Tuesday June 15th would have been my father’s seventieth birthday. He’s been gone since July 2001, but most days I still miss him. I would like to say that the date snuck up on me, but that’s not true. One of the things I’m great at is remembering dates. I know I graduated High School June 12, 1992; that I started my current job on September 17, 2006; that July 7, 1997 and March 7, 2009 were two of the best days of my life…and I always remember my dad’s birthday, even when sometimes I wish I didn’t.
My dad hated birthdays. He just saw it as another day on the calendar that he usually would spend at work if it was a weekday, or, if it was a weekend, he was much happier watching the NBC Game of the Week downstairs in the den than to be bothered with some big party.
The other thing I remember about his birthday is how he never really said he wanted anything, so I never knew what gift to get him. I honestly don’t remember a birthday gift I gave him, except maybe a card or two. Now, I’ve always been a great gift giver when it came to women I’ve known throughout my life, usually managing to surprise them with a grand gesture. And with my mom, she leaves no room for doubt, telling me exactly what she wants for her birthday, sometimes to the point of leaving an ad where I can see it so I know what I’m supposed to buy.
But with dad, he just would always say ‘It’s just a day, don’t worry about it.’
So this week is somewhat melancholy for me, with his 70th birthday and then Father’s Day. It’s not like my dad and I had an easy, uncomplicated relationship, far from it.
It’s strangely cruel how life works sometimes. When I moved out of the house we shared in Midlothian in 1996, I was ready to leave. I didn’t think about him or what he might be up to. Nothing really triggered a memory, but I knew in the back of my mind I could always phone him up if I needed to. I didn’t do that very often, until the last year of his life when the two of us made an uneasy peace and decided to forgive and move on. I’m so glad that when his life ended suddenly, we were on speaking terms, getting along, with plans to have dinner on what turned out to be two nights after he died. I was glad we had done our best to put the past behind us, or at least not let it drive a wedge between us any longer. The strangely cruel part of all this? Now that I can’t phone him up, a lot of things in my daily life trigger his memory.
I think my dad would find it deliciously ironic that I now work in an office in a 9-5 job where I am required to wear business attire, knowing how I told him all through my teens that I was gonna be a rock star and my stock wardrobe, literally for decades, was a pair of blue jeans and a KISS shirt. In fact when I got my hair cut to start the interview process for jobs back in 2006, I even said out loud to myself as I was leaving the barber shop, ‘Okay, you win dad…happy?’ I had let my hair grow long from the age of 18 until I was almost 33. He never really liked the long hair, but once I got into the music business and radio, he understood and respected why I did what I did, and why I looked the way I looked.
I also think of him whenever I watch baseball. That sport, and the endless statistics that accompany it, were his true passion. I was at work last month when the Braves were down 9-3 to the Reds, going to the bottom of the ninth inning. I was following the game on the MLB site with written out descriptions of play-by-play. Slowly, as I continued taking phone calls and doing my job, the Braves started mounting a rally. One run scored, then two…then they were only down three runs with the bases loaded and a bench player up at the plate.
The player’s name was Brooks Conrad, and he was only in the game to relieve Chipper Jones when manager Bobby Cox thought the game was a blow out, so he decided to rest some of his veteran players. Well, Brooks Conrad hit a game winning grand slam to beat the Reds 10-9. I got goose bumps just reading the description on my screen. Then I started shaking. It was a strange, overwhelming feeling. I quickly went on a break and made my way to the men’s room. Once I got there, I just started crying and shaking. It was a combination of an improbable comeback…and it was the first time when a baseball game made me wish really hard that I could phone my dad. I remember I was probably four years old when my dad told me ‘In this family, we like football and we root for the Redskins…but we love baseball and your team will be the Braves.’ I took it as gospel and, ever since, I have always been a Redskins fan and a Braves fan. That he instilled that devotion and love of sport in me, I am forever grateful.
Happy Birthday Dad,