Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day, and lessons

Some days my dad is removed from us, in these waning years. Wheelchair-bound for the most part since breaking his hip in March, he retreats to some shadowland where dreams and memories get all jumbled together, and he mumbles and points and calls out to people who are not there, and to a time that is long past.

The most decent, competent, meticulous man I've ever known is long gone, in those moments. What's left is this hollow place where Lewy-Body dementia and Parkinson's have delivered him, and it makes you hate those twin assassins as much as you've ever hated anything.

My dad is a far, far better man than his son will ever be. So on the bad days, I despise the disease that takes the living proof of that away.

He was never the kind of dad who played catch with me for hours as twilight came on, ala "Field of Dreams." This is partly because he recognized early on it was hopeless. And it's partly because, although he raised a sportswriter son,  he was always only a cursory sports fan himself.

What he did teach me is how to believe.

Back in my laughable athlete's days -- which peaked, if you can call it that, in middle school --  I was a distance runner. Well, sort of. I had no speed, but at least I had no stamina. I was also less a Blob in those days than a Blip; I weighed about 12 pounds and had the aerodynamic properties of a hotdog wrapper. Distance, suffice it to say, retired unbeaten against me.

And so here came this one day at Bishop Dwenger, where I was entered in the 2-mile only because there wasn't an event called Go Sit On The Bus.  It was spring, and there was one of those brutish, muscular winds blowing, barreling straight up the backstretch out of the north. These were not optimum conditions for the Hotdog Wrapper, and so as one lap became two became four became six, I kept falling farther and farther behind.

Watching from the car not far away, my mom fretted. "Oh, he's gonna quit," she said.

My dad instantly set her straight.

"He's not gonna quit," he replied.

I don't know how he knew that, but I didn't. I finished. Magellan circumnavigated the globe faster, but I finished. Bullheadedness, it turned out, was my one athletic skill.

And now it's Father's Day again, and we'll go see Dad. Over in Cleveland, meanwhile, it is not just Father's Day but also Judgment Day, with Game 7 of the NBA Finals tonight out in Oakland. And so it will be a father's duty there today to sit his children down and have the Talk.

Which involves belief, yes, but also reality: You see, this is Cleveland, home of The Drive and The Shot and The Fumble and The Decision. It is the home office of heartbreak. It is the place where belief goes, not to die, but to be crushed flat only to re-generate like some sort of Rust Belt Terminator, because that is part of what Cleveland is, too. It's the Screw You, Fate, capital of the universe. It's a place where you believe even if belief is oh-for-your-lifetime, because some day -- maybe THIS day -- it's finally going to win one.

A certain dad in a different Midwestern city, watching from a car on a certain vanished spring afternoon, could second that.

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