So there was Dad out of nowhere standing in our yard – totally unexpected. Didn’t even see the car. He looks great, good shape, that perpetual smile I was lucky to inherit, hair blowing gently in the wind as early winter leaves take their final toss. When did he get the dog – so cute, and frisky pulling at his leash? What a nice surprise.
Thing is, Dad died 51 years ago.
At a recent gathering of friends, we went around the room answering the question of whom we would have dinner with if we could choose any one person living or dead. World leaders, famous athletes, superstar musicians? For me, the answer was simple – give me back a couple of hours with the old man.
So you found our house in Connecticut. Most of my adult life has been in the New York area. Married a girl from Queens – never met her father, a fervent Knicks fan, can you imagine? Think we would have gotten along? I don’t know what you hear up there, but the Red Sox won two championships (if the dead could have a second heart attack, this would be the moment) and the Patriots won three. The Patriots? They were in that league that formed right around the time you, well, you know.
You noticed that huge tree leaning on the fence right behind you? That was from the most severe storm to hit these parts in decades. Believe it or not, we were luckier than most.
My life? Again, I’ve been more fortunate than many. I followed my childhood passion and went into journalism – but not the journalism you’d expect. I’m not a sportswriter for the Boston Globe. In fact, if I told you my first job was with a weekly electronics magazine, you’d have to chuckle. Me? Electronics? A business writer at first? Go figure.
You’d really love Ellen – I wish you could have met her. I would have loved to see the two of you in the same room, each with your unique infectious laughs. Those are sounds that follow me through my days. And we kept the tradition of “J” in the family and named our daughter Julia. I have visions of the two of you getting to know each other.
You never met Jack’s first wife Carole, although maybe you have – you would have loved her too. As she was dying, Jack and I spent some of our closest time together in the hospital, talking about things you might expect brothers to talk about all the time. We talked about you. We both knew sports were important to you, and even years after you left and Jack became captain of the high school wrestling team, I think he might have carried with him the belief that he never satisfied your hopes and dreams on the ball field. But he was heartened by a story I shared with him about when you were a coach on my Little League team. I was playing left field; the batter slashed a single right in front on me. I casually got down on my knees, barely stopped the ball, and gingerly tossed it back into the infield. And there you were on the bench screaming with joy, “Hey, that’s my boy! That’s the play of the game!” It’s incredible the little things you remember. It was more incredible how much that story meant to Jack at the time – just knowing that in some crazy way, you were living out your dream and had your moment of watching one of your kids on the ball field, star or no star. I think it warmed his heart at a time when it needed warming.
While life has been good to me, I constantly wonder whether I’ve been good to life. I wish I could be a better husband, better father, better son, better brother, and better friend. Am I giving back in equal share to what I have received? What if you and I got to know each other a whole lot better than an eight-year-old could get to know his father? Even though I think about you every day, I know so little about who you were, what you thought, what was important to you. Did you know that your birthday on Sept. 11 has come to mean something far, far greater than it meant when we were blowing out the candles on your cake?
So what brings you here, Dad? Say, your presence after all these years doesn’t mean it’s my time, does it? This probably won’t register with you, but I can google “what it’s like to die,” get 1.5 billion entries, and have no idea if your sudden appearance or something like it is the way it happens. If so, sign me up – um, but just not today.
So tell me – is this no more than a friendly visit around the holidays? Just another dream of mine that comes along now and then? Come on inside, how about a quick cup of coffee? Gosh, I don’t even know how you take it. What’s that? Can't stay? No, I understand.
If I could have dinner with any one person living or dead, Dad, it would be you. I can dream about that dinner. I can imagine it. I can write about it. And in this world so dependent on the spirit, and during this spirit-ladden time of year, we can almost say a dinner really happened if we want to. Can’t we?
Thanks for coming by, Dad. Take care.
“Remember how I signed your autograph book when you were a child: ‘To Jimmy, who will some day be an All-Star Ball Player and an All-Star Piano Player.’ We all have dreams for our children. Often they are unrealistic. My real wishes for you were much simpler – and I’m at peace knowing so many of them have come true.”
“Great seeing you, son. Come on, Brady, good boy, better be on our way.”