When I think about my dad, I think about baseball and business.
Baseball was one of my earliest connections with him. I remember sitting on the couch in our North Portland home, wearing a mitt, as he handed me my first collector’s baseball card, emblazoned with Sandy Koufax, the indefatigable left-handed pitcher with a fastball that wouldn’t quit.
I must have been 8 or 9 years old. Looming and laconic, my dad just handed me the card, told me who it was, that Koufax was his hero when he was a boy and loved the game.
Sure, I had modern baseball heroes. But Koufax was a retired giant of the game, to be revered for his unique combination of grit and modesty. Here was a universal hero, there to get the job done honorably, before the rise of the TV-spangled sports prima donna.
Worthy role model
Few words were spoken, but my dad’s message was clear: Koufax was someone to be emulated. The truth and impact of it all was instant. Koufax was a lefty. I pitched left-handed, too. He was my dad’s hero. Now he would be mine.
Some time later, I stood on the mound in a sun-dappled park in Portland, taking on batter after batter. My dad was there. Broad-shouldered, thinning dark hair tucked under a baseball cap, he stood quietly near the dugout. Before I’d go into my wind-up, modeled after Koufax’s, I’d look over at him. Every time, he’d nod and make a downward motion with his hand: Calm, steady, unbroken.
My grit only grew. I threw a no-hitter. I was proud but kept it inside. Got in line, clapped the opposing players’ hands, told them “good game.” Did my job honorably.
By the time I entered high school, I’d stopped playing baseball.
I don’t remember all the reasons. I became more bookish, introverted, more interested in playing chess and board and video games than taking the mound.
I think my dad was disappointed. He never out and out told me. It wasn’t his way. But you could feel it.
Over time, though, another connection between us took hold: business.
I started as a double-major in accounting and finance in college. My dad was a CEO. I would follow in his footsteps, or so I thought.
I got good grades in business, but the writing bug bit deep. I darted for journalism.
My mom understood. She always did. My dad, I’m not so sure. But he wasn’t one to stand in the way of an impassioned, well-reasoned choice. Headstrong, he also understood, I think, his headstrong younger son.
The business connection was never lost, though. “How’s work?” he asks. I tell him about the business stories I’m working on. He nods. Chuckles. Shares an insight.
He’s much older now. Thinning hair turned to wisps of faded silver. Several Christmases ago, I bought him a copy of Jane Leavy’s wonderful book, “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy.”
We never really lost that connection, either.
Just as we should be in life, in families, in business, in politics, you were there, Dad. Flawed, yes. But engaged. Determined. Open to change at the right time, if not sure of exactly what to say.
Happy Father’s Day.