Your Turn

The Crusader

By Aline (Doino) Weiller ’87 

A statue of the Holy Cross mascot sat on my father’s desk for 30 years. A purple-caped Crusader atop his steed was clad in armor, holding his shield and sword. Dusty, the Crusader leaned at a slight angle from the weight of its years. It was his gift from the College when he joined the President’s Council.     

My father, William D. Doino, graduated in 1960, when Holy Cross was all-male and fully staffed by Jesuits. Daily Mass and a formal dress code were mandatory. My father was given “dawn patrol” for skipping Mass and reported to Kimball for a week, braving Worcester’s winter at sun break. 

“I never missed Mass again!” he said.  

My father, too, spoke of the Jesuit mission: “To be men and women for others,” a motto students are charged with, and which echoes a lifetime.

An alumni family, we were a Homecoming fixture, and my father was involved in all things Holy Cross. He was “Crusader of the Year,” a longtime President’s Council member and class agent, and attended years of football games. He conducted student interviews and labored to get graduates jobs. President of the New York Club, he held prospective student parties, where I gave guests nametags and coat check tickets. One classmate wrote, “No one did more to further the school.” Perhaps my father had become a “man for others.”

The spirit of Holy Cross resurfaced when my nephew was accepted; I time-warped to the day my letter arrived. I had to get to my shift waiting tables at a local diner—no time to celebrate. My dad was golfing, unaware. Later, after he had seen the opened acceptance letter on the kitchen table, he entered the restaurant, his lips pursed with pride. We hugged in silent contentment. 

My father died of a heart attack at 61, robbed of his life earlier than most. It was Christmas week. His death was unexpected, a blow to our family’s solar plexus. His funeral program described him as a “a man of wit,” an “avid football fan” and “father to many.” Loved ones are often sugarcoated into perfection after their passing. I believe my family keeps a balanced view. Though our rock star, my father was human. He was a well-intentioned workaholic, making our vacations scarce—though he did catch the occasional Little League game, if only to enjoy my celebrity status (I’d made the paper for being the team’s only girl). 

“Don’t sign anything until I read it,” said my father, both our defender and champion. I valued his seasoned advice and sense of humor. He credited Holy Cross with honing his verbal skills and, ultimately, preparing him for life.

 My father has been gone more than 15 years. Some are remembered through photos, others by family folklore. (That first year, my mom threw a memorial tailgate when football season commenced, then hosted a five-year remembrance party in his hometown. We also dedicated a bench at the beach where my dad grew up—the plaque’s succinct wording, “Forever Loved.”) Others live on through the faces of their offspring or large endowments. Though I’m his mirror image, my father’s memory is captured by the Crusader; it embodies him. He was our crusader. Newly widowed, my mother dispersed his belongings—the son-in-laws were doled Brooks Brothers’ ties, my siblings and I received items with greater significance. I chose college memorabilia, reflecting our common ground. On a brisk day, I still don his Holy Cross cable knit sweater.

In 2000, I followed in Dad’s footsteps and joined the President’s Council. Chasing my then two-year-old and waddling pregnant, I heard the doorbell.  

“Sign here, please,” the brown-uniformed driver said. I wasn’t expecting a delivery (of that sort, at least). Peeling back tape, I dug though Styrofoam popcorn as if searching for a Cracker Jack prize. I felt something cold, then unearthed the statue—a shiny new version of the tilted dusty Crusader that had once graced my Dad’s desk. It had been months since my father’s death, and my Crusader’s arrival left me awash in grief. I cried the cry deep longing brings forth, a breathy guttural release. For Holy Cross, the statue was a time-honored gesture. For me, it was much more. I had lost my father, but earned my own Crusader, and in the process, a lasting piece of his legacy.  ■ 

 

Aline Weiller ’87 is a journalist, essayist and blogger, and has been published in Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and Great Moments in Parenting, among other print and online publications. She is also the CEO of the public relations firm, Wordsmith, LLC, based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons.