A Hard Year Without Dad


Aidan Fontana is a 6-year-old boy whose father died at the World Trade Center.

At first, on Sept. 12, when he came home from a sleepover, his mother told him that the other firemen were looking for his father, that he was trapped in the rubble and that, with luck, he would be home soon.

For weeks he waited for his father, Lt. Dave Fontana of the elite Squad 1 unit in Brooklyn, to walk through the apartment door. He never did. Eventually Aidan's mother, Marian, had to tell him, and tell herself, that Daddy would not be coming home. The boy could not wrap his mind around the idea, alternating between tears and outbursts and silence. He demanded proof.

So a funeral was held on a windy October day. There were bagpipes and fire engines and a coffin, and finally Aidan understood. Until, that is, his father's body was actually found in early December, and it had to be explained to the boy that the first funeral wasn't really a funeral.

The boy wanted to know if his father was a skeleton.

Dave Fontana's remains were cremated. His ashes were put in four jars: one for Ireland; one for the beach where he grew up; one for the park where he asked his wife to marry him; one for the cemetery.

At the second funeral, Aidan never looked up from his shoes, shrugged when people touched him. He looked like a little old man in his suit. A hollow, empty little man. He went home to bed sad that night.

With the coming anniversary of the day the world fell down, some in the adult world will try to have Sept. 11, 2002, signify the date on which life moves on. But for the children like Aidan who lost a parent, sometimes two parents, or for those who never found the parent's body, some fear that the confusion has left some unmedicated sores that will fester. In the long term, child psychologists foresee anxieties, irrational fear of death, aggression, attachment disorders.

In the short term, when the widows from the Squad 1 firehouse talk about their children, they talk about the bad dreams and the empty birthdays, the fights between brothers, the kids having to wear diapers to bed again. There are Mass cards mixed in with Pok