I’m talking with my daughter the other day, and out of the blue she asks….”what are we doing Sunday?” I’m thinking…..Sunday? Have I promised to do something that I’ve forgotten about? “Yeah” she says, “It’s Fathers Day!
Well, what I wish to do on Fathers Day is a whole ‘nother blog, but it got me to thinking about my Father. Without trying to become too sentimental, I simply wish to share with you some memories of my Dad, and while this may seem a little lengthy, forgive me, and know that these are just some of them.
As background to these memories, I am the 5th of 10 children, and the 3rd of 6 boys. My father died almost 27 years ago, at the very young age of 57.
My dad was many things to many people. To his friends that I knew, he was Bob. I remember hearing someone call him Randy, and thinking why are they asking for my older brother when clearly the only people here are myself and my dad…Bob. It was sometime later that I learned his birth name was Randolph, thus…Randy. To add more confusion to my young mind, I remember once being around my dad’s brothers and sisters, and my uncle kept calling my dad “Cotton.” Turns out, as a young boy my father had very white hair, to someone in Mississippi he looked like a head of Cotton, and it stuck.
FREDDY, THE ERRAND BOY: I was about the age of 5, maybe 6, and on many a Saturday mornings, Dad would hand me an envelope with some papers in it. I would walk the several blocks to our corner grocery store–mind you, there were no 7-11’s yet– where “mom and pop” really did own the store. My instructions were simply to hand the envelope to the man behind the counter. He would remove the papers, read one of them, grab a small “pack of something,” put one of the papers from the envelope in his drawer, put a couple metal objects back in the envelope, hand me the envelope, hand me the small “pack of something” and send me on my way. This became a fairly regular practice for me. What I didn’t know, cause I as only 5, was that the “pack of something” was a pack of cigarettes. Had I known what they were and what they would ultimately do to my father I would have gladly burned them. Nor did I know that the metal objects were coins, as in money. I’m pretty sure that’s why he sent me and not my older brothers. They knew what money was and would have demanded they get paid for the errand they were running. Me, what I knew was that at a very young age I could do something for my dad that he approved of, and I couldn’t get enough of that.
WORDS MY MOTHER WOULDN’T EXPLAIN TO ME: As if it were yesterday, I remember laying under the old station wagon with my dad. I have no idea what he was trying to fix, all I know was that something was broken and he was going to fix it. It was agreed that if I didn’t get in the way, I could watch. The plan, assuming there was actually one, wasn’t going well and dad shared a word with the car that I had never heard before. Two things struck me as odd even at that young age. One, it was new to me that human beings would talk to inanimate objects, which I do at least 3 times a day now. And, two, that my dad knew a foreign language. I asked him what language was he was speaking, and as he often did, he suggested that I ask my mother. For the life of me I can’t figure why that didn’t strike me as odd, but it didn’t. I simply went and asked my mom, who shook her head and went on about her day. Even now, when there is something mechanically wrong with my car, I find myself looking under the hood, or lying under it, having no idea what I’m looking at and wishing I knew a foreign language.
MY GREATEST LESSON IN COACHING: It wasn’t until I was much older that I came to realize the athlete that my dad was. Growing up, I just knew he could throw a baseball really hard and fast, and he could hit a golf ball a long ways.
In my very first year of playing little league baseball, I was a fairly adequate third baseman. One of the games we were playing, our team had gone through all the eligible pitchers and our coach decided that if I could throw a ball from first to third, I should be able to throw from the pitching mound to home plate. As scared as I was, I have to tell you, I struck out the first batter. The second batter got a hit, and I struck out the next two. During our turn at bat I had visions of a life as a professional baseball pitcher. I don’t know what happened to my ability to pitch during those few minutes, but it left me. I walked the first four batters. The 5th batter knocked a frozen rope into right field for a double, scoring two more runners. From center field, my teammate, my older brother is yelling “Please, get him out of there!!! Put in another pitcher, anybody, he’s gonna hurt someone!” Sure enough, I threw a pretty wild pitch, hit the batter, and now Randy is really screaming “For Heaven’s sake, please, get him out of there!!!!!” I don’t know if it was my brother’s prompting, but my dad, yes, my dad the coach, called for a timeout and joined me on the mound for a short conversation. I handed him the ball, just about in tears, and he asks how I’m doing? Really, “how am I doing?” but before I can answer, he asks if I want to come out. My throat is so tight I can’t even get the words out, I just shake my head, but my brain is screaming “YES……PLEASE.” My Dad, “I think you should stay in. I think the trouble is you’re trying to strike each guy out and that’s not your job. Your job is just to play catch with George. (He’s our catcher, who is a much better pitcher than I, but he’s used up all his eligible innings). Your job is to let the hitters hit so the guys in the field have a chance to do what there supposed to do. Remember how we play catch on Sunday mornings? Pretend George is me, and we’re just playing a little catch.” Did the clouds part? Did my pitching arm come back? Did we go on to win the game and make my brother eat his words? I haven’t a clue. But I will forever remember the compassion in my dad’s voice and the lesson to give others the chance to shine. As much as I fight it, we really don’t have to go it alone.
MY FIRST PAYING JOB: It wasn’t often that my mom and dad got dressed up to go out, but when they did, dad would ask one of us boys to polish his shoes. I remember when I was finally old enough, six, to shoulder such a responsible job. I had been promoted from fetching the cigarettes to shoe polishing. I attacked the job with all the enthusiasm that a six year old could possibly have. When my task was completed, dad would give me a couple of coins. By now I at least knew they were coins, as in money, I just didn’t know what to do with them. Thank goodness I had older brothers to relieve me of such a burden. They could tell I didn’t have a clue as to what to do with the money, so they took it from me. Sometimes, just before I fall asleep at night, I wonder to myself what 50 cents, at a compound interest of let’s say 5%, would have grown to be since 1961.
WHEN DAD CAME DOWN TO EARTH: It was a rather typical February Friday in 1970, little wet, little cold, and I was outside shooting a little hoop with my brother when our family’s life changed forever. We got a phone call letting us know that my oldest sister, Paula, had been involved in a car accident about halfway to the coast. Mom and Dad needed to drive to the Tillamook hospital as soon as they could. Can you imagine what that drive must have been like? But it was too late, my sister and 6 others died that day. I don’t actually remember sleeping that night. I remember praying, crying, praying, and crying. When the light of day finally did appear I got out of bed and looked out my second story bedroom window. Dad was outside having a cigarette, and crying. It scared me that we now had this one thing in common: uncontrollable tears from this deep, painful grief. Dad wasn’t the untouchable giant I had always seen him to be.
It was the last time I saw my dad cry. Watching him over the next few days, weeks, months, and years, I learned a new survival technique. It’s what I call “cover and carry.” I watched and learned to “cover” my emotions, my feelings, and simply “carry” them through life.
Dad had already died from lung cancer before my daughter, Jaime, died in ’97. I remember that the first person I wanted to go to was dad. To find out how he did it. Was “cover and carry” all there was? Or was there some secret he found in the years after Paula’s death that would help me through this heavy, painful time. I still wish I could ask him.
FIELD OF DREAMS: I need to be very careful here. I don’t want to paint my father as any perfect role model. He would be embarrassed. Dad had a temper that when mixed with too many beers was at many times a rage that got the best of him. I have too many memories of the police visiting our house. I have memories of the family sneaking away for a few days of camping to give dad and us a break.
Maybe it was the wishful thinking of being a child, but I never saw it as my dad. I only the abuse of alcohol that caused him to be that way. And all that changed with Paula’s death. Or so it seemed to me as I never saw that side of my father again.
Having two sons, I now fully appreciate the uniquely strong bond between a father and a son. One of reasons I cry like a baby every time I watch “Field of Dreams” is simply relating to the deep desire, maybe even the need, for a the chance to play catch with my father just one more time.
I don’t know what you will be doing with, or for, your father this Sunday. But whatever it is, for heaven’s sake…..have fun…..Fred.