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a memorial to my father

September 9, 2014

Dominic J. Savoca (on right), Paris, France, August 30th, 1944

A memorial to the recently deceased is a highly personal thing, and not something I would ordinarily post on the internet. But my father, who passed away last Tuesday, will always be inextricably linked to this dojo and therefore I feel it is appropriate to write of his life and of his passing in the context of this dojo forum. Brooklyn Aikikai would not exist without my father and I don’t mean that merely in the obvious way – in that he brought me into this world. It is much more than that.

For the many of you who have not met my father, he was born in 1924 in New Jersey, to parents who emigrated from Sicily. He grew up in the Depression and lost his own father at a young age, which impressed upon him the need to work hard early on. At age 18 he was drafted into the army for World War II. He fought in the 28th Infantry Division which was known as “The Bloody Bucket” and fought in the Battle of the Bulge—one of the fiercest battles in the European campaign. He considered himself lucky to have survived. After WWII he attended New York University and Columbia University, and thereafter was associated with Transamerica Life Insurance Company for 58 years.

It is an understatement to say Brooklyn Aikikai would have been different had I had a different father. I learned the necessity of discipline, hard work and persistence from my father, and also my mother. Although I could not understand the urgency with which my father educated me in the early years, I now feel blessed to have been the focus of such a drive. It took me many years to understand that he was truly from a different generation—the WWII generation—whereas my friends’ fathers were the “baby boomers.” This distinction alone had my sisters and me growing up in a different direction than our peers. This direction led directly to me being impressed with the traditional Japanese culture—one of hard work and trying to deeply penetrate one thing. Giving your all to a discipline, come what may. My father put me into Judo at age 12, and from there I found Aikido and have continued to stick with it to this day.

Who was my father, truly? A solider, a husband, a father, a businessman…and yet all of these fall short of how I would describe him. As one of my sisters recently said, he was a force. He didn’t believe in giving up, or falling short. He did his best through many impossible conditions and demanded we do the same in our lives.

One time, when he had to have the only surgery in his life (a quadruple bypass) I told him I loved him as the gurney was pushed into the surgery room. He looked at me directly and simply said, “Don’t waste your life.” I knew he meant to give all that I had to each moment, and I was amazed that he could say this at that time. Such was the man he was. He was also a deeply devout Catholic and his devotion inspired me. He had a tremendous faith – and I knew it had been tested. He told all of his children that faith was essential, and this is something I feel must truly be brought into our practice of Aikido. Most important for me, however, is that I saw that my father struggled with himself. It took me a long time to see this, and I often judged him harshly when younger. But I know that he searched himself, and tried to better himself however he could. Many people were inspired by him and knew him to be the gentleman he truly was. As I get older, I can see a bit more objectively who my father really was, and it astonishes me it took so long.

In closing, I would like to deeply thank my father for giving me all that he could. Our dojo is what it is due to his influence, my mother’s, and of course to all ancestors before them. Perhaps it takes the death of a parent to become truly grateful.

God bless you, Dad.

Robert Savoca Brooklyn, New York September 2, 2014

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