Happy Father’s Day – Be your best Dad!

This Sunday is going to be tough.  In addition to being Father’s Day, June 16 is also the same day when my Dad passed away in 2001 at the age of 75.

He had a heart attack after mowing the yard at 2PM in the afternoon heat of north Louisiana.  My Mom was (as expected) frantic.  She told me that my father would be driving the car to take the two of them to the hospital.  Yes, my Dad – the one experiencing a heart attack – drove himself to the hospital.

I raced to the hospital to join them that afternoon.

Since it was June, 2001, George W. Bush had recently become President and Dick Cheney was the Vice President.  I remembered that Dick Cheney was also famous for having survived a number of heart surgeries.  The former Vice President (a long-time smoker –as was my Dad) had undergone heart surgeries in 1978 (at age 37), 1984, 1988, 2000, and once again in March, 2001.

The emergency room doctor came out to tell us that Dad’s heart would need a stent procedure immediately.  Remembering that Dick Cheney had recently come through a similar heart surgery with flying colors, I tried to lighten the mood with a little ER humor as the hospital staff prepared to wheel him off.

“Don’t worry, Dad.  Dick Cheney has these done all the time!” 

My father gave me the “Dad look” as my joke (as usual) fell flat.  Sadly, those were the last words I ever said to my father as he died within the next day after complications from heart surgery.

This Sunday is Father’s Day and marks the 23rd anniversary of my Dad’s passing.

A Salute to some special neighborhood Sports Dads

Our baby boomer neighborhood in Shreveport was filled with hundreds of young families.  Some of those Dads used their World War II G.I. assistance in order to make a down payment and purchase one of hundreds of these brand new (but relatively small) houses in a growing neighborhood.

With a full-time job in the retail sector, my father had to work downtown six days per week.  By the time he arrived home in the evening, he didn’t have time to coach our youth sports teams.  He loved watching sports on television, though.  Dad would occasionally come join me in the backyard for a game of pitch or to shoot some hoops on our backyard basketball goal.

Fortunately, some of my best friends’ fathers had sales-related jobs where they could help coach our neighborhood kids in the youth recreational leagues.   My youth football, basketball, and baseball teams were coached by neighborhood dads.

All of these gentlemen are now deceased, but I fondly appreciate them to this day.

Coach Robbie – Football

Coach “Robbie” was my sixth grade football coach.  I didn’t get to play football in the fifth grade, because my appendix had to be removed a few weeks before practice started.

Unfortunately, our 6th grade youth football team was a real stinker.  Our record was 0-7-1.  That tie game was a 0-0 defensive struggle.  Yours truly was assigned to play the defensive end position on the football team that year.

As a defensive end, Coach Robbie emphatically implored that I must ALWAYS keep the other team’s running back forced back into the interior so our other players could help make the tackle.  I was not to let ANYONE get around me as the defensive end.  If I failed, the other team might be able to score an easy touchdown.

That was solid advice.  In what has become a lifelong bad habit, I should have paid closer attention and listened to Coach Robbie!

In a 36-0 drubbing by league champion South Highlands, their sneaky Wing-T offense made me look like a fool on several occasions.  When it appeared as if the opposing quarterback was handing the football to his fullback up the middle, I crept in from my defensive end position to assist in making the tackle.

Unfortunately, that sneaky quarterback was setting me up for massive failure.

A few plays later, their quarterback pulled the ball from the belly of the first runner.  He then slyly pitched it to a second running back coming sideways across the backfield – and right toward my now-vacant defensive end spot.  My overpursuit left a gaping hole on my side of the defensive line.  It was big enough to run that proverbial truck through.  More than one touchdown in that evening’s rout was caused by my defensive lapses.  Talk about embarrassing!

Our youth football years came during the glory seasons of Coach Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers.  Much like the legendary football leader, Coach Robbie projected toughness to his players.  He had little use for personal excuses (especially those coming from his hard-headed underperforming defensive end).  It was a struggle to keep 15-20 kids paying attention in the late summer heat.

If we had a particularly lackluster practice, Coach Robbie ended our football practice with the admonition to, “Take another lap around that old oak tree!”

Though the trek (wearing full pads and a helmet) felt like miles, the round trip was actually about the length of one lap around a high school track (¼ mile).  As an adult, I went back to view that route and laughed about it.  It felt like “forever” to this 6th grader!

Tony Orlando and Dawn came along in 1973 with their hit song called, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree”.

Upon hearing that song for the first time, I broke into a cold sweat remembering the phrase, “Round the Old Oak Tree.”  It conjured up memories about those 6th grade football practices as Coach Robbie ordered us to hit the trail one last time.

I never really cared much for Tony Orlando after that song came out.

Mr. C – Basketball

Mr. C was our primary youth basketball coach for fifth and sixth grade.  Unlike our hapless football team, our basketball teams were exceptional.  We won the city championship both years!

Mr. C was a man of great patience and a fine teacher of basketball fundamentals.   At that age, youth basketball final scores were usually on the order of something like 12-7.  If a team could break the 20-point barrier during a youth basketball game, that team was pretty good.

We were.

My favorite basketball drill was running the lay-up lines.  While one side dribbled the ball and attempted a lay-up, the other side went to get the rebound and passed it to the next shooter.  This process was done from both sides of the basket.

While dribbling and shooting layups from the left side of the basket, Mr. C. told us to shoot the basketball using our left hand.  With a team full of right-handed players, that wasn’t easy.  He told us that opponents would have trouble blocking our shot if we used our left hand on that side of the basket.  Like all of the guys on the team, I struggled at first with my using my left hand but kept working on it.

As the years passed, I discovered that my left hand had become quite helpful in dribbling the basketball.  By the time I was playing high school basketball, I was using my left hand as part of my “signature move” (ha ha) to create an open shot.

You see, most right handed shooters tend to dribble with their right hand, too.  I would fake to the right and then quickly take one or two dribbles in the other direction – using my now-proficient left hand.  The opponent fell for this little trick nearly 100% of the time and left me with a wide open jump shot.

Thank you, Mr. C, for getting my left hand involved in basketball starting in the fifth grade!

Mr. J – Baseball

Then there was my first baseball coach.  Mr. J was good enough to have played professionally and finished his baseball career with our hometown Shreveport Sports (Double A level).  He played first base.

Guess who played first base in the fifth and sixth grade on Mr. J’s team?

Yep!  I was a bit intimidated trying to play our coach’s former defensive position, too.  Though I tried hard, the kid with the Buddy Holly glasses playing first base just never felt comfortable as a ground ball took a bad hop toward me (and my specs).

Thankfully, Mr. J’s son was our team’s primary pitcher, so my mediocre play at first base was generally overlooked.

Just like basketball, our youth baseball teams were very good, too.  Mr. J stressed fundamentals as he (somehow) remained patient enough to help us improve our skills over the course of each season.

Field of Dreams – Golf version

I had been one of the best friends of Mr. J’s son.  We both loved playing golf every summer, too.  At around age 12, we decided to build our own three hole Par-3 golf course (without parental knowledge or consent, of course).

I absconded with my family’s push mower and took it across the road to a nearby parcel of undeveloped land (owned by a local industrial developer).  We walked-off the yardage for each hole location (about 100-125 yards each).  Over the next two days, we mowed a triangular trio of golf holes and finally accomplished our mission.

Thankfully, I didn’t ruin my Dad’s mower in the process and was not arrested by the local police for trespassing.

At age 12, I had no idea that mowing someone else’s field might have been a crime.  As long was no cars were hit by a stray golf shot, we never heard a peep out of any adults.  They were probably too busy laughing at us as they drove by.

Apparently, Mr. J took notice of how dedicated we were becoming to playing golf.  He reciprocated by taking me along with his son to play a few rounds of golf at the city’s public golf course.  He later allowed me to tag along a few more times at a local country club.   By the time I was able to drive the family car at age 16, I had become a fairly good golfer thanks to those experiences.

Mr. J’s willingness to let me tag along on several golf outings taught me a lot about golf courses and proper etiquette.  Those early on-course experiences deepened my growing interest in the game as I have remained a lifelong golfer.

Happy Father’s Day!

I tried to be supportive during my two sons’ early sports endeavors.  By junior high school, both had wisely transitioned into learning how to become exceptional musicians.  They had a lot more fun.  As a bonus, they earned more college scholarship money from their musical talents than dear ol’ Dad received (zero) after years of playing sports.

Though most of fathers will never measure up to Ward Cleaver, Sheriff Andy Taylor or other famous TV dads, it’s important for Dads to simply spend some time with their kids (and grandkids).

I recently learned that my friend from this story (Mr. J’s son) passed away in April.  He left behind two children.  On Father’s Day, I hope his kids will share a few lighter moments remembering fun stories about their Dad.

Set the best example for your kids and grandkids while you still can, Dads!   Those memories will last a lifetime.