Friday, August 18, 2006

Tough and Tender

My mom and dad were both 33 when I was born. I was a late arrival - ten years after my closest sibling. The happy argument continues with my brothers and sister about who our parents really wanted. The conclusion: all of us.

Apparently my old man was a bit of a drinker in his younger days - used to disappear on payday and not show up for a while - not hours - days - weeks. I didn’t know that guy. Frankly, I don’t think my siblings really knew that guy either; at least, they’ve never talked about those days - weeks. Yes, there may have been some absenteeism, perhaps some neglect and avoidance; but I’ve never heard a negative word from any of them about dad’s behavior. Thank goodness.

So, there I was - 10 pounds of chubby joy - just waiting to jump into the world. I looked like a catcher the day I popped out and so I would become. A perfect round target at which to throw a fast-ball or a curve. What could possibly get by me? If the ball didn’t hit the mitt it would have lodged in one of the layers of fat that encircled my mid-section.

With the booze out of his system my dad was a wonderfully involved parent. He did everything that a dad could possibly do - including some things I wish he hadn’t done - like chaperoning my 7th grade end-of-the-year dance at Northeast Junior High School. Here’s the deal: my dad was a real good dresser. He had magnificent suits and sport coats, ties, shirts and shoes. Very hip the ‘30's. The other piece of information is that my parents were incredible dancers. They used to win contests in New York City, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Allentown, PA. I never witnessed this, of course, but I’ve heard from aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors that Roy and Vivian were certainly ‘the cat’s meow.’ During their award-winning years they were dancing to the music of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Count Basie. Now it was 1964 and I was attending my 7th grade Spring Dance. “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Dancing in the Street” were playing on the PA system. Roy and Vivian started to cut-a-rug. I drifted off into the shadows.

But he was a good guy - attending everything I ever did. He was also a good athlete in his younger days and hoped that I would be too. I loved sports - played them all - very average. My favorite was baseball - at least in my younger years. In this I excelled - perhaps because of my afore-mentioned frame perfectly suited to be a catcher. So, how better to be near your baseball-playing kid than to be UMPIRE-IN-CHIEF of his Little League? Yep - that’s what he was, God bless him. And, he was really good at it - mostly because no one took any shit from him no how; not coaches, not parents and certainly not us kids.

Occasionally my dad and I had the unfortunate situation of being involved in the same game. My dad was always the umpire behind the plate calling balls and strikes. Chubby me, of course, was right in front of him, giving signs and trying to stop foul tips with anything other than my protective cup. There we were. I loved it.

I had a teammate who played second base who I loved as much as a nine year-old can love another kid. He was kind and sweet and was a good player on our team. His dad was an acquaintance of my dad’s from the whiskey days. This guy showed up at the game that evening and stood just outside the chain link fence along the first-base line. He was drunk. (I know that now - I didn’t then.) All I remember is that every time my pal got up to bat or made a fielding play this guy started yelling at him like he couldn’t ever do anything right. He would yell at his son and tell him he wasn’t worth a damn or he threw like a girl or he should get off the field. My buddy started crying and we all felt bad for him. This guy stopped yelling, didn’t make a sound, in fact , when my old man walked up to the chain link fence and hopped over. No punches, no screaming, no guns. Just a very quiet conversation - face-to-face. No more noise from this son-of-a bitch. My dad came back onto the field. Stillness. Silence. Local awe.

Maybe that’s the way I remember my dad and that ain’t too bad. Oh that I’ve done something in the eyes of my children that was so complete - tough, tender and redeeming.


Blogger MAW said...

Hey Thom,
Did you hear about the results of the President's colonscopy?
They found his head!

July 21, 2007 at 7:15 PM  

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