My grandfather was eating dinner with his family when my father called. His wife answered the phone. “Dick, you might want to come over here,” she said.

My grandfather had tears in his eyes when he sat back down, with his wife and three children. The next day he bought a new suit and a flight to upstate New York. His oldest son lived there. His name was Bruce, and he would be my father.

Bruce was fourteen, tall, blond, and blue-eyed. The man Bruce had known as his father was 5’7”, with brown hair and brown eyes. He was a metallurgical engineer at an atomic lab.

It was one night, when that man began hit to Bruce’s mother, that he knocked that man into the radiator with a baseball bat.

That’s when Bruce’s mother finally told him: his real father was a barber in the Quad Cities. A man named Dick Frutiger.

It was all she knew about Bruce’s father, but it was enough. Bruce called him, and Dick showed up the next night. Dick told Bruce he had a family in Illinois if he wanted one.

My grandfather is 89 years old now. He lives in a retirement home in Moline, Illinois. It’s where he raised his kids, and spent his life as a cop and as a barber.

I sit with him in the shade of the veranda while he eats the burger and shake I brought him from Checkers.

“Marlon Marlino!” he says, “By golly, I’d recognize you anywhere boy. You’re a spitting image of your father.”

My grandfather didn’t know I was coming. We hadn’t seen each other in seventeen years, since his 50th wedding anniversary. I was seven then.

“Marlon, that’s a good name boy. Marlon, never be ashamed of that, boy.”

My grandfather was a dago from the wrong side of Rock Island, Illinois during the Great Depression, and later an undefeated boxer in the Marines; he served his eight years in the European trenches and Shanghai.

“You never need to be ashamed of your name, never boy. Your people are great people,” he told me. “In Italy your people were strong. Our people are winners. They want to be number one!”

My grandfather uses a walker now. He’ll race other patients in their electric wheelchairs, and break out in song,

You didn’t have to love me like you did
But you did, but you did, and I thank you!

“Marlon, that’s Italiano,” my grandfather said to me. “Hell, you’ve got the spaghetti all over you boy.”

(Richard Frutiger, Dec 27, 1927 – Dec 31, 2017)