There were times when I was all by myself way out in left field when it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I’d be playing with a blade of summer grass, or watching sparrows looking for worms over by the fence when I should have been getting ready for the next pitch, and my eyes would wander out from under my ball cap and focus on the wooden bleachers next to our dugout, and I would see my mom sitting there, a can of supermarket soda in her one hand, her other hand usually shading her eyes so she could see me when I saw her.
She’d wave then, a big flappy MomWave and I’d smile, embarrassed, and kind of wish that I could melt into the short-cut field.
She was there.
She was always there to watch me play, to watch her average kid play average ball in the early summer evenings, to take me to Dairy Queen when the game was over, if we won or if we lost, it didn’t mean a damn thing to her.
I reckon I played baseball from the time I was about five years old. Tee-ball, Little League, Babe Ruth league, middle school, I played them all when I was young. And if I wasn’t out on the field in some organized game, well then I was down in the vacant lot playing with my friends or out in my Mom-Mom’s long narrow yard, throwing up a filthy ripped pink rubber ball with my own hand and then popping it with my aluminum bat.
I must have thrown 50,000 baseballs in my time; I must have took about that many swings, too. But sometimes, no matter how much I loved playing the game, it came out of nowhere and slammed into me hard.
My father never saw me play. Not even once.
He never had a catch with me in the yard, never threw me any batting practice. Nothing. Oh he was alive alright. And close by, too. We even lived in the same house for my tee-ball years and all, but he didn’t show up.
I’ve let that go for years now. For decades. But, I gotta be honest, it pisses me off here recently. And it’s been breaking my heart forever.
This Sunday is Father’s Day, but that name is bullshit if you ask me.
Pretty much any man can be a father, as long as his fish swim alright. But there’s nothing great about that. There’s nothing all that great about being able to reproduce, really. Lots of living things do it. Hell, they all do. If you think about it, any regular guy can take a sip of wine and unsnap his dirty cutoff Levis and do the deed/become a father and have a cigarette lying back in bed, his head rested on a pillow, all in the course of about five minutes if he’s no real Lothario.
Maybe twenty minutes if he takes his time.
Twenty minutes tops to become a father.
The word “father” means nothing. It’s a biological term, a science book word. It’s like saying, “He’s a meat-eater.”
Oh yeah? Is he?
Join the freakin’ club.
I always knew what dads were, even if I didn’t have one.
I wasn’t blind. Or dumb. I saw the guys who came out to coach our ballclubs, regular guys/still in their work uniforms/thin menthols dangling from their mustached lips/their smoke wisping up from their fists as they smoked and hit fly balls at the same time like only dads bother to do. Their sons would be helping them lug the big military bags of clanking bats from the trunks of their cars, down to the field where the rest of us were waiting to practice or play.
The dads I saw weren’t perfect. I knew that much, too.
I got the sense that these guys weren’t indestructible. A lot of them seemed grumpy at times, exhausted from stuff I had no idea about, stuff at home maybe, Or at their jobs. But I didn’t care. I looked up to them. I loved getting big gusts of their cigarette smoke up my nose while we all sat in the dugout and they read out the starting line-ups and told us to have some fun out there/to take our time/to think about what we were doing.
Looking back now, I guess they knew I was one of the dad-less. “He’s got a father,” they probably told each other when they met up at the Beef’n’Beers, “But I ain’t ever seen him.”
Sometimes I wonder what it might have been like if I did have a dad there with me all those years. Would I have been a better hitter? I never did manage to put one over the fence. I never did get to know any of the big thrills like that. Ahhhh, but I can’t pin that on the poor bastard, I know that deep down.
You have to swing your own bat, Buckaroo. Ain’t no daddy can do that for you. But at least he can be there, watching you strike out or whatever. And maybe even drive with you and your brother and Mom to the Dairy Queen when the game is all over.
Eating an ice cream cone on the warm pinging hood of the car as the last drips of daylight roll down the horizon wall, just sitting there by your kids, on a summer night, that doesn’t sound too bad, huh?
No, sir. Not if you’re a dad it doesn’t.
If you call yourself a dad, then that right there sounds about as good as it’s ever gonna get.
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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