You may have noticed that some of my entries have been a bit shorter lately, and I’ve been participating much less in the comments section. That’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time and energy dealing with my father, who’s been in declining health for the past two months. He passed away over the weekend.
That’s him shown above — a self-portrait he took when he was 15 or 16. I see a lot of myself in that photo, in a way I never saw myself in his adult countenance.
My father was not a conventional guy. His tastes and sensibilities — and my Mom’s, too — were far, far from the mainstream, which could be a real drag when I was a kid. They only listened to classical music, watched a lot of Masterpiece Theater, and thought a day at the Guggenheim was a great way to spend an afternoon (which it is, of course, but not when you’re an 11-year-old). With one exception, they had zero feel for anything even vaguely pop-cultural. Fortunately for me, the exception was that my father liked sports.
He took me to my first ballgame when I was seven. The Mets won, 7-6, but the main thing I remember from that day involves a bag of peanuts he bought for me. “Where should I put the shells?” I asked. “Oh, just toss them anywhere,” he replied.
That didn’t sound right — he and my Mom kept such a fastidious house. Was he really telling me to make a mess? I tentatively dropped a few shells on the ground. “Like this?” I asked.
“That’s right, someone will clean it up later,” he said. “It’s OK — you’re allowed to make a mess at the ballpark.” In retrospect, this seems unfair to the custodial staff, but at the time I thought it was just about the coolest thing ever, and for a long time I counted it among the most important life lessons my father ever taught me. To this day, I always leave behind a peanut shell or some other small piece of trash when attending a ballgame.
Two years later I got the bright idea of “treating” him to Father’s Day at the ballpark, which was no treat at all, because he still had to pay for parking, deal with holiday traffic, and so on. To his credit, he didn’t complain one bit.
My father was older than my friends’ fathers (he was 40 when I was born) and wasn’t particularly athletic, but he was always happy to have a catch with me or hit fly balls to me or join me at the local tennis court, and he always came to watch the various baseball, football, and basketball teams I played on. He taught me to play Ping Pong, and he took me bowling. When I played Babe Ruth League baseball and got stuck in a batting slump, he bought a bucket of baseballs and threw batting practice to me at a local field so I could regain my stroke. He was 54 then.
Football-wise, my Pop was a lifelong New York Giants fan. When the Giants made it to the Super Bowl against the Ravens in 2001, I figured it might be his last chance to see his favorite team in the big game, so I went home and watched the game with him. Unfortunately, the Jints got crushed that day, but the fates handed us another chance seven years later, as the Giants faced the Patriots, and again I went out to Long Island to watch with him. I was very happy about the Giants’ victory but was even happier for Pop, who had just turned 84 years old. His batteries were getting pretty low by that point, but he still yelled and cheered and hugged me as the game unfolded. I’m grateful that we got that one last chance to bond over a game.
Pop loved Uni Watch. He read the site regularly, occasionally sent me feedback, and was a charter member. I’d forgotten about that last bit until we were going through his wallet over the weekend and found his membership card.
There was a lot more to him than sports, of course. Like most good parents, he had a knack for saying just the right thing at just the right time. When I turned nine years old, my outdoor birthday party was rained out and I was pretty inconsolable, but Pop said, “Oh, don’t you know? Rain on your birthday is a sign of good luck in the year to come.” It was a very sweet lie that he came up with on the spot. Rather amazingly, it rained on my birthday for the next 34 years in a row after that (really!).
One last story: Back in the early 1990s, when I was working as a book editor, I mentioned to Pop that I was facing a big career-related decision and was having a hard time deciding what to do. A week or so later I talked to him again and told him which choice I had made. He said, “Yup, that was the right decision.” I said, “If you knew all along what the right decision was, why didn’t you tell me a week ago?” He said, “I know it’s the right decision because it’s the decision you made.” I never realized until then how much faith he had in me. It was very humbling.
Pop was not a great man, at least not in the conventional sense of that term. But he was a very good father, a gentle soul, and a helluva nice guy. I already miss him, and I’ll always be proud to be his son.
I’m leaving the comments open today. Feel free to talk about regular uniform stuff — it’s OK, really. We’ll be closed tomorrow, but I hope to be back in the saddle by Wednesday. Content may still run on the short side for a while, so please be patient with me. Also, I may not be able to go to Baltimore next week after all, so our June 17th gathering is now officially iffy. I’ll update you on that as soon as I’m able, OK? OK.