Tuesday, September 11, 2012

10 years after 9/11, a dad’s love triumphs over terror

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

He’s devoted his life to his family: ‘When my kids smile, the terrorists lose’

‘They lost; we won’
We all tell our kids, “I’ll be right back.” After 9/11, some children didn’t believe that. Victoria Alonso’s mother, Janet, went to work at the World Trade Center that morning and never returned. Her dad was left to care for a 2-year-old daughter and a baby boy with Down syndrome.
“If I was to tell you I did this by myself, I’d be a liar; I’d be a flat-out liar,” Robert said. “I got my mom, my aunt, my pop to help.”
But he never returned to work at the pizza place he owned in Stony Point, New York. His family substituted for him. “I owe it to my children to be around,” Robert explained. “If I buried my grief in work, my kids would lose both their parents.”
He no longer put off anything that brought them joy. “If we’re lying on the floor and all of a sudden Victoria says, ‘Daddy, I want to go to the park,’ I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to the park.’ That’s what I’m thinking, but I say, ‘Let’s go. We’re going to the park.’ ”
Robert shouted “Hang on, guys!” as the kids squealed with laughter. They were riding in a grocery cart, careening across the lot toward dad’s big SUV. “Why should I deprive my children from going shopping?” Robert said. “I see all the other mothers going shopping with their kids.  Why can’t I do it?”
He raced alongside the grocery cart, jumped on its rear axle and pushed with a powerful leg.  The children exploded with laughter again. “When my kids smile, the terrorists lose,” Robert said with a grin. “The people who killed Janet wanted to destroy our happy lives. They lost. We won.”
Since 9/11 Robert has taught his children to treat every moment like an unopened gift. “I don’t want to be the rain cloud in my family,” he said. “I want to give my kids the incentive to do things and go forward.”
He coached Victoria's softball team to the New York State championship the year she turned 12. “We all went out and bought rounds of Lipitor,” Robert chuckled.
And toasted his son Robby, too. The 10-year-old learned to walk and read before most kids with Down syndrome because his dad played with him every day.
Robert waited a long time for his family. He and Janet tried to conceive a child for 10 years, then gave up. Two months later, she was pregnant. They considered it a victory, so they named their daughter Victoria.
These days, when Victoria looks in the mirror, she sees her mother. “She was special to me,” Victoria said, even though she can barely remember her mom. “I love her.” She paused. Her eyes welled with tears. “People need to know that.”
The two are much alike. Victoria is an honor student; Janet studied nights and weekends for years and graduated from college in her late 30s. She worked as an email manager on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center. On the day of the attacks, she had just gone back to her job at Marsh & McLennan after staying home to take care of her second baby, Robby.
Janet’s body was found seven months after 9/11, on her son’s first birthday. “God works in funny ways,” Robert sighed. “Hearing the knock on the door and the news that Janet’s body had been recovered from Ground Zero, that was the most difficult. It really knocked me out. It was like September 11 all over again.”
I visited the Alonsos on the first Mother’s Day after 9/11. Robert scooped up his kids and carried them out on the deck in back. “Come on,” he said, “let’s say hello to mommy in the stars.” It was his 13th wedding anniversary.
As Victoria neared her 13th birthday, I asked her, “If your mom were sitting here today, what would you ask her?"
Victoria stared across her backyard in thought, then turned to me. “I’d ask her, ‘What would she want to do with me today?’ ”
Good times keep bad memories at bay. The Alonsos spent that 9/11 in the park, near a memorial that their neighbors built to Janet and all the other parents from their New York City suburb who went to work that day but never came home.
Robby wandered to a wall filled with names as his father and sister played catch nearby. “Right here,” he said, pointing to Janet Alonso’s name etched in marble. “This was my mommy.”
The little boy leaned over and scraped his fingers back and forth across his mother’s name. His father watched, then rubbed his own hands together, as if he could scour away painful thoughts.
Robby drew his fingers to his mouth, kissed them and gently pressed them on his mother’s name. “Mama,” he whispered.
We all think about 9/11 once a year. The Alonsos live it every day.

No comments:

Post a Comment