It is easy as a dad to think that what you do is not having an impact. You work, drive your kids from here to there, and spend the time in-between chipping away at your ‘honey do’ list. And if that does not overtake you, there’s the ‘one minute they love you and the next they hate you’ phenomenon. It is hard to think that somewhere in the midst you are making a difference. But you more than likely are.
One of my biggest influencers was my dad, though he often probably felt like he was not doing that much. As kids, one of the first and most important things we knew was that he loved us. It was not even something he had to tell us, though he did. We just knew it.
It came through most in the way he lived his life and the stories he told. He grew up in the ‘50s in New York, so he could not help but love the sport of baseball. While he was learning to talk, greats like Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays were starting their careers. Baseball connected him to his father, while not much else did.
A good game on the T.V. was enough until around the age of five, when my dad lost his younger sister to a brain tumor. Not even baseball could mend that ache. His father was not the greatest person, but for a lot of years after that, he was not even a good person.
He lost himself in gambling and drinking, leaving my dad and his mom to heal their hurts without him.
The crazy thing is that we loved these stories. We loved hearing about how grandpa Bob lost his paycheck at the track, probably because it was my dad’s story and not ours. We found it interesting that my dad got up early, before school, and delivered papers when he was 12-years-old, because the family did not have that much money. As a child, I could not imagine such a life, but when the time came for me to get a job, I could not wait.
These were the only stories my dad had to tell, and the greatest thing is that he told them. He did not share every gory detail, but he did not sugarcoat the truth or paint himself to be something he was not. He was real. We listened to these stories with the understanding of a child, as if we were hearing him tell us that he had green eyes or a sliver in his finger. But as we grew, those stories took root.
As my dad grew, his parents had children again and he was an older brother for a second time. By this time, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants had been relocated to California, and the New York Yankees had a new rivalry in the Mets. Baseball had once again become a connection, this time connecting his dad and him to his younger brothers.
Then at 17 my dad faced heartache once more, losing his mother to cancer and his father just two years later. He was 19 with an 11-year-old and a 6-year-old brother to think about.
As kids we heard these stories on the way to see our uncle Ken. How at 11-years-old, Ken wanted to be placed with his aunt in the city, and my dad did not think that was best. Ken and his brother went to live with a family that owned a farm outside the city, and they blamed my dad for it. Yet we loved visiting Uncle Ken and watching he and my dad laugh and carry on. We knew about the past animosity, but it was imperceptible to us.
My dad and his youngest brother were not that close, but they got together too. He was a part of our lives, even though their relationship was strained.
As kids we did not think, “Man, I wish my dad had come from money,” or, “If only his stories were better.” We never saw my dad for what he came from, we saw him for what he was—a college graduate with an MBA who taught accounting at a local college and loved his family. He spent his free time connecting with us, usually through baseball. We played catch in the yard, and he took us to baseball games and taught us to sing Take Me Out To The Ball Game. But he was just as happy to have us by his side while putting a cabinet together or mowing the lawn.
Dads, keep living your lives in front of your children. Tell them the stories you can and show them that you love them. You are making a difference, even in the day-to-day monotony. And that doesn’t mean being perfect, or being like everyone else. It is sliding into home and letting your kids see you get tagged out at the plate, then getting up, dusting yourself off and stepping up to the plate again.