05.06.11

If My Dad Were Still Here

Max Giaccone was 10 years old on 9/11, when the towers fell and he lost his father. In this week's Newsweek, Giaccone on what Osama bin Laden's death means to him.

Plus, full coverage of Osama bin Laden.

I was in the fifth grade when it happened. I had just arrived at school. My teacher picked up the phone in our classroom, and I could tell something wasn't right. He hung up and told me to go to the office. My mom was there, hysterically crying. That was 10 years ago, but I still remember her face. She said someone had flown a plane into the World Trade Center and we hadn't heard anything from Dad. By the time we got home, Tower Two had just fallen.

My dad worked on the 103rd floor of the first tower. He was the director of global infrastructure at Cantor Fitzgerald. The day before he died, I remember, we had a really good night. He was quoting from the Pink Panther movies that we used to watch and chasing me around the house. Then he had to pick up my sister from somewhere, so I went to bed. That was the last time I ever saw him.

It took me awhile to accept he was gone. It was all so surreal. At 10 years old, you don't understand that much. My mom said the thing she'll never forget was when, about two weeks after the towers fell, she finally came to me and said we're going to start preparations for a memorial service. I told her, “Absolutely not. I know where Dad is: He's walking home.” She said that broke her heart.

I don’t like to say I am celebrating someone’s death. I don’t know what closure is—I don’t know how it’s supposed to feel. But it feels like something has been lifted.

After Dad died, I kind of started latching onto things. Baseball was my thing, because it was one of the sports my dad and I did together. He coached me from when I was little. He came home from work every day to see me play. After 9/11, my mom begged the coach not to hesitate to let me play. I was back playing a few days later. That helped tremendously.

I also latched onto music. That was one of my dad's other passions. His favorite band was Yes, and my parents grew up listening to them, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin. I started a band with my friends last year, and I write a decent number of songs. Writing has helped. I have a tattoo on my back of my dad holding me as an infant, and another on my forearm that says “Sowing Season,” which is the name of a song by the band Brand New. The song goes, “Nothing gets so bad, a whisper from your father couldn't fix it.” I couldn't have asked for a better father. We played golf. He took me to the movies. Sundays were our big day together. He'd make pasta. We would sit down in the living room and watch Jets games together. That's one of my biggest memories. After the game, he'd turn off the lights and have his glass of wine and listen to Andrea Bocelli. He was definitely the best dad.

Over the years, I've always found myself thinking what life would be like if my dad were still here. It's something that I try not to dwell on, but this is how my life has gone. The lows are extremely low, but it's just something that you learn to live with and accept. Graduating high school was so bittersweet for me. It was a huge accomplishment in my life, but there was only one parent there. The holidays are difficult, too. You're happy, but you always know someone is missing. My birthday is on Father's Day this year, which is the second time that's happened: All you want to do is celebrate both, but you can celebrate only one.

I had a dream about my father recently. It was nice to see him, but he wouldn't talk to me. I don't remember his voice anymore. There are home videos, but I can't bring myself to watch them. In a few months, I'll have lived as long without my father as I did with him. I learned at a really young age how valuable life can be, and how quickly it can all go away.

I was sitting in my bed when I turned to CNN and heard that Osama bin Laden was dead. I jumped up and ran into my mom's room and told her. We hugged. We rejoiced. I don't even know how to describe the feeling. I don't like to say I am celebrating someone's death. I don't know what closure is—I don't know how it's supposed to feel. But it feels like something has been lifted. Knowing the person who plotted to kill my father is off the face of the earth, that's a good feeling.

Giaccone, 19, is a sophomore at the University of New Haven. He's majoring in music industry with a minor in global studies.