Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One Week Becomes a Life-Long Gift

Like most fathers from "The Greatest Generation," mine wasn't known for his emotional range. Communications were terse. Praise was meted out like World War II ration coupons. Hugging was an alien behavior still far away in an unexplored future world.

Except for one week out of the year. Every year no matter who was playing, my father took half of his allotted vacation time to watch the World Series at home. The Dad who was gone every day at his factory job from 7 am to 5 pm ... the Dad who every night after dinner disappeared into his workshop to smoke Chesterfields and build stuff ... the Dad who golfed every Saturday, marched his kids into church every Sunday, and every once in awhile played catch or shot baskets or showed my brother and me how to grip a golf club was home for an entire week.

He was there at breakfast, making coffee and buttering toast.  While I was at school he'd get out the storm windows he'd made himself and prepare them for winter, repaint peeling shingles, clean gutters, prune the lilac bushes, change the furnace filter.  It was a working man's holiday for sure, but afternoons were for baseball – and family.

The World Series was played in daylight back then so when I got home from school Mom and Dad were in front of the American-made Zenith TV, tray tables crammed with bowls of Planters Peanuts and pretzels and potato chips and glasses of Standard Dry Ale from the local brewery.  I'd squeeze between them and watch some of the great dramas of my youth: the 1957 Series, when Hank Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves vanquished the hated New York Yankees (Dad always rooted for the underdog, which the Yankees never were) ... Bill Mazeroski's startling ninth-inning home run to lift the Pirates over the Yankees in 1960 ... the dramatic 1962 Series that didn't end until the Giants' Willie McCovey lined out to Bobby Richardson ... the 1963 disassembling of the mighty Yanks by Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres.

For an entire week we cheered together, booed, laughed, hooted and groaned.  It was during these times that I recall the emergence of most of my father's unsolicited aphorisms. Keep your eye on the ball. Play hard every inning. Don't try and hit a home run every time up. Swing at strikes. I didn't know then that these were metaphors, only that they were true. Because my Dad said so.

The main thing I remember about that week, however, is simply being together.   Columbus Day sometimes came during the Series and I'd be home too. I'd share some of the chores around the house shoulder to shoulder with Dad, holding boards he was sawing, painting storm windows he'd patched and sanded, raking leaves to the curb.

It was a magical week. I felt comforted, inspired, protected and – here I add a word that my father actually never used, but I know he felt – loved.

The beauty of that one week a year with my Dad gave me the inspiration to try and spend 52 weeks a year with my son. I know it's impossible for every father to be there every day for his kids, but it's not impossible to try.  You won't regret it.  Look at time with your kids like you used to look at it when you were a kid. Unless you had the misfortune to have some SOB as a father, wasn't it great to have him around?  Isn't it great for your kids too?
The glue that sticks people together takes time to dry. I'm forever grateful for that one week a year I got with Dad. And eternally grateful to baseball for helping make it happen.

1 comment:

  1. That's an awesome post, Jeff. I love the bit about the metaphors of baseball. I find in middle age that I come to see the wisdom in those phrases that seemed like hackneyed cliche when I was younger, and your dad's life lessons, understood years later, are a beautiful example. I appreciate your larger point, too. Fathers are great. My kids are lucky to have one who, like you, is there for them 52 weeks of the year. And I miss mine.