Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

My father died July 8, 1992. I was twenty-eight at the time. He often comes back to me in dreams, times when my mind wanders and in reflections in the mirror; where I realize how much of his son that I am.

My father died far too young. He had worked too hard at a job that he enjoyed, but that had left him overwhelmed by too much stress and a "partner" who had bled the company dry. I remember racing to his office that day in 1992 when a call came into my parent's house that he had suffered a "heart attack," hoping he was alive still and being angry at him for not quitting that job and joining forces with me to maybe open up a small shop selling baseball cards. I figured we could marvel over stats of players we loved while Springsteen music came from some radio behind the counter. He, of course, would be singing off-key, muffing the words.

None of that was to be, because dad died that day, probably the instant he fell from his chair. But did he really leave? Sure, I miss the physical contact and the daily phone calls. We always spoke about politics, sports ... whatever ... and I treasured that, even when I did not. We were not embarrassed to kiss each other hello and goodbye in public. He taught me the secret family hand-hold; three squeezes signifying "I LOVE YOU." And he did; like no other dad possibly could.

The night before he died, I stayed at my parent's house and as he rested on the couch, I lay beside him with my head on his chest. That was the bond we shared.

We coached a baseball and basketball team together, had season's tickets to Rutgers' games and spent more hours having catches (like the scene in "Field of Dreams") then most people spend even talking to one another. We always spoke while playing catch; as he broke off curve balls that dropped to the floor and knucklers that literally stopped in mid air.

The nickname my dad gave me as a child was "Bookee." It was something I hid from friends as a kid so I would not be teased. As an adult, I paid tribute to it, naming my cats Boo and Kee. What I wouldn't give to have him call me that stupid nickname again.

I admire many great men and women of history, but none top my father. He spent countless hours teaching children life's lessons. When a kid could not afford to play Little League, he secretly funded them. He gave away sets of baseball cards to neighborhood children. Often, he joined my friends and me in the street to take a turn at bat. No one could hit like my father (he was offered major leagues contracts in his youth).

He cared about politics and was a progressive on most issues. He worked hard behind the scenes to elect people he believed in and spent countless hours going door to door for causes that merited his devotion.

Devotion. That was my father. He was devoted; flat out devoted. He was devoted to his family, to those in need, to friends, to children, to causes big and small, and to any person who wished to talk to him for hours on end. He would disappear on a "quick trip" around the corner or at the local diner, inevitably engaged in a dialogue with someone.

I miss him. But do I? Really, he remains here full and strong, for he is in me. I am my own man, but I am also much my father's son. Sure, there are physical similarities, but my dedication to making the world better, my love of the written word, my work with children, my being a big mush - they are all products of my father. For that, he lives on and always will. I won't let those who knew him forget. Nor will I allow those who did not meet him to not know him in some form.

Happy Father's Day, dad. Your were among the greatest to walk this earth.

Poems on my blog about my father are:

Games Of Toss
My Father's Son
Role Model
To Be Continued

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