Frank, who was turning 80 in a week, sat at the deli counter with the sports section spread out in front of him. He was reading the story about the Yankees game, which he had watched on television the night before and taped.
He could never get enough news about the Yankees, especially when they won. This deli, however, was clearly enemy territory, filled with Red Sox fans intent on badgering him.
Today wasn’t one of those days. Frank was gloating, just waiting for his adversaries to say something – the owner; his wife; Jim, a landscaper; John, a contractor; and Pete, the salesman. Even though the odds were stacked against Frank, he could dish it out as well as he could take it.
However, when the morning crowd discovered he was turning 80, they started to hassle him.
“After 80 years, how can anyone be so dumb?” someone kidded – because, truth be told, they all loved Frank.
They questioned his Major League allegiances, his political affiliations, his Social Security eligibility, his taste in clothes and a lot of irrelevant things. Then, the discussion took an even more circuitous route from the Yankees to his skills as a father.
Yes, he was a good father and, yes, his father was a good father, he said. Someone wanted to know whether he raised his children to be Yankees fans. The answer was an unequivocal and resounding YES.
When the others left, he turned to me and said, “You know, I used to play baseball when I was young, and I was pretty good, but to this day it hurts me that my father never came to a single game.”
In an era when young parents are overzealous about their kids’ sporting events, from soccer to Little League to tennis and hockey, Frank’s experience seemed so improbable.
I saw sadness in the eyes of this 80-year-old man. Some hurts you never forget. At the same time, I could identify with him. How many times had I asked my father if he wanted to go to dinner, but he was always too busy? And I’m sure several billion sons and daughters throughout history have had the same experience, some much worse than others.
Sometimes it’s a pain that endures across decades.
As parents, we don’t realize that the effects of our actions can last long after we’re gone. A close friend of mine once told me how it upset her that her children weren’t treated as well by her mother as her sister’s children were.
Another fellow complained because his father didn’t go to any of his cross-country meets or visit him at college until graduation day. It was always his mother who came with food and clothes. His father would give him a $20-bill and send him to the train station when it was time to return to college, but that was the extent of his involvement.
There are hundreds of books and videos and classes about parenting, but so little seems to change.
Can a man who still recalls the pain of being neglected by his father learn from that experience and use it to become a better parent? Or does he perpetuate the pain and inflict it upon his children in different ways?
As Frank told his story, I thought of my daughters, the ones I enjoy being around and the ones who give me “agita,” and I resolved to try to be more patient and loving so the day would never come when they were in a diner years from now, telling someone I had dropped the ball as a father because I didn’t co-sign on their car loan for a MINI Cooper.
Things would be easier if they played baseball. Then, I could just make an appearance in the bleachers.
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An Enduring Hurt