Two years ago today, my dad passed away. He was 86 years old and his body finally succumbed to the wear and tear he inflicted on it with alcohol and cigarettes, helped along by the normal maladies that affect someone in their mid-80s.
I recounted the day my father died in a blog post here, and detailed the rocky relationship we had, as well as the "God moment" that allowed me to forgive him, in another blog post here. In addition, I've written privately about my dad.
For example, the other day I came across a letter I wrote to my father on Dec. 9, 2007. It was in a folder on my computer called "Writings." Surprisingly, I had forgotten all about the letter until I opened the Microsoft Word document titled "lettertodad.doc."
Early on in the letter, I tell my dad exactly what the letter is about:
It's about you. And it's about me. And it's about our family. And it's about how your years of alcoholism destroyed you. And me. And our family.
You can only imagine the things I wrote following that intro.
Reading that letter -- which I never gave to my dad -- made me realize how much anger and resentment I carried around with me for most of my life. The grief my dad brought to my life festered inside of me for years, and it eventually turned into a full-blown hatred. (If you don't believe me, I could show you the other Word document I came across on my computer called "ihatemydad.doc." That one was the result of an assignment my therapist had given me. I think the actual assignment was to make of list of 5-10 reasons why I disliked my father. I came up with 51.)
But let's forget the bad memories now, because the main reason I sat down to write this blog post was to let you know about a couple of positive memories I have about my dad. Both are baseball related:
July 13, 1971
I was a 9-year-old kid who ate, slept, and shit baseball. The game was everything to me. That year, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was played in Detroit, and somehow my dad managed to get two tickets. When he first told me we were going, I couldn't believe it. I had heard All-Star Game stories from my dad, who had attended the 1941 and 1951 midsummer classics in Detroit. Now I was going to have stories of my own.
I'll never forget walking into Tiger Stadium that evening and seeing the lush green grass and reddish brown clay that made up the baseball field. There were red (left), white (center), and blue (right) stars painted on the turf in the outfield and the atmosphere was absolutely electric. During warmups, Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates was throwing baseballs into the crowd near where we were sitting, along the left field foul line. Even though I didn't get a ball, I thought that was so cool.
The game itself was unforgettable. There were a combined total of 25 future Hall of Fame players and coaches on the two squads and the American League defeated the National League, 6-4. Of the 12 hits in the game, six of them were home runs, all hit by future Hall of Famers: Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, and Reggie Jackson -- who hit a gargantuan blast off the light transformer on the roof in right-center field, a homer that will forever live in All-Star Game lore.
Nearly 44 years later, I still have my ticket stub and program from that game. They are two of my most cherished possessions.
August 17, 1976
Our country had just turned 200, and I was on the verge of turning 15. Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, a rookie right-handed pitcher who had captured the hearts of the nation with his mound antics and his habit of talking to the baseball, had just turned 22. Fidrych was in the midst of his Rookie-of-the-Year season and was the biggest draw in sports. Virtually every game he pitched was a sellout, especially the home games at Tiger Stadium. I had seen The Bird pitch on TV and wanted nothing more than to see him pitch in person.
A few days before his next scheduled start, my dad and I drove down to Tiger Stadium to try and get tickets for that upcoming game against the California Angels. We walked up to the ticket booth and my dad asked the man behind the window what kind of seats they had left. "It's sold out," the ticket seller replied. I remember feeling my heart drop and being overcome with disappointment as soon as I heard those three words. Experiencing "Bird Mania" in person might not happen after all.
But then my dad did something magical. He pulled out a crisp $5.00 bill, slipped it halfway under the ticket window, and asked the ticket seller, "Are you sure it's sold out?" The ticket guy took the $5.00 and stuck it in his shirt pocket. "Let me check again," he said, before telling my dad that he had overlooked a pair of box seat tickets. My dad paid for the tickets and my disappointment was instantly replaced with joy. Not only was I going to see Mark Fidrych pitch, but I had also learned an important lesson about the power of money. As my dad told me on the way home, "No game is ever sold out."
On August 19, 1976, two of the best pitchers in baseball squared off against each other: The Detroit Tigers' Mark "The Bird" Fidrych and the California Angels' Frank Tanana. And I was there. Both pitchers threw complete games in what I remember as a classic pitchers duel. The Angels outhit the Tigers, 5-4, but Detroit managed to win the game, 3-2. Appropriately, the winning run came on a home run by Fidrych's "designated catcher," Bruce Kimm, in the bottom of the eighth inning. It was Kimm's only major league homer.
To this day, that was one of the most exciting baseball games I've ever been to, and it wouldn't have happened if my dad hadn't bribed the old man behind the ticket window.
Those are two great memories I have of doing stuff with my dad. We didn't do a lot together, but today I'm grateful that I have at least some memories of him that aren't horrible. Over the past two years, I've really worked to put the negative things behind me and focus on the positive.
I miss my dad. A few years ago, I never would've thought it was possible, but I miss him every day. Once in a while, I'll find myself wanting to call him to tell him something; then I remember he's gone. I frequently use the tools my father gave me shortly before he died, and every time I do, I think of him. I also think of him and things he used to say on particular occasions. For example, the other morning it was brutally cold outside and I could imagine my dad saying, "It's colder than a witch's tit!"
Sometimes I think of my dad and just start crying. I'm sure the tears are a conglomeration of happy tears and sad tears, but I think they're mostly happy. Happy because I let the past go and made peace with my dad before he left.
Like Anne Lamott says, forgiveness "is the hardest work we do."
It can be healthy to hate what life has given you, and to insist on being a big mess for a while. This takes great courage. But then, at some point, the better of two choices is to get back up on your feet and live again. -- Anne Lamott