I am guessing it just started as one trip to a ballpark on one of their vacations, likely to catch that team playing his beloved Cardinals, which led to my dad to decide to visit almost every major league ballpark in the country and one in Canada, all with my mom as his co-pilot.
My parents made swings out west and swings to the northeast, and many swings through St. Louis, dutifully pin-marking each stop on a map displayed at home. Friendly patrons snapped their photo at each game, and dad frequently reported back to me on the beer and peanuts quality at the ballpark.
Mom was a good sport through that and his many adventures: repairing old MGB and Triumph cars, a brief stint with camping, a two round a week golf habit, and learning to play a couple of instruments. He returned the favor by supporting her interest in the arts and music.
We lost my dad to this earth in December, but sadly, we had gradually lost his spirit and his mind to dementia prior to that. It was arduous, particularly on Mom, who had to provide almost round the clock care the last couple of years, and to see the man we loved reduced to sometimes garbled thoughts and speech. The cruelty of diseases effecting the mind is almost unbearable.
My dad was a patient, yet impatient man. He had the patience to research and publish a book about his beloved hometown country club, the patience to faithfully rehab his arm after a shoulder surgery, and the patience to apply fertilizer, winterizer, and weed and feed to his yard each year, a task I have yet to accomplish.
He was patient enough to fly fish a little and to hunt quail and ducks, but told me he never had the heart to hunt deer. He loved a good piece of fried quail with drippings gravy. So do I.
He was patient when letting grandkids pull on his ears and nose and crawl all over him or when giving them rides on his John Deere lawn tractor. He enjoyed an occasional episode of Peppa Pig or Thomas the Train long after the kids no longer watched them.
He was much less patient with drivers who failed to use turn signals or obey traffic laws, students at the medical school where he worked who didn’t want to study, and occasionally his children, who for some reason could never remember to turn off lights when they left a room.
My dad was a funny, yet serious man. He loved one-liners, waited for the minister’s joke each week during the sermon, and wrote clever song lyrics to sing while he played his guitar. In his younger days, according to Mom, he and his college buddies got a kick out of The Three Stooges and their antics, so he wasn’t above some of the sophomoric stuff. In later years, he loved Cheers and could recite many of Norm and Cliff’s lines from memory.
He was not stand-up-comedian type funny, but he was mischievous, and he had pretty good timing. I can picture his face and a little sideways smirk he gave right before cracking wise. He loved a funny greeting card almost as much as the present that accompanied it.
I remember he would answer the phone when my sis and I were in junior high and high school by saying “Colton’s summer home. Some are home and some are not. Who do you want?”. Or maybe if a boyfriend said, “Is Cathy home?” when they called, he might just say, “Yes, she is” and hang up. After all, he had answered the question, right?
He invited a couple of my dates to the back deck to have a beer with him while I finished getting ready. The ones I was able to forewarn refused the beer and made it through the test, but a couple of really cute ones couldn’t resist a sip. Here’s to potential lost loves!
My brother is an absolute hoot, and I can’t help seeing a little of dad in him. Somebody told me the other day that I was funny, and somehow it made me miss my dad a lot. I would do anything to hear him tell a joke again.
He was more serious about his faith, first as an altar boy, then as an usher, and always a regular attender at church. He was also pretty serious about being on time. He was always the first one ready, urging us all out the door (see reference to impatience here…).
And I bet I could count on one hand the number of times he didn’t work his 9 to 5 shift, at his desk in at least a sport coat and a worst a collared shirt, shoes with a coat of polish applied the night before, taking exactly one hour for lunch. I can attest to the fact that if Dad worked for you, you got your money’s worth.
My dad was loyal, almost to a fault. You learn a lot about loyalty when you are a Missouri Tiger football and basketball fan. A season ticket holder at Mizzou for many years, sometimes my dad’s misery over their performance was almost palpable. But when he passed away, his closet still contained plenty of Mizzou gear, and he wore a Tiger watch on his frail arm until the very end.
My dad was also loyal to his St. Louis Cardinals and spoke fondly about games with his dad and grandad at old Sportsman’s Park. I have a highly treasured picture of my dad and me on the way to probably the last game he watched at Busch Stadium, his ball cap placed jauntily on his head, clothed in a Musial jersey.
You would have been hard pressed not to find a Card’s game or pro golf event on his TV at home on a Sunday afternoon, the time of day when he checked the insides of his eyelids for cracks. He saw many of the greats play golf and proclaimed Scotland to be too beautiful to describe after he went to St. Andrews. His collection of books about baseball and golf would embarrass most sports libraries.
My dad was a purist, but he liked to try new things, too. He followed the rules of golf the way they were written in Bobby Jones days, scoffed at baseball’s designated hitter rule, liked a baked potato with his steak, and told me once he preferred a wrapped gift to a gift bag delivery.
But when KFC came out with crispy chicken in addition to original, he would have a piece of both. And he had a Callaway and one of those fancy longer putters in his golf bag, even though he preferred the old clubs he had re-gripped multiple times.
My dad gave me lots of gifts, both the tangible and metaphorical kinds. He gifted all of us with intelligent conversation and the knowledge that home was a safe, loving place to express an opinion or learn one. He enjoyed the gift of music, and in particular James Taylor and saxophonists who could play jazz, but he could name lots of classical pieces by ear.
He and mom gifted me my first car, a yellow VW Bug, whose heater was questionable and whose floorboards were thin. I loved that car and the freedom it gave me, and he piddled with it just enough to keep it running.
He gifted me the example of strong work ethic, and my own work ethic has been a point of pride through the years. He gave us the gift of believing in all of us. The best story I have about that was when as a young driver I was in an accident that was not my fault.
The adults involved blamed me, but Dad believed me. He turned into Perry Mason, entering a plea in small claims court. We sat at the intersection, timing the traffic lights, had my engineer uncle help us with a to-scale diagram of the accident site, complete with tiny moving cars, and rehearsed his opening statement. We ate Chinese at the fanciest place in town to celebrate our less than $500 victory.
Perhaps the greatest gift he gave our whole family was loving my mom. Even this last fall, when many things were hard for him to do, he attended her choral concert and almost cried when he heard their beautiful songs. He claimed he could hear mom’s voice amid them all, and my guess is he truly could.
I wanted to type this column before he passed away and never did it, a regret I will live with a long time. I have been telling myself that it was perhaps because my dad was hard to quantify, but in reality, a tribute seemed such a small gesture of what I felt for him. I can only hope that by sharing him with you now, near a time we celebrate our fathers, I have honored him in some way.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.