glad that there is a heaven and one day we will be with heroes such as your dad Looking forward to such times

  18. So sorry for your loss. Loved Roger since I first met him at Camp Santa Cruz, so many years ago. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to sing in his choir. When I came to Aurora College, he teased my roommate that living with me was going to be a fun adventure, that she was going to be in for a lot of laughs (and he was right!). When we lived next door during Spring Break, Roger would come over with the garden hose on, questioning our cooking skills. He was fun, funny, and such a sweet man. It sounds like his journey through dementia was like my dad’s…quiet, gentle, fading away. How lucky you were that he still knew all of you! He will be remembered and missed by so many!

  19. Oh Steve, I am so sad to hear that Uncle Roger is gone from this earth ,but I’m sure he is directing that heavenly choir and sharing one of his wonderful “Sermon in Songs”. Your mom really was a super hero, standing by her man and being ever faithful and diligent right to the end. What a beautiful love story they had. Such a good team. I will miss him dearly but I know we will be reunited someday!

    1. Happy memories are flooding my heart with grateful tears. Music has made my life so much richer because of my mentor, teacher, friend and super hero. I’m so grateful that all of my years of college were inspired by Roger and Marilyn. I pray there will be room for me in his choir. I’ll be able to sing again then. My prayers are continuing for Mrs Super hero and the superheroettes. What joy and sadness to have such a wonderful man forever in your lives. May God’s eternal peace fill your hearts.

  20. No words can describe what many of us are feeling but Stephen you have given wings in describing your Dad. I will never forget my first voice lesson, filling in for him once with the Aurora AC Choir. Roger was always and forever encouraging and I shall always attempt in my own feeble way to follow his example. Dodie and I send your hero Mom and your entire family our love and prayers. As you might know, one of Roger’s signature solos in the 1960’s when I was at AU was Oley Speaks’ LET NOT YOUR HEART BE TROUBLED. He encouraged me to sing this for my first Service in Lowery Chapel. He truly was unselfish in giving us a love for Sacred song and an enduring faith in a loving God. Every time I lift my voice in song, I remember my vocal lessons and do my best to interpret God’ infinite love through song.

  21. Your words are a beautiful reflection of life lived well, a poignant reminder of things that matter. I’m so sad to learn of your loss; it is deep and wide.

  22. Our love to you. What a beautiful tribute to you dad. It sounds much like the Mark we know. Our prayers go with you in the days ahead.

  23. I can honestly say as a super competitive person myself I was and still am perplexed at how he always managed to beat me in ping pong! He was always interested in what direction you were headed whether school, job, music, whatever! He made you want to be a better person – for that reason alone – “Super Hero” is a fitting title! ?

  24. Dear Marilyn and family,
    Thank you for sharing your love for your father with us! I was blessed to meet Roger many years ago at Aurora Advent Church and was a part of the ensemble group he directed. His great love for Sacred Hymns was very encouraging. I also remember my mom mentioning him with much respect back when I was a teenager. She was part of a musical club (St. Cecilia ) back then but I don’t remember the specifics . God Bless your family with His peace and continual loving memories. Susan Zanis

  25. Steve..I also am crying..for your loss as I recognize the wonderful man you describe. You are a wonderful writer and I want to read your book. Love to all of you. Joyce Shepard

  26. Steve and Marilyn and the rest of Superhero Roger s family, we say and sing a loud AMEN to this beautiful story and to the life of a wonderful man! Peace, love, joy and hope to all of you from Lynn and Carol Walter

  27. Stephen —
    Your literary work is a classic, as was your father. I’m old enough to remember that he played football and basketball
    for my dad at AC, as well as tennis for Clyde Hewitt. Also, his talent as a setter in Saturday afternoon AC volleyball sessions was a treasure,if you were fortunate enough to be on his team.
    Again, thanks for your doing a beautiful job of sharing your memories. Grayal Gilkey

  28. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. He sounds like a great man.

    I lost my father in April and have yet to write about him. I’ve only actually this week begun to read about other fathers. I’m getting close though. My fingers are itching.

    Thank you for a Superhero story.

  29. Steve,
    I am sorry for taking so long to respond and I am sorry for your loss.
    A dad is priceless and when you love him, as you obviously do, we never want to forget them. So keep the memories strong and alive and he will always be there watching and helping.