I was born while my father was 100 feet under the North Atlantic in a Polaris submarine. He was honorably discharged from the Navy when I was four, but he might as well have still been thousands of miles away and deep in the ocean for as connected as I felt to him growing up. He left for work before I awoke in the morning and came home just in time for dinner, usually cranky. We kids tiptoed around his recliner at night, cautious not to interrupt his beloved baseball broadcasts on the RCA with the sensitive rabbit ears. Jump too hard on the shag carpet and the signal would be lost. Dad had a temper and we all knew it was best to let him fall asleep, undisturbed, in his chair.
My father never shared much about his life. We knew the teams he liked (the Wolfpack, the Redskins, the Braves) and the beer he drank (Pabst Blue Ribbon), but we knew little about his time in the service or the difficult childhood that may have been a reason for his enlistment just out of High School.
Time moved on and I moved away. For years, Dad was the Dad of “Love Mom and Dad” at the bottom of cards in her handwriting. He was the guy who answered the phone by simply saying “Let me put your mom on the line.” It’s not that I was keeping score or anything, but Mom was a player in my life and my Dad really wasn’t.
After Dad became a widower, he began to open up in calls, bridging the distance between us. He started sending his own cards. He Hallmarked the heck out of holidays and even made up his own, remembering the anniversary of the day I met my husband or the birthday of my dog. For two decades, I’ve been given the unexpected gift of getting to know my father, the man who was an enigma for the first three decades of my life.
During one of his visits from North Carolina, on a long traffic-filled ride from San Diego to my home in Los Angeles, we got to talking about his regrets and hopes. He admitted that he wished he’d been more involved in my life when he was a young father. He wished he’d stayed in the Navy longer. “Is that why you always wear your Veteran’s hat?” I asked. “I guess it is just one of the things in my life that I’m most proud of,” said Dad.
I asked him if he had a bucket list. “That’s not something I’ve ever thought about,” he said.
“Well, are there any places you’d like to visit? Any quests you want to accomplish in the years you have left?”
He pondered the question for a bit before saying he’d like to travel to Australia or maybe Ireland one day. And he said he’d like to visit all 30 major league baseball parks.
As a lifelong baseball fan, that dream of my dad’s made sense, though it would be a big undertaking. At that point in his life, he’d only been to four. It might be difficult to get him to Australia, but the baseball dream, I could support.
We'd gone to several Dodgers games together on his previous visits to Los Angeles. When I saw that the Angels were in town, we headed to Anaheim the next day. The box office link said prices ranged from $10 to $300 “Well, the game is my treat,” said my dad, as we inched along in the Southern California rush-hour gridlock, “So we’ll be sitting a little higher up and closer to that $10 area.”
Standing in the ticket line at Angel Stadium, dad shared how he and some of his Sub Vet friends had recently gone to a Durham Bulls game. The Triple –A team was on a winning streak and they’d purchased their tickets late for a Sold Out game. Their only option was to sit on the grass-covered “Home Run Hill.” While they were waiting to buy beers, a group of men in their early 20s joined the line behind them. Noticing the older men’s matching Veteran caps, the young men thanked them for their service.
Then one young man asked, “Where are your seats?” My father pointed at the grass beyond the outfield where kids were running between blankets. The young man whispered to his friends, then turned to my father and said, “We’d like you to have our tickets.” And that is how three old sailors found them selves sitting behind home plate.
“I don’t know that you can count on such good fortune today,” I told my father as the afternoon sun cast an orange glow over Angels Stadium’s HomePlate Gate, and we crept along in the queue, dad wearing his Veteran hat as always. Just then, a man approached us and asked, “Sir, were you in the military?” My father beamed at the recognition, and the man thanked him for his service, then handed us two tickets for seats well above our price range. With beers in hand and peanut shells at our feet, we witnessed Japanese Phenom Shohei Ohtani hit his first major league career home run on his first at bat as a Los Angeles Angel. I looked over at my dad, beaming as he checked ballpark #5 off his newly created Bucket List, proud that his military service scored us great seats and that his daughter was there to witness it.
As shared in the book Rings of Kindness (available on Amazon) and at Story Salon on February 8, 2023.