One of my surprisingly vivid childhood memories comes from my days as a short and mildly uncoordinated centerfielder for my Little League team. I would spend the majority of the games standing in the outfield eating my baseball glove and counting dandelions. Very little could snap me out of my outfield boredom trance. I would realize that it was our team's turn to bat when a guy in a different colored uniform would be standing next to me in the outfield. Yup, I was oblivious to the world. But I did notice Super Coach. Super Coach, as he was known by all the Little League parents, was a Little League father and coach, as well as a walking advertisement for his son, the Boy Wonder.
My own father was a quiet man. He owned a small business in a small town. He rose early every morning to open his liquor store in time to catch the first customers on the small main street that was the center of town. This was in the era before the mall took over the retail world and owning a store was the ticket to middle class stability. He'd get home about 8 or 9 at night, watch TV until 11 o'clock and go to sleep. About the only time I saw him was when I'd walk over to the "store." He'd give me a dime out of the cash register for some candy or hand me a Royal Crown cola from the icebox in the back of the store.
Growing up with my Dad was not always easy. As a shy child who always preferred to blend into the background and not be seen much less heard, it was hard to have a Dad who was always seen, always heard and never hesitated to say whatever was on his mind. Whether it was his opinion on politics or the latest pun that he made up, my Dad's voice could always be heard loud and clear at the park, in my school or at religious services. As a child this embarrassed me and as a young adult I tried to shrug it off as "not my problem.
So there I was, 49 years old, after a first failed marriage, with no children, and sure that parenting was a closed book for me. And then-- "Guess what you are getting for your 50th birthday"-- said the love of my life. "By the look in your eyes, it is something really special," I replied. "Yes, you are going to be a father." I was thrilled by the idea. But being an only child myself, what did I know about babies? During the next nine months I learned a lot. I read all the books including Childbirth for Men. I went to the pre-natal class and puffed and pushed down with the rest of the class. As the due date got closer, I rented a crib, a wicker basket on wheels, and set it up in our bedroom.
The gift my father gave me: The ability to laugh at anything. As an adult, every time I spoke to my father he told me the latest jokes he had heard, no matter how inappropriate. No matter if I was calling from across the continent. He had to share what he thought was funny. Which meant that my problems were not always taken so seriously. So that when I was in graduate school, suffering through finals, breaking up with a boyfriend and teaching undergraduates at my first job, and my father asked how I was doing and I said (not seriously) I felt like killing myself, his reply was: It won't help.
By Adina Buxbaum, 16 When I was 12 my mother got remarried. My stepfather says that I was very lucky because I got to be at my own mother's wedding. In the beginning, I did not feel that tickled. I was hesitant about the big step that my family (mom and 2 other sisters, both younger than me) was going to take. The meaning of my mother getting married was moving to a whole new place and moving into my stepfather's house. It also meant that I was being adopted into a whole new family of people I didn't know. My stepfather has four brothers and sisters, and four children of his own. Even two grandchildren. So my uneasiness was understandable. But now at the age of 16 my uneasiness is gone.
As I sat by your bedside, I thought about Two books you bought me. One of them, A Little Princess, was inscribed, "To my little princess." I was ten. The other, True Grit, was inscribed, "To my daughter, who has grit in abundance." I was seventeen. The lesson I learned from the first book was that a true princess knows how to give. The lesson I learned from the second book was to fight for life.
I am - was - a huge George Clooney fan. I used to call my husband in to watch Dr. Ross, because something this perfect had to be shared with a loved one. Until one day last year, when Jay Leno hosted Clooney on his show. Some of you may remember the episode. George was featured right before a group of quadruplet six-year-old girls. During the girls' interview, Clooney, as leading guest, remained onstage. I will never forget what he did when the giggly pink sisters first scrambled to sit themselves down: he very purposefully moved his chair WAY over, eyeing the noisy children suspiciously.
My thoughts about my father usually veer toward what he didn't give me. Like time: I was born when he was 64. He died when I was 15. Or real fathering: He grew senile at the same time I became an adolescent. I don't remember sitting on his lap or playing catch or hiking or bicycling or doing any of those things kids with "normal" fathers did. But. My father had been a game-playing, star-gazing world-traveling cosmopolitan type of guy in his youth and he passed on his loves to all of us kids.
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