* Editor’s note: Portions of the following column first ran on Father’s Day 1995.
It’s been a number of Father’s Days since my dad died, but the pain of his passing has been replaced by a wonderful appreciation of how lucky I was to have known him for the first 40 years of my life.
Frequently on Father’s Day you will read pieces written by people who suffered long estrangements from their fathers and are just now coming to terms with their feelings.
By the grace of God, I was one of those lucky children who knew from Day One the love of my father. There were five of us, but he made us all feel as if we were truly special.
My dad was my earliest and only hero. And he remains so to this day.
Not because he went out in the world and did anything heroic, but because of the truly wonderful way he treated all of his children. Our happiness was his happiness. He needed nothing else.
My earliest and fondest memories of Dad always involve the intense bond we formed while fiddling with the radio trying to pull in the football and basketball broadcasts from his alma mater, Oregon State.
It was always difficult to get the stations very clearly, but that seemed only to intensify the joy we took in sharing those hours together.
The experience has left me, for better or worse, a lifelong Oregon State fan, a love affair with a distant team that was nourished in special ways by a father who cared so much for his children. For me, it was Oregon State. For another child it was something else.
I remember one spring going off to school as a 10-year-old, knowing full well that Oregon State’s baseball team was visiting UC Davis for a 1 o’clock game that I wouldn’t get to see.
Along about 12:30, a teacher told me to report to the West Davis Elementary School office, where my dad was waiting for me with an Oregon State baseball cap.
“They say the bat boy has to wear the same hat as the team,” he said to my disbelieving ears.
Yes, he had gone to campus that morning, found the Oregon State coach and suggested he had a 10-year-old who would make an excellent bat boy.
At the end of the day the coach rewarded me with an autographed ball and a cracked “OREGON STATE MODEL” baseball bat that had been used during the game.
Heaven couldn’t be any better.
Amazingly, Dad made all of his five kids feel that way as they were growing up, surprising us on birthdays and at Christmas in ways we never could have imagined.
Not with gifts born of money, but of a thoughtfulness and imagination that showed how much he loved us.
One year, birthday cards started arriving in the mail for me from distant places. One card had the signature of every member of the New York Giants, including Willie Mays. Another had all the signatures of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Another the St. Louis Browns and another the Washington Senators.
Within three days of my birthday, I had them all. The Redlegs, the Cubs, the Braves. Mickey Mantle, Moose Skowron, Whitey Ford, Jackie Robinson, Gus Zernial and my favorite of favorites, Ted Kluszewski.
In those days, these were real autographs, not some mimeograph sent out by the team’s front office.
Dad had written them all letters explaining his plan and had included a birthday card for each to send back.
The next Christmas an authentic major league baseball arrived in the mail with the signature of every member of the Portland Beavers, who weren’t major leaguers at all.
And I’ll never forget the long personal letter from Terry Baker, the only Oregon State football player ever to win the Heisman Trophy.
But there was so much more on an everyday level than cards and baseballs and autographs in the mail.
They say we all learn by example, and I was blessed to have had so very good a teacher.
Dad told me that courage didn’t always come in war, and certainly not in sports, but in such simple ways as sticking to what you believe, no matter how many people disagree with you.
Dad taught me to pursue those things that would make me happy, not those things that others presumed would make me happy. It’s a wonderful, wonderful lesson to learn.
So, on this Father’s Day, I smile when I think of my dad and all he meant to me.
Sure, there are always those times when little things remind me he’s gone, like when something special happens and I want to rush to the phone to tell him all about it because I know he’d be so proud.
But he lived his life as he thought he should and he truly did leave those who knew him better off for the experience.
The woman of his dreams and their five children were all he ever wanted, and the gifts he gave to them — gifts of hope and laughter and kindness and endless backyard baseball games — will truly last a lifetime.
— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]