Tuesday, August 07, 2007

For you, Dad

My sister, brother and I all spoke at my father's funeral. Here is what I read, more or less. I added a couple things that day that I can't remember exactly.


I am five or six, and Dad is home from work. I crawl up, trying to fit myself into the inches of his lap that are not already occupied by his stomach.
I lean in, careful not to disturb the newspaper he is reading through his thick glasses as if the words contain the meaning of life.
I inhale. The scent of Kent cigarettes and Old Spice fills me, comforting me.
This was Dad. He always seemed larger than life. And at 6-4 with blazing red hair – strands of which still colored his hair to the end - and a distinctive raucous cackle, he practically was.
He's the float we used to hang onto in the ocean, the pale, freckled knee we used as a diving board. He was the backyard coach, throwing tennis balls higher than the rooftops to us. And when we’d catch it and then throw it back, errant tosses were met with “Who was that throw to, Licorice?” Or Truffles, depending on which dog was currently with us.
Dad was also a food critic. When Mom handed him a plate of her new recipe for tuna casserole, he immediately renamed it – and quite accurately, my siblings would agree – Tuna Plop. Naming a meal was preferable, however, to his occasionally flinging a salad or plate of pasta at a misbehaving Ellen, who was lucky enough to sit next to him.
He certainly could be intimidating. A great day for me was when I got faster than him and could race up the stairs to my room and slam the door before he could swat me for whatever bad thing I’d done.
Some of the biggest fights Dad and I had involved the afternoon newspaper. My favorite thing was to hustle to the top of the driveway and retrieve it before he did, thereby giving me dibs on the sports pages. Dad wasn’t always in agreement with that strategy, and he had the gift of being able to outshout pretty much everyone he knew to get those sacred pages back.
But from Dad I got my passion for sports. Before the days of remote controls, I was his. I’d sit on the floor in front of the TV on football Sundays and turn to different games at his command. We watched the Miracle on Ice together. Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary.
He especially loved the game of baseball. He knew everything about it. He grew up in New York and Philadelphia so he’d seen his share of history.
I too fell in love with baseball, and it became my career. He was also a great storyteller. And he loved to ask my friends all about their lives and had a way of putting them at ease. I'd like to think I inherited some of that gift, and I have Dad to thank for that.
When I moved to California in 1999 to cover the Angels, it meant I was going to get some free trips to Seattle when they played the Mariners.
It was at a game that I nervously introduced him to David. Dad knew that David is half-Korean. And anyone who knows Dad knows how much he likes to talk about his time over in Korea during the war.
It didn’t take long for him to completely embarrass me by telling David that he had a Korean houseboy during the war. His name? Tae Bo.
Luckily, David laughed. Which is why I had to marry him. Because if you don’t think my Dad is funny, you won’t last in our family.
This came into play again later when Mom and Dad visited us. We met friends at a Chinese restaurant. Dad opened his fortune cookie and read “Help. I’m a prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory.”
I groaned. The joke was so old, the pilgrims told it coming over on the Mayflower (another Dad-ism). I’d heard it a gazillion times. But David and my friend Jean laughed until tears came.
Just the other day, David dragged me in to watch a Magnum P.I. episode in which Magnum gives Rick and TC a fortune cookie. They read the fortune aloud, and guess what is says? David is STILL laughing about it!
Dad kept his sense of humor, even when events over the past few years were incredibly difficult. When he finally got his electric wheelchair, Dad enjoyed cruising the halls and, of course, socializing. He became quite popular.
When, for the third time in his two-year stay, a roommate died, several residents requested they get moved in with him. Apparently Dad’s conversational skills and off-color humor outweighed the possibility of any curse.
One of my favorite memories is of my son, Sawyer, then 18 months, climbing right into his lap and trying to “help” Dad drive his wheelchair. The visit was something Dad talked about often.
In Dad’s final days, he clearly was in a lot of discomfort. But it wasn’t enough to still his sense of humor. Or his stubbornness. He recovered twice in the past year from life-threatening illness.
This time, when he knew his weakened body couldn’t recover, he still was present in the moment.
When Mom asked him what she could bring him, he smiled in what we call his “hideous grin.”
That was Sunday. Tuesday, he passed peacefully, listening to his favorite Frank Sinatra songs. Andrew said later that maybe Dad thought he was in heaven.
So Dad, wherever you are, I hope there’s good music, great baseball, a comfy recliner and a cold beer. You deserve it.
Thank you for being our father. You were truly one-of-a-kind.

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