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There are few things that bond fathers and sons closer than sports.
If you think this is the start of a sappy Father's Day tribute, you're wrong. It's a tribute, but I think it's light on the sap.
Absent a son of my own, I'm unable to share any tales in this arena. I do, however, have fond memories of the things my dad did for me. I suspect many of these tales are close to your experience.
My father was a busy guy when I was a lad. He taught high school history, coached the school's football team and, in his spare time, was a landlord.
Still, he always found time to point me in the right direction in sports.
For example, after seeing a few of my rec league basketball games, he had a sit-down with me, in which he pointed out that it might make sense to focus my efforts on one or two sports. He didn't point out that I could neither shoot well, dribble with any acumen, had feet of lead and was disinterested in playing defense (all of which were true, in retrospect).
Instead, he talked about how good I was in baseball and football (neither of which was true, in retrospect).
Another time, he taught me how to box.
Actually, he taught me that I wasn't a boxer. Somewhere along the line, my 12-year-old buddies and I got hold of some boxing gloves. We held a series of bouts in which I was clearly the superior pugilist.
The old man happened to saunter by, and I challenged him to a couple of rounds.
I had great fun, swinging away with gusto as he covered up, my shots bouncing off him like those of a fly.
Just as I began to tire, the old man came out of his crouch and delivered a light jab. That one sent me out for the count and my Joe Frazier aspirations dried up and blew away.
Something else that he did, though not technically in sports, was to make my birthday the greatest one ever.
I was in the midst of a typical cake-and-ice cream party, when my mother put Pops in charge of entertainment.
He came up with the idea of tying balloons to our ankles and putting the dozen, or so, guests on their bikes. We then rode at or over each other in an attempt to pop the balloons. The last man to have an intact balloon was the winner. "Balloon tag" became a staple for us kids that year.
Still, I'll always treasure the memory of riding my Schwinn Stingray full bore at Timmy Vadney, nailing his balloon and wrecking his day. Even though he became known as Ol' Gimpy" after that encounter, I know that, deep down in his heart, he had fun.
The old man wasn't beyond stepping out of his box. For example, he could shift into the role of doctor. One time, my brother Tom hurt his leg playing football. Pops diagnosed it as a sprain, gave him some crutches and told him to tough it out.
As I recall, on the day of that diagnosis, Pops sent Tom to watch over me at the County Fair. I remember quite vividly the agony Tom went through during our multiple rides on the bumper cars.
After two days of hobbling around in severe pain, a real doctor diagnosed my brother's broken ankle. Whoopsie!
But, beyond all the goofy stuff (and trust me, there are plenty of other stories in that vein), the old man did a darn good job of being a dad.
He certainly instilled a love of sports in me. He also tried to make sure I had an appreciation for fairness over victory, for sportsmanship over personal grandeur and for camaraderie over competitiveness.
I'm certain he knew, early on in my life, that I was not destined to be a standout in any particular sport (especially basketball). Yet, he never threw onto my dreams the bucket of ice water they so richly warranted.
I suppose, in many respects, my dad was no different from yours. For each of us, our dad is the best: that guy who stands eight feet tall and can do it all. I still feel that way even though he's now about to celebrate his 83rd birthday.
In fact, I'd still be hesitant to try to go a few rounds against the Old Man. It wouldn't surprise me if he still has that jab that sent me sprawling so many decades ago.
To my thinking, he'll always have that, in addition to a whole lot more.