Thinking of a father and all he taught

November 21, 1998|By Rob Kasper

MY FATHER died this week. Today would have been his 83rd birthday.

He had been ill for a long time with Alzheimer's. Then, about a week ago, my mother called from Kansas City to say that Dad was failing fast. So when the news came a few days later that Dad had died I was not surprised, yet I was shaken. Thoughts and memories raced through my head.

One of the first was that I was not alone. Lots of folks like me, baby boomers in mid-life, are losing their parents. For instance, as I was working on a draft of my father's obituary to send to Kansas City-area newspapers, I had a conversation with a newspaper colleague who had recently written her mother's obituary and sent it to a newspaper in Cleveland. That, it seems, is one of the things you do if you are in the newspaper business and death takes a parent -- you start typing.

As I sifted through the details of my father's life, I was comparing myself to him, noticing where certain habits, beliefs and prejudices took root. Mostly small matters came to mind, the stuff of daily life.

My dad, for instance, believed that if anything in the house was broken, you should repair it yourself. During the week, he was a white-collar guy, a Social Security manager who at one point in his career supervised operations in four Midwestern states. But on weekends, he was Mr. Fixit. On Saturdays, for instance, he always seemed to have a project, a porch that needed painting, or a faucet that needed a new washer. Usually he would try to recruit me or one of my three brothers to help him. My brothers and I weren't especially willing workers, but somehow one of us ended up at Dad's side as he labored. "Watch this," he would tell us. "You might learn something."

Some of us seemed to have paid more attention to Dad than others. Of the four of us, only my youngest brother ended up being highly skilled at home repair. When faced with a plumbing problem, for instance, the youngest brother can replace an entire sink. The rest of us are content with successfully replacing a faucet washer. Yet on Saturdays, I still make attempts to fix things around the house, and I still try to get my sons to help me. It is my fatherly duty.

My dad was my first coach. When I made my debut in organized baseball at the age of 7, he managed my Little League team. He had an eye for baseball prowess and recognized that at this stage of my development, I had little. When I went to bat, he hollered encouragement any time I drew a walk, or exhibited my one talent -- getting hit by the pitch.

Later, when I was a teen-ager, he managed a father-son softball team that my brothers and I played on with him. He ran the bases the way he played bridge, always taking more risks than prudence dictated. Instead of settling for a single, he would try to stretch it into a double. He expected his sons to do the same. If the gamble backfired, and Dad was thrown out at second base, he would laugh it off. "You gotta have a little excitement in this game," he would say. However, if we followed his advice and got thrown out, my brothers and I would fume, fixing Dad with a "what's wrong with you" stare.

I know that stare. It is the one my kid has given me as I stand in the coach's box after he has been nailed at second base. "What's wrong with you?" the fuming kid asks. I should tell him, "It is a genetic flaw."

My dad had his prejudices. He did not, for instance, have good things to say about women drivers and the New York Yankees. I do not subscribe to my dad's often- stated belief that all bad drivers are women. I think inattentive drivers come in both genders, but that all bad drivers do have cell phones.

I have inherited my dad's dislike of the Yankees -- neither of us could forget that the Yankees snatched Roger Maris, and a lot of other good players, away from our struggling Kansas City Athletics. Living in Baltimore, I have noticed this hate-the-Yankees sentiment runs strong here and have raised my kids accordingly.

My dad believed in short hair and short sentences. We clashed about that, too. My dad loved to cut our hair, administering twice-a-month buzz cuts to my brothers and me when we were kids. Later, when I came back from college with what Dad viewed as unruly locks, he threatened to take the clippers to me.

When I submitted my homework to him for review, Dad would slice away at my "golden" prose. Get to the point, he would say; keep it short, say what you want to say, then end it.

So once again, I will take my dad's advice and wind this up. My father taught me a little about home repairs, a bit about sports, and nothing about hair styles. But he taught me much about being a father, and for that I am deeply grateful.

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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