My Dad was a college baseball coach, athletic director at Brown and other universities, a cartoonist, an artist, a leading expert on athletic facilities, a war hero and a father, a father above all. Here are my memories:
First and foremost, my father always had a sense of humor. I remember when we first moved to Providence, Brown football was not good. In fact, terrible would have been a step up for them. But my dad maintained his sense of humor. He loved telling the story of how he had some Brown football tickets on the dashboard of his car and someone broke into the car. And his friends asked if they stole the tickets. My father would always say, “No, they left four more.”
And my father had patience. I must have been six or seven and I saw a TV show about Thomas Edison and how he was a boy genius and he could take stuff apart and put it back together. Well, if those were the qualifications for a boy genius, I could do that. So I found a screwdriver and found a door and took the lock out and the doorknob off and all of a sudden, I am sitting surrounded by these parts, and I realize that I have no idea how to put them back together. At that point my father walked in and just shook his head.
It was an historical moment because that is the first time he said to me – “Phil, you need to have the second thought”, a phrase I would hear often through my life.
When we were bat boys for Chapman College my number was 00 and my brother’s number was 01. He once said that he chose those numbers because it represented our combined IQs. Of course at the time my brother and I were in the dugout, happily throwing water on each other.
He had other phrases. I would come home from walking our dog Moxie, who always managed to get the leash tangled around me and trip me. I would be upset and my father would say, “Phil, you have to be smarter than the dog”
Not that my father was perfect. He had delusions, like thinking the Cubs might actually win . He never realized that when he was coaching baseball, that umpires get annoyed when you show them the rulebook. That never ends well. And it took him a while to learn that Peggy was always right.
He never understood some things. Like why TV programmers didn’t just throw all the crap out and just show Westerns and ballgames all the time. He might have been right.
And he thought it was okay for us to be in the dugout when Ralph Cripe struck out. I don’t know if that was a good idea, but we did learn some interesting words that season.
He was a forgiving man. He forgave his daughter for marrying a Dodger fan. And he always bragged about how smart Anne was, And he knew that one day she would realize that Brooks Robinson was no Ernie Banks. We are all amazed that not one of the girls was named Brooks.
He always wanted the best for us. He worked two or three jobs just to ensure that we went to the best schools. But sometimes it backfired on him. He sent us to summer camps and before he knew it I would be back home happily lying on the floor watching TV, eating cheese doodles and drinking orange soda, which I thought was a heck of a lot better than people bossing me around at summer camp. He would get that resigned look on his face and next year try another camp. I went to hiking camp, baseball camp and hockey camp, only to end up at home happily eating cheese doodles.
I think he tried to sign me up for the Marines, but I was only 12.
He was an idea man. And he was a good idea man and I am proud of that. This man was hired by the Ford Foundation, featured on the cover of magazines, wrote a book – he was the leading expert on athletic facilities in the nation. And at the same time, he loved to paint and shows were held around the country featuring his paintings. How creative was he? Let it be said that he had to be the only athletic director in the country with a Masters in Art. And perhaps the only one that ever wrote a children’s book. It was called You’re The Reason I Drink and dedicated to me. Actually it was Snow Shoe the Camel.
In fact, the last letter I got from him was a great idea of how to drastically reduce the cost of building a Wright designed home. And to us it was perfectly normal growing up in a home with Astro Turf and to take paper bed sheets to camp. Of course, I was always home before my supply of paper sheets wore out.
And as I said, he was a patient man. He and my sister would go to my school just to clean out my desk. Of course when he discovered that was where I hid all my D papers, I got a spanking that night. But after a while, I think he just gave up. But not before hanging the paddle in my room and reminding me to look at it and to have the second thought before DOING ANYTHING.
And he was a walking contradiction at times. War was hard on him and he never let us have toy guns when we were kids. But his favorite TV show, next to Gunsmoke of course, was Combat. And he never pretended to be a hero, even though he was always my hero. When I asked him for memories of World War Two and being a bombardier , all he would say, ‘ I just remember being scared, just scared every time we went up.
When he returned from his first mission, he thought they would be heroes. It was a rainy muddy night in Italy and they walked around the B-24 and there were over 400 bullet holes. So they radioed the Colonel and told him they were home and could they send a truck to pick them up. The Colonel basically asked them which legs were broken and they could damn well walk back to base.
And once I asked did he take aim and shoot down German Fighters, And he said, “Heck we just filled the sky with machine gun fire and red tracers, so the Germans wouldn’t get near our plane.”
When he went to Italy on a ship, he and his crew were supposed to stay below deck with all the other flyboys and sailors. But below deck smelled of vomit and sweat and he and his friend “Skinny” Ennis just went on deck and slept in the plane that was tied on deck.
That was Skinny’s idea and Skinny got shot down and died in a Prisoner of War camp, and at 18 my father learned how hard it was to lose people. This past week we have all learned that lesson, because it was hard to lose Dad.
He loved crosswords puzzles but he started doing them when he was on the tarmac before flying missions in World War Two. It was a way a scared 18 year old, miles away from Hudson, Ohio, could stay sane.
But I think World War Two shaped my dad and his generation in ways we can’t even begin to understand. Today people panic when they get a flat tire. To Dad, that was no big deal. A big deal was being shot out of the air at 20,000 feet and falling to your death.
And the war made him appreciate life. I remember him telling me once, ” Phil, you can’t believe how nice it was to get home and to walk to the drug store and pick up a magazine and read it.” He knew the pleasure of simple things.
And he was good with words. Even when he was well into his eighties, he would whip through the Word Jumble, while I was trying to figure out the first word. I remember struggling over the word donut; he walked by and said “Oh that is donut.”
“Sure why didn’t you tell me ten minutes ago? “
He just shrugged.
There were moments he was just a kid. I must have been in fourth grade and we were living in Orange California and he was painting on the front porch. A fire engine went by and he said “Let’s go!” And all of a sudden we were two kids running through back yards, climbing over fences, chasing a fire truck down the street to find a fire. By the time we got there, the fire was in full glory and we stood and watched it. What made him stop painting that water color and just take off with me to chase a fire truck?
His mother was always worried about him. When he was little, he kept telling his parents he wanted to be a garbage man. That was his life’s ambition. Why? Because in 1929, the garbage men drove wagons pulled by horses – and that was the life Imagine having a job where you can drive a horse all day!
And he was the glue that held our family together. No matter where we were – at summer camp, school, college, he would always send us weekly letters. The best one I ever received was merely a cartoon. It was a kid at camp and it showed the Suggestion Box. And the kid was dropping a snake into the box.
My dad loved his family and he was always bragging about his grandchildren. Even his grandson who was always kind enough to point out that the Twins had won a few World Series and how many had the Cubs won?
Above all – he made a difference in people’s lives. And I can’t even begin to say how many, because I just don’t know. But I know that when we lived in Providence, he was on the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club and how many children did he help then, that we will never know about?
There are a million more stories I can tell but the most important thing I can say is Thank You, Peggy. I can never even begin to tell you how much you meant to my Dad and how you showed us what true love was. At times he was not easy to live with, (not that any of his children inherited that trait) but THANK YOU for always being there when our family and my dad needed you.
Finally I think my Dad would like this joke. A man and his friends are great baseball fans. The man dies and goes to heaven. He contacts his friend. His friend says “Wow – do they have baseball in heaven? ” And the man says “Good News and Bad News. They have baseball in heaven. But tomorrow you are the starting pitcher.”