This article was first published on Sunday, June 16, 1991.
This one is for Ward Cleaver, Rob Petrie, Cliff Huxtable, and Dagwood Bumstead. This one is for dear old Dad, for every father who knows best.
Dad introduces us to sports. Dad puts the fielder’s mitt in the crib. He buys the Nerf football and the Wiffleball and the table hockey game. We notice that he plays with this stuff more than the kids.
His broad back is our first trampoline. His arms and legs are our first jungle gym. He catches us when we fall. He holds us in shallow water and there is trust. He never lets us sink. We learn to swim safely to the side.
His teams become our teams. There are folks in this region who are Atlanta Braves fans because their dads were Braves fans before the team left Boston in 1953. Dads and children at one time or another collide on most social, cultural, and economic issues, but we accept Dad’s team as our own. Red Sox are like green eyes. It’s in the genes. We get ‘em from Dad.
He teaches us how to hit, catch, and throw. He doesn’t mind if we’re lefthanded. He’ll save S&H Green Stamps and find us a lefty mitt. He tells us it’s OK to choke up on the bat. When we swing and miss, he reminds us that the big stars swing and miss all the time.
He doesn’t complain the first time we hit a line drive through the basement window. He goes to the hardware store and gets the glass and the putty and it seems like he’s kind of proud of the whole thing.
He cuts the grass in the morning, before the ballgame starts on TV. We watch the game with him and he explains intentional walks and infield fly rules. He yells at the announcer who uses incorrect grammar. He tells us that the ballplayers were better in his day.
He gets out of bed early on his day off to drive us to the rink or the ballfield. He stands off to the side with the other dads while we play. He tells us not to gloat when we win. When we lose, he takes us to Frosty Boy and buys us an ice cream and says we’ll get ‘em tomorrow. He teaches us that losing a game or getting cut from the team is not the worst thing that can happen in life. He is right. The man knows everything, especially when it comes to sports.
He is a sculptor of souls and we don’t even feel it when he’s chipping away. He doesn’t offer much praise to our faces, but we learn later that he’s always bragging about us at the office.
He seems to lose his good sense when we are in our teens. He too often elaborates on the obvious. He is forever warning us and lecturing to us. We know better. We already know it all. We just want the keys to the car.
Sports is our common ground during these blunder years. We no longer like Dad’s cornball music, his politics or his clothes, but we still like his teams. We argue with him about the war, the environment, and social mores, but we remain in total agreement when it comes to the DH and the local manager’s bullpen deployment. Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather divide us. Curt Gowdy and Ned Martin bring us together.
We thank Dad for the freedom when it’s our time to go. Several seasons later, we come back with worldly knowledge and the startling realization that the old man has somehow gotten smarter.
Sports was never about trophies or varsity letters or college scholarships or professional contracts. Those are the extras. Dad was right about almost all of it. He had the perspective. He gave us time, energy, and guidance. He sacrificed for us. And he gave us a little rope.
We have sons and daughters of our own and we can’t wait to buy them their first mitts. We have a catch. We show them how to hold the bat. We realize there is no sacrifice. This is what dads love.
We will not be mad when the first line drive breaks the first window. We will pass the time, and watch the games together and enjoy doing nothing.
Happy Father’s Day, 1991.