Just Give Them a Lot of Love and You'll be Fine
It was right about this time, 19 years ago. My wife and I were sitting in the very last Lamaze birthing class, soon to be brand new parents. I felt a wave of anxiety come over me. I had to ask the question. I raised my hand. The Nurse, her name was Dorinda, pointed at me and said, "Yes, you have a question." Did I have a question? I just knew EVERY Dad was wondering the same thing? "You have given us some great information, almost too much. I am afraid I am going to forget all this stuff?then what?" I could feel the other Dad's nodding. She smiled; she was very wise and patient. She had taught thousands of new Dads. "That's a great question," pausing for effect, she continued, "That little baby doesn't know you don't know. Just give him a lot of love, you will be fine." It turned out to be the best parenting advice I ever received.
When I was a kid, maybe five years old, I have a distinct memory of my father holding my hand at Matthews Beach in Seattle. My head came up to his waist. He was a big man, 6'-4" and 240 pounds. In his day, he was an extraordinary athlete, All-State in three sports. He once scored 34 points in a Regional Final in Basketball. He started playing baseball at age 16, pitching, his Junior year in High School.
He told me the following story one night in Seattle. We were sitting in the brand new Safeco Field watching the Seattle Mariners pound the Cleveland Indians.
By the time he was a senior in high school; pro scouts were at every game. This was 1947 in Ravenna, Ohio. The Indians had the best pitching staff in baseball. One particular scout was enamored of my Dad. He signed a whopping $500 bonus to play for the Dayton Mud Hens, AA team.
His second summer, my Dad got the call. He showed up with the scout to find the General Manager of the team, the owner, a catcher, and an empty Cleveland Stadium. He said to me with a serious tone, "Mark, I threw the best baseball of my young life. I was 19 years old and I was fast. I would guess it came in around 85 miles per hour. I was feeling good about myself. I was on. I gave it everything I had. I just knew they were impressed."
After 20 minutes, the owner stood up and yelled out to me, "Okay, Bob, we are done warming up. Go ahead and show us what you got!" Up to this point while he was telling me this story, he looked straight ahead. To end the story, he turned his head, looked straight at me and said, "I knew right then I would never play in the Big Show."
I was 42 years old when he told me that story. I heard a lot of stories growing up, but that was not one of them. This one was special. He was confiding in me. He trusted me. It was time to bare a little of his soul.
My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's recently. Everything is changing now. The more I learn about this insidious and horrible disease, the sadder I become. A part of this big man dies a little every day. The burden is carried by my mom. She is hauling a massive load. (for a special story on Alzheimer's, go to www.mattesonavenue.com and click on "What's New!!!" tab to read the story "When the Box is Empty")
I cherish the moments I have with my dad now. I know for him, it's the 9th inning and the manager may be making that call to the bullpen any time now. Grief is a form of energy and must be dissipated somehow in healthy ways or it turns inward in the form of depression or self-destruction. Writing is how I process that grief.
I have captured many memories of my father in my journal the past year. I cry tears of regret, pain, anguish, heartache, sadness, anger and sorrow. Occasionally, when I think of my dad in that empty stadium giving it all he had, I cry a tear of joy. I love my dad.
Now my son Colin is grown. He will go off to college in the fall. 19 years later, that little baby got all the love I had. He is 6'-8", 210 pounds. He is on his way to The University of Alaska at Fairbanks in August to play basketball on a scholarship, a great athlete, a lot like his Grandpa. It's bittersweet. My father and son are leaving about the same time for different reasons. I think I am just going to give them each a lot love before they go. I will be just fine.
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