My dad grew up in Scarsdale, New York – but, as he’s quick to point out, that was before it became “Scahsdahle.” His dad told him always to root for the underdog, and my dad took that seriously.
All his friends were Yankees fans, but Dad loved the Dodgers. A perfect Friday night for him, when he was a young teen, was to go up to his room with a Faygo Redpop, a Boy’s Life magazine – he was on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout – and listen to Red Barber, who wouldn’t say something so prosaic as, “the bases are loaded,” but “the bases are saturated with humanity.”
Dad was a decent athlete – baseball and golf – but didn’t make the high school team. He did have a star turn as the short stop for his fraternity softball team, which won the championship when he pulled off a perfect squeeze play. You never forget those moments.
My parents raised three kids, and spent most weekends schlepping to swim meets, and hockey games. My dad had to wake me up at five in the morning, then pile me and my hockey bag into our 1965 Volkswagen Beetle – which had no radio and a heater only in theory. I’m sure I complained every time he woke me up. He didn’t complain once.
My dad didn’t play hockey, but he taught me the important things: Play hard. Play fair. Losing was okay, loafing was not. And hot-dogging after a goal was unacceptable. You’re better off not scoring than doing that.
My dad and I spent countless hours together watching George Kell do the Tigers’ games on TV, and Ernie Harwell on the radio.
In high school my brother and I both made the hockey team, and played together for one season. My dad is not one to brag, but he gushed to us about seeing his two boys standing together on the blue line for the national anthem. It didn’t matter to him that that was the most ice time we got.
When I became a sullen teen – at least at home – we didn’t have a lot to talk about. Still, like Daniel Stern’s character said in City Slickers, we always had baseball. That kept us connected, when it seemed like few things did.
After I left home, we started becoming good friends. As Mark Twain said, “It was amazing how much he had changed.”
We formed another bond when I was in college and started coaching baseball. I loved it, and coached on and off for most of two decades.
But the apex – or nadir, take your pick – occurred when I took over my old high school hockey team, Ann Arbor Huron, which had not won a game in a year and a half. Assessing my team’s situation, my dad said, “Well, when you’re on the floor, you can’t fall out of bed.”
I gave my parents a schedule, but I didn’t expect them to go to the games. But they came to every one of our home games. And the games in Trenton, and Muskegon, and Traverse City, and even Culver, Indiana. They became valued members of the hockey parents’ gang.
When we won our first game, they were there. When we finally beat Pioneer in my third season, they were there. The lobby crowd was loud, but not my dad. He didn’t say a word, but I’ll never forget his glassy eyes as he reached out his hand to grasp mine, and he held it, firmly.
He knew how much it meant to me. And I saw how much it meant to him.
When I asked him a couple months ago what I could possibly get him for his birthday, he said, “Just your friendship.” Consider it done.
Hope that’s what you want for Father’s Day, too.