He was a hard worker and a worrier, the latter a trait he passed along to his son and daughter. He had a lively sense of humor and a low threshold of tolerance for those he thought were posturing.
When he sent you a note, often with a drawing attached, he signed it “Just, Joe.”
He distrusted rich folk. He disliked all forms of pretense as he saw it – in the church on Sunday, in the saloon on a lazy afternoon, at the dinner table.
One of the best things about Joe Daley - father, husband, friend - was that he wished people well. He was fiercely loyal and had a great heart, though he had his dark Irish moments and that heart was not always evident to those closest to him.
He delighted in the stories and successes of his children and their friends. He was that small-town father all your buddies and your first girl friend and your wife really liked. “Call me Joe,” he would tell them. “Mr. Daley is my father.”
He was a veteran of the Pacific war, a cartoonist and a Democrat, a fledgling local politician, a neighborhood guy with a million friends, a New York Yankee fan, a skeptical Catholic. Toward the end of life, as our mother and his wife Betty descended into Alzheimer’s disease, he was a hero.
Well before she turned 70, Betty Daley fell victim to early onset Alzheimer’s. The short term memory loss, the rambling conversations, the wandering away from the house – it all happened at a crushing pace.
My sister and I were gone, off in our lives, doing the best we could to help. But with Alzheimer’s there comes a point of no return, when the familial recognition fades from the eyes and the connection becomes entirely spiritual, for want of a better word. Betty was in a nursing home called Three Rivers, but she was gone.
From the first days of Betty’s dementia, I had no idea how my father would react to this awful reality. The bills and Medicaid forms and bureaucracy were tortuous and intimidating to him and conversations with the doctors and lawyers were worse.
Eventually he got some help on those troublesome matters from good friends but the larger question remained: What about Betty?
Joe’s answer was to show up, unobtrusively at first. Then he became a fixture.
Always polite to working people, he nonetheless inspected her room and eventually talked his way into the kitchen and pureed her food, sometimes twice a day, insisting he knew what Betty would like and eat.
At their best, nursing homes are sad, soul-wrenching places. Joe felt that, felt the despair and the anger. Once, over coffee, he shot me an unforgettable look, a look full of disappointment and betrayal.
“Who are these retired fuckers in the magazines I see playing golf in Florida?” he snapped. “How does that work?”
There are no answers. But he kept getting in the car and going to Three Rivers, for years, until his own health failed.
At his wake in 2000 in his lifelong home of Corning, N.Y., friends and family stood around the casket, contemplating a world without Joe Daley in it.
Through the door, off the job at Three Rivers, wearing their scrubs and sneakers, the women and men who had tended to Betty down the long years and would until she died in 2003 filed in.
They changed the beds and washed the floors and pushed the wheel chair, and they came to Haughey’s Funeral Home to pay their respects to Joe. My wife Jane, my sister Maribeth, Betty’s sister Aunt Moo and I choked back tears. For us it was a tribute beyond measure.
“He came every day for your mother, every day, for years,” one of the women said to me.
“Sometimes people come for a while and then it just gets too hard and we never see them again. The person in the bed doesn’t know, does she? Your father came every day, for years.”