This is a Father's Day story that begins one spring day in 1973, a very bad day indeed. I'm a high school senior, and I come home to find the dreaded skinny envelope waiting for me in the mail.
My guts go into free fall. Every high school senior in the country knows what the skinny envelope means. It means the college you applied to doesn't want you.
This skinny envelope comes from the University of Virginia, and the rejection letter is polite and even sympathetic. But when you're 17 years old, the words "We regret to inform you" feel more like "Stay the hell away from our campus, loser."
Virginia is my first choice, so I'm heartbroken. My parents are sympathetic. They assure me that I'll be happy at another school. I have doubts about that. When you're 17 and already a seasoned neurotic, you wonder if you'll ever get over a blow like this.
To make matters worse, I've recently read Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, and in that play Biff Loman, the salesman's son, dreams of going to the University of Virginia -- he even writes the name of the school on his sneakers, only to have his dream dashed.
I'm turning into Biff Loman! All I have to do now to complete the metamorphosis is go on a job interview and steal the boss's pen!
By now you're asking yourself -- what the hell does all this whining have to do with Father's Day? Have faith, the punch line is coming.
Now we zoom from 1973 to the present. I'm all grown up, a producer for the TV show Inside Edition, scrambling as always to get a story on the air. By this time I've been a husband and an ex-husband, a newspaperman and an ex-newspaperman, a believer and a non-believer.
I'm also a father, with a 24-year-old son who's quite a bit like me, only taller, smarter and kinder. The "like me" part involves reading and writing. Rafael goes around with a paperback novel jammed in one hip pocket and a notebook and pen in the other.
He's applied for creative writing fellowships at eight colleges across the country. This is true longshot stuff. They don't hand these things out like candy. Thousands send in writing samples, and a handful are chosen.
Raf understands the odds. Seven of the eight colleges he's applied to have turned him down when suddenly, in the midst of this typically crazy day at Inside Edition, my cell phone buzzes with a text message from Raf:
I GOT INTO VIRGINIA!
All I can do is I throw my head back and laugh out loud. It's been 39 years since the initial application, but a Carillo has finally been accepted by the University of Virginia -- on a two-year scholarship, no less.
Outdone by my son. In the words of the late great New York Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen: How about that?
Look, I know as well as anybody that Father's Day is pretty much a joke. If you forget that it's Father's Day, nobody gives you a hard time. (If you forget that it's Mother's Day, you might as well hit the road with whatever you're wearing, enter the Witness Protection Program and never come home again.)
But I'm giving Father's Day a nod of respect this year, because I finally get what it's all about, at least from this father's point of view. It's about your kid succeeding where you failed, and the amazingly good feeling that comes with such a sweet defeat.
Sweet Defeat. Not a bad title for my autobiography.
Charlie Carillo's novels God Plays Favorites, Found Money, My Ride With Gus and Shepherd Avenue are available on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents. His website is www.charliecarillo.com.
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