When I was nine years old, I asked my dad for a new aluminum baseball bat that I’d been eyeing for weeks at the local sporting goods store. Since this was obviously a very long time ago—depressingly long ago, in fact—it would be reasonable to wonder why I would remember this bat. Believe me, this was one sexy baseball bat. It was royal blue with white stars down the barrel and the words “All-Star” in large white, stenciled letters. You’d have to be pretty confident in your baseball skills to want this bat as a 10-year-old.
As dashing as it was, the bat was too big and too heavy for me at the time. My father told me so each time we went into the store, while also pointing out the rather excessive price tag attached to it, as dads often do. Nevertheless, I was enamored with how cool it looked as well as the potential damage I could do with it on the diamond….but mostly how cool it looked. Given my father’s repeated protests during our store visits, I was stunned to find the bat leaning on the coffee table on Easter Sunday morning right next to my Easter basket containing my annual allotment of Hershey’s Kisses and Peeps, which I still don’t like and always gave to my younger brother, Chris. This always seemed to make him quite happy, by the way, along with his bag of M&M’s.
Excited about my marquee Easter gift, and with Little League baseball season just around the corner, I convinced my father to take us to a local baseball diamond after church that morning. Following our regular post-mass trip to Dunkin Donuts (the reward for good church behavior), Chris and I quickly changed out of what was likely some sort of matching blue blazers and khaki slacks into something more sporty, including our bright white, state-of-the-art turf shoes. (Turf shoes were pretty cool in those days.)
While mom fixed another scrumptious Easter dinner, the three men of the house trekked off to the local field, hopped the fence by the locked gate and took batting practice. I managed to connect on a few of Dad’s pitches thanks to him aiming for the barrel of my new bat. In the outfield, Chris was busy chasing baseballs in all directions on a sunny, but brisk morning. It was evident after a few swings, however, that the bat was too heavy for me, just as my father told me it would be. The lesson, as I would learn much later after fervently disagreeing with it during my teenage years: Dad is always right.
Somewhat frustrated that my new toy—the one I was so in love with just minutes earlier—was too big and heavy for me, I traded places with my brother and shagged balls for him for a while. I didn’t want to admit it, but I stood in the outfield realizing that I’d fallen in love with the aesthetics of the bat, not the results it might help deliver. When I should have been concerned with function, I’d been blinded by form. And with dad, the choice between style and substance has always been an easy one.
Reluctantly, I put the bat in the closet and it didn’t become my “gamer” for another year, when I was strong enough to swing it. When other players on the team wanted to use it, my father, who was now the coach, made me share it. We were a team, he told me. I cringed at first, but learned to deal with the small white blemishes that appeared on my blue bat every time someone hit with it. Over time, I even felt some pride when my bat played a role in a teammate’s success.
When I angrily threw my prized bat because I struck out—which was rarely, I might add—he taught me how difficult it would be to hit from the end of the bench. (Judging by our on-course golf demeanors, this is one lesson it appears we are both still learning.)
A couple of years later, when the bat became too small and too light for me, he drilled a hole in the bottom of it, filled it with sand, and then plugged the hole. It was now my weighted warm-up bat to help me quicken my swing. There was still value in a hard-earned purchase that had been outgrown.
My dad, my brother and I have spent past Father’s Days at Fenway Park, a Willie Nelson concert and the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Today, I live half a world away and wish I could play a little more golf with him or share some of the things I’ve seen on my travels with my mother and him. When I consulted with my parents about moving to California, and then to Australia, they encouraged me to take advantage of every opportunity I had. That can’t be easy for parents to do, but it’s enormously appreciated.
My dad (like my mother) has beaten cancer because of the marvels of modern medicine, some great doctors and because he’s just stubborn (and tough) enough to do it. He’s kept the lawn looking better than any lawn in the neighborhood (or Fenway Park, for that matter), he’s taught me that anything worth doing is worth doing right, and he’s still the best source I know for advice and counsel. Sorry, Google.
Normally, he’s the first set of eyes on anything I post on this site because he’s a very capable editor and I know he’ll give me honest feedback. Because I live so far away and because he always says, “Tim, I don’t need any gifts,” all he’s getting this Father’s Day is this lousy blog post. At least he didn’t have to edit this one.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for the sexy blue bat, the teachings (intentional and unintentional) that came with it, and the countless others I probably never noticed along the way.
(And, mom, I’m sorry dad got the blog post for Father’s Day, but you got the chocolate covered strawberries for Mother’s Day. I think we both know who got the better of that deal.)