I grew up in a land where men were men and women baked cakes. A land where fathers worked all day and slept all night. While the rest of us watched Milton Berle, my father, exhausted from bringing home the kishka, would plop in his overstuffed green sateen lounge chair and snooze ‘til he snored.
That was the daily routine. That was what work was. In our humble house, celebrations were few and far between. There were birthdays and the Fourth of July and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They were days of rest, they were days of play.
My favorite Father’s Day ever was when I was eight years old. My father loved watching sports. This day, we would celebrate by doing what my father and I loved most. We would go to Connie Mack Stadium. I loved that place. It was other-worldly. No grass was that green. No bases were that white. We got seats in the upper deck. That way, there was money left for food. My father bought me a hot dog, slathered in bright yellow mustard, and an ice cold Coca-Cola in a cup I needed two hands to hold. It was my favorite meal.
That Sunday, the Phillies we’re playing the Dodgers, the Dodgers of Duke Snider and Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson. They were a tough team. They could hit, they could run, they could score. Robin Roberts was pitching for the Phillies. This was going to be a brawl.
The Phils got out to an early lead. A Richie Ashburn single, a Del Ennis double. But the Dodgers fought back. A Gil Hodges homer with Junior Gilliam aboard gave them the lead. Then Roy Campanella cracked one that knocked in Carl Furillo. The Dodgers were up 4 to 1, and now it was the bottom of the ninth. Ashburn blooped a single to center. Man on. Granny Hamner worked a walk. First and second. Del Ennis chased one in the dirt for out number two. But Stan Lopata arose from his crouch to hit a solid single to right. Bases loaded. Now, it was all up to Willie Puddin’ Head Jones. Jones worked the count full. Every man and boy in the park stood up. This was it. You could feel it in your bones. The next pitch came right down the middle and Puddin’ Head got it all. The shot to center was majestic. It was high and it was long and it was headed out. And then, the world ended. Duke Snider came charging out of nowhere and literally climbed the wall. His arm reached high, his glove reached higher. He caught it. I have never heard such silence in a ballpark.
As we walked across the field and out to our car, no one spoke. But somewhere near Broad and the Boulevard, my father looked at me. I was almost in tears. He tugged at my cap and pulled it down over my eyes. “We’ll get ‘em next time, kid-o,” he said. When we got home, I stayed out to tell me friends about the miracle catch. And my father did what fathers do. He fell asleep in his chair.
My parents had me late in life. My father was 40. Back when 40 was the old 60. I never knew my father with hair. We never played catch. He didn’t teach me to ride my bike. But we had great times together. We had the Phillies.
I would realize, much later in life, after my dad had died, what fatherhood was all about. It isn’t about age or ethos. It’s about opportunity. And opportunity is what you make it. There is a lot I wish I’d told my father. A lot I’d wish I’d done. If your father is still alive, I suggest you hug him. Hug him long, and hug him hard.