Archived Story

Dad’s time was his most important gift

Published 12:33pm Friday, March 15, 2013

As I drove home the other day, something caught my eye off to the right of the road.

Usually, my drive home from work is done in complete darkness. But the time change meant the sun was still out, casting just enough light over this front yard that I could see some sort of baseball pitching backstop.

The image sent me on a trip down memory lane. For a moment, I was just another 6-year-old kicking dirt around in center field, chewing on my glove.

This was tee ball. I don’t have many complete memories from this phase of my life. I remember our uniforms were green, and for some reason our team name was Kenny Baker Paint.

But I don’t remember whether we ever won a game. I can’t for the life of me tell you any of my teammates names.

But I clearly remember two things – Strawberry Yoo-Hoo and my dad picking me up from practice in his beat up old grey car.

At the end of every practice, dad would be sitting there waiting; idling in a vehicle we affectionately called the “Runtmobile”.

It didn’t have any air conditioning. It smoked. Rattled. Pinged. And the paint was cracked.

But I loved it. I remember sticking my head out the window on the way home, drinking strawberry Yoo-Hoo (which was for some reason my post-sporting event drink of choice at the time).

My mom has since asked me if I was embarrassed to be seen in the Runtmobile. But to me, that beat up clunker taught me something, though I had no idea at the time of what that might be.

That car represented everything my dad valued in his life. He didn’t care what it looked like. He didn’t care if it would be the envy of everyone on the block.

He just wanted to be a father, and in my opinion that desire is what set a chain of events into motion that inevitably landed us in the faded seats of the Runtmobile.

When I was almost two years old, my dad made a decision. I have never asked him much about it, and I don’t know if I could make the same one if I was put in his shoes.

His career was going well. He was managing multiple states for Sbarro Italian restaurants. Our house was gorgeous – probably the nicest one we have ever owned as a family.

But six days on the road every week took its toll – and Dad got fed up with watching my sister and me cry in the airport terminal watching him board plane after plane.

So he walked away. He took a huge pay cut in exchange for some semblance of a home life. We moved to Albany, and we never looked back.

And quite frankly, I don’t know what sort of person I would be had he chosen differently. Maybe we would have had a nicer car. Maybe I would have gone to a private prep school instead of a public high school. And maybe I would have been reared without ever having to know what it means to want something.

He turns 60 tomorrow.  I have been trying to think of the ultimate present to give him, a way of repaying him for 26 years of fatherhood.

I thought of all the gifts he has given me over the years – the unexpected Christmas presents and 11th-hour birthday surprises.

And none of them meant as much as just having my dad around growing up.

I didn’t need an automatic pitching machine or the finest Louisville Slugger bat. I didn’t need my parents to pick me up in a fancy car, and I didn’t need a top-of-the-line radar gun to clock my fastball with.

All I needed was someone to play catch with. And that is the best gift my dad ever gave me.

So Dad, I won’t be able to buy you a Harley Davidson Softail this birthday around.

But I’ll see you Saturday.

Nelson is news editor for The Outlook.