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On fathers and memories

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And dealing with loss any way you can

One of the few known, intact photographs still in existence that show both my mom and my dad smiling together.

I’ve long wanted to write something on Father’s Day that somehow tied into baseball, trying to fill the void on one of the emptiest days of the year for me. But I have always avoided it, until now, for one big reason.

I don’t have a real baseball memory with my dad.

Unless you count listening to Pedro Guerrero’s 15th home run of June 1985 while in the passenger seat of my dad’s car. I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure we were driving from Palm Springs, where I lived with my mom, to Hemet, where my dad lived. My parents got divorced when I was three, and I would spend occasional weekends with him during the school year, then several weeks at a time during summer.

Summer is baseball season, but there is nothing particular I can remember about the game and my dad. We had to have gone to games together, but no specific memory lingers.

I am a cryer at movies, so it’s no surprise that I have bawled on multiple occasions at the end of Field of Dreams, when Ray Kinsella asks his father, “Wanna have a catch?” But it’s not because I’m recalling all the times I did so with my dad. It’s because it reminds me of what I didn’t have.

While the current labor negotiations in MLB are ugly, and figures to continue at least until the collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021, it’s nothing compared to the fights my mom and dad had before they got divorced.

I was too young to notice, so I was mostly shielded from the awfulness, but my older siblings weren’t. They bore the brunt of a marriage falling apart.

My dad cheated on my mom. Multiple times. After they divorced, he got married again. I don’t have many pictures of my dad, partly because my mom spent the night of his second wedding literally cutting him out of every single picture in every photo album in the house. She was a hairstylist, and was deft with scissors.

Honestly, it’s pretty funny to peruse old photos and see arms holding me as an infant, but those arms weren’t attached to a torso nor a head. But it wasn’t funny to my mom. Maybe later it was, but not that night.

My brother Greg was allergic to shirts. Tragic, really.
Here I am, being held aloft by ... someone. (It was my dad)

My mom was a housewife for over 22 years, raising four kids (before I came along), active in Little League and various other activities of her children. And all of a sudden she was on her own, with a three-year-old and a 13-year-old (my brother Greg). The other three kids already graduated high school and were out of the house. I can’t imagine the kind of pressure my mom was under at this time. At 43, she had to start a career from scratch.

I didn’t start writing about baseball until I was 32, and didn’t make it my full-time profession until I was 36. But I had a say in the matter. My mom was forced into a new career for survival.

Just last year I had a chance to see, for the first time, the finalized divorce settlement between my parents. It’s fascinatingly specific on who got what, like pillows, the couch, and even the coffeemaker. My mom, among other things, got $75 per month in child support for each of the two kids remaining under her custody. I’m not sure what I was supposed to feel when seeing a dollar figure attached to my name, but it wasn’t great.

I got my aptitude for math from my dad, and because of him I can still crush it on a 10-key, though I’m bummed my laptop keyboard doesn’t have one. He was a bookkeeper, which is essentially an accountant who doesn’t have a CPA license.

Surprisingly, the defining moment for the word “bookkeeper” for me wasn’t my dad, but rather Encyclopedia Brown, who once solved a case because the guilty party, a bookkeeper, claimed not to be able to name a word with three consecutive double letters (the logic of kid’s books were weird, okay?).

My dad ran the books for various companies over the years, including a few automotive dealerships. Through these jobs he would occasionally get baseball tickets, and awesome ones to boot. My older siblings (they are 10, 15, 17½, and 18½ years older than me) all had memories of going to these games and often getting to put their feet up on the Dodger Stadium dugout. I was so jealous.

They’ve never been in the dugout though.

The defining baseball memory of my dad was not something I experienced, but was the stuff of legend. It’s straight out of the dad playbook. He had the innate ability to find and execute the quickest path out of any sporting event. If that meant leaving in the seventh or eighth inning, so be it. Gotta get home in record time, after all.

He passed this down to my brothers, who aren’t as maniacal about it, even though I was very mad at them when we left what turned out to be an incredible Angels game early.

Those visits with my dad didn’t last too much longer after that car ride listening to Guerrero’s home run. I don’t remember when the pancreatic cancer was first diagnosed — both my parents smoked non-stop for 30 years, and cancer eventually claimed them both — but the demise was swift, and cruel. By January 1987, my dad passed away.

My older brother Kelly was the one who broke the news to me that my dad was going to die. It was in the hospital chapel. Years later Kelly said having to tell a 10-year-old his dad was dying was one of the hardest things he ever did, and I believe it. I don’t remember taking the news particularly hard, but probably because my inner walls of defense were working overdrive. Or maybe I was just naive. When I was younger and my mom or grandma talked about when my grandpa, who died when I was two, I asked who murdered him.

The events immediately after my dad’s death are kind of a blur. I remember missing about a week from school, I remember being horrified at the idea of an open-casket funeral, and I remember opening a box of 1987 Topps baseball cards at my uncle’s house shortly after.

Maybe that’s the baseball memory I have with my dad. Wood paneling, and not from a station wagon.

This is my 34th Father’s Day without my dad, and that hurts. What haunts me is that, even though I have distinct memories of my father, I can’t remember exactly what his voice sounded like. A big part of him has already slipped away.

But I haven’t been devoid of paternal influences. Kelly and Greg — did I mention how so very much older they are than me? — have shaped so much of who I am today (so blame them), and my uncles Lynn and Wayne have always been there for me when I need them.

Not having a dad doesn’t bother me like it used to, in large part because it’s what I’ve known most in my life. When he died I felt an emptiness, but also knew there was no playbook with how to proceed. I learned that the world keeps on moving, even if the world as you knew it stopped.