Recent near-death experiences and other delays have put me behind schedule for releasing the June storybook. So in a good faith effort to post something here, while not taking too much time away from the work that still needs to be done, I’m re-posting my favorite Dad story. This was originally posted last year on my Art & Life Notes blog:
Today I share my all time favorite super-hero-dad story – a true story about my dad. Over 30 years later, I still smile every time I think about it. I hope it makes you smile as well.
First, I must describe my dad because it’s an integral part of the story. Growing up I saw my dad as a pretty impressive figure. More than any other man I knew, his physique most closely resembled the Marvel Comic super-heroes that I followed. My dad was a blue-collar, union guy, working in construction as an iron-worker foreman until the day he retired. This alone impressed me. I knew he spent his days several stories above ground, welding, and carrying heavy bundles of iron across the skeletal I-beams of tall buildings. His job was physically demanding, dangerous, and cool, and I heard him say more than once how much he loved it.
Years of working high up next to the sun had turned his skin dark brown. My sister’s friend once mistook him for a black guy while sitting behind him in church. Viewed from the front, he had blue eyes, and not a hint of the usual construction-worker’s beer gut. In fact, even though my dad was a “man’s man,” I never once heard him swear, or saw him take a drink, or smoke anything. Now that I think of it, I guess I don’t even remember hearing him belch. He was generally soft-spoken, and rarely raised his voice with my mom or us kids. Nobody’s perfect, but my dad at least never gave us reason to think that he doubted his Southern Baptist beliefs.
I think it took my dad a while to grow into being a great dad. I think initially he saw his role as simply being a great provider. My early memories of him are of a large, dark, mostly silent figure either reading the paper, or working around the house. Always on a project and mostly speaking in monosyllables. Or, at the dinner table I would watch in awe, looking up at him as he silently downed vast amounts of food and poured quart sized glasses of white milk down his brown throat. He wasn’t a jerk; he was just mysterious. But mystery is way overrated.
Sometime during my early teenage years, I realized he had undergone a transformation.
He had become totally engaged. He played Saturday morning tennis and Tuesday night volleyball with my siblings and me. He coached my sister’s softball team. But more importantly he began talking and joking around with us. He could be pretty funny. He became a warmer and closer human being. I could relate to him in ways that I wouldn’t have dreamed of before.
For example, he was impossible to buy gifts for. What do you buy for a guy like this? Nails? Knives? Ammo? A spittoon? Lava soap? A heavy-duty razor? Meat? Well, unless he was at church he always wore a baseball cap, so one year for Father’s Day I bought him a dark blue hat with bright red plush wings on the side. Like something the Greek god Hermes might wear. I got it as a joke, assuming he would never wear it in public. But, indicative of his astounding midlife personality transformation, he did wear it. And this is also part of my story.
One summer, my dad, my brother, and I were all playing on the church softball team together. (Slow-pitch softball would be a sacrament in the Southern Baptist Church, if the SBC had sacraments.) We had a big, night game at a large, lit-up field surrounded by woods. My dad was one of the team’s best players, but on this particular night he was out of uniform, sitting in the stands because he had injured his hamstrings at work. He was wearing the blue hat with the red wings.
It so happened that our team was a couple of guys short that night. The coach went into the stands to try to persuade my dad to play, because otherwise we would have to forfeit the game. But my dad could hardly walk. He agreed though. The plan was to have a pinch-runner for him, and to put him in the bottom of the batting order, so we could at least play the game out.
Eventually it came time for my dad to bat. As he hobbled out to the plate, I heard the crowd murmuring, and I saw someone pointing at dad’s legs. My dad was wearing mid-thigh-length shorts. (This was the 1980’s, after all.) He didn’t realize this, but everyone could clearly see large black and blue bruises on the back of his legs. I have already mentioned how dark my dad was, but I failed to mention that this only applied to his upper body. His legs were as white as the wind-driven snow. He must’ve been in his early 50’s at this point. He was wearing a button down plaid shirt. I’ll just say that with his dark brown arms, plaid shirt, shorts and white bruised legs, and that dorky hat, this was probably not Dad’s most intimidating look.
The manly, uniformed pitcher turned to the outfield and waved the outfielders to move in closer. The manly, uniformed outfielders all moved in closer. I thought to myself, “Hmmm.” My dad took the first pitch. Strike one. On the second pitch my dad beat the snot out of the ball, sending it over the center fielder’s head and into the freaking woods. The whole place erupted. The other team was so hacked, throwing their hats down in the dirt and walking around in little circles with their hands on their hips. Our team was all shouting and cracking up, and the coach, laughing, just waved at my dad to walk the bases himself, since a ball hit into the woods is considered an automatic homer.
I will never forget the sight of my dad literally baby-step-hobbling around the bases, taking F-O-R…E-V-E-RRRRR, which just prolonged the opposing team’s agony. And all with that goofy winged hat on, unintentionally mocking them. As this cartoonish base-rounding formality dragged on, people in the stands were whooping it up and shouting out comments to my dad, it was all so endearingly pathetic. It was like watching a hurried, plaid penguin making its way across dry land.
Then, suddenly, just as we all thought the utter goofiness had reached its climax, the opposing team erupted again, crazily shouting, “THROW IT! THROW IT!!!” The dazed center fielder had emerged from the woods holding the ball. Waking, as if from a dream, eventually he realized that my dad still hadn’t made it around the bases! In fact he had just rounded third. These young bucks were actually going to try to throw the cripple out at home!
The center fielder sprang into action and hit the cut-off man. The cut-off man threw to home, (a bit high.) My dad and the ball arrived at home plate at the same time. But Dad had one more little trick up his plaid sleeve. He executed a perfect hook slide into home, falling away from the catcher as only his toe crossed the plate. The catcher missed the tag. The umpire cried, “SAFE!” Utter pandemonium broke loose. But at this point, even the other team had to start laughing and shaking their heads, and shaking my dad’s hand.
Sometimes you just have to submit to awesomeness.
Happy Father’s Day to my awesome dad!