My father has been gone for 30 years now, more than half my life.
Three decades of being without a father since March 3 when he passed away after fighting Parkinson's. It's hard to fathom that all that time has passed. I've changed jobs, got a master's degree in communications, moved to Pennsylvania and Texas before returning to Arkansas, got married, widowed, survived a medical bankruptcy and found new love all after he died.
And now, even though I'm adult — about 15 years from the age he was when he died — there are days when I still need my dad.
The disease robbed my dad of much ability to play sports with me as I grew. He'd shoot baskets with me on the driveway goal, but we never played catch with a baseball or tossed a football around. I could blame him for my inability on the sports fields as a kid, but that would be wrong. In reality, it was my inability to see and hit a baseball at all and my prowess on the basketball court was akin to that of a sloth with attention deficit disorder. No, my lack of sports skills was strictly on me.
Instead, my father taught me other skills. He tended to overanalyze everything which I find I do all the time. He taught me to read more advanced books at an early age which led to me writing a lot and he taught me to think. He also instilled the love of sports I have. I credit him now for my obsession for the APBA games I've played for the past 39 years.
I've written about my dad here before. He was a music teacher, earning his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin and teaching at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minn., before he retired in 1974 because of his health. He was a musical genius; he could pick up any instrument, figure it out and play it within a few minutes. He could also sing. Once, he told me, he sang at a New Jersey church for Easter services and then flew by helicopter to Manhattan in order to make it on time to sing on WABC radio.
I don't have that talent. I chew gum in church so it looks like my mouth is moving and I'm singing along with the others. If I actually belted out a tune in the sanctuary, I fear several churchgoers would immediately doubt God's existence and bail out.
I didn't pick up much from my father. Other than the overanalyzing skills, an ability to write sometimes and the fact that I, like my dad, find farts hilarious even at this age, I didn't take advantage of the gene pool he offered.
After my father died, my mother told me he was proud of me. I had worked at two newspapers then, one was a tiny weekly in the corner of northeast Arkansas where I spent much of my time taking pictures of people with the first cotton bloom, a freakishly large pumpkin or some other agricultural oddity of the area. Proud of me? I wasn't even proud of myself then. My mother said I was “the apple of my father's eye.” Funny, I didn't think I was equivalent to the worm in said apple.
So, it's been 30 years. Three decades. The Twins won two World Series since he passed, including the year he died in 1987. The Vikings have yet to return to the Super Bowl and Norm Green still sucks for letting the North Stars escape to Dallas back in 1993.
Thirty years softens the sadness. But there are times when I still roll APBA games and I think of my father watching me play the game when I was a youngster. Back then, I constantly played the ABPA basketball game which, some may recall, is plodding and takes hours to complete a full contest. I scaled the time of play down and could get two or three games in during a long evening. I'd stay up late rolling the games and my father would come into my bedroom and talk about the contests, asking for the score and highlights before he retired for the evening. He'd tell me about watching the Yankees when he was my age, regaling me tales with seeing DiMaggio and Berra and later a kid named Mantle.
He would go to bed early. I was a late nighter. The clacking of the APBA dice in the plastic cup provided by the game company was a lot louder in the stillness of the wee hours and, as concession to his slumber, I quit using the cup and tossed the dice onto a mat to muffle noise. I still do that.
In 1976, we watched the Boston Celtics play the Phoenix Suns in the NBA championship. Despite growing up in New York and New Jersey, my father was a Celts fan. Game 5, fans recall, went into triple overtime. My dad couldn't stay up for the end and bade me goodnight. I watched the game and, when our “namesake” Garfield Heard hit a shot at the buzzer for the Suns to tie the game in the second overtime, I ran into my parent's bedroom and woke my dad with the news. My mother was understandably upset, but my dad was glad for the sports update. I woke him again after the Celts won the game.
All this to say, make memories with your fathers if they are still alive. Talk sports, show him the APBA games we still play, talk about life. Laugh at farts if you're so inclined. Because, there'll be a day when your father may be gone and it gets tough at times.
Thirty years. That's a long time.