I called my daddy yesterday, and on Father's Day, we talked about what we usually talk about. The weather. My cat. My husband, my mother.
We're Dodgers fans, my daddy and I - and my mother, too, for that matter. Why my daddy is, I'm not entirely sure, other than he picked the best broadcast available to him as a child (not the Yankees or, thank God, the Giants. I should ask him one day). Why I am is because my daddy is.
Sports are often viewed - and rightly, happily so - as a bonding mechanism between fathers and sons, and it's true that little is more perfectly emblematic of an idyllic American slice of life than a man and his boy tossing around the baseball in the backyard. It just should be stated that though we may not have been painted into the Norman Rockwell picture, little girls can fit into such a scenario, too.
Some of my earliest memories are intertwined with family and sports. I remember the exultation of Dwight Clark and The Catch, the joy amplified because Daddy and I, both Redskins fans, by law despised the Cowboys, and because Clark went to Clemson, like Daddy did. I remember the disbelief of Lorenzo Charles' last-second, legend-making basket, not entirely understanding all that shot signified but knowing the exuberant shock on Daddy's face meant it was something pretty big.
I remember the cold ice cream in the milkshakes my granny shook by hand in red shakers, the salty tang of the butter from popcorn popped on the stove, as we formed familial bulwarks on Monday nights, my daddy and I staking out chairs on the right, my brother and my granny taking up positions on the couch against the wall. We hunkered down as Howard Cosell and Don Meredith and Frank Gifford, wearing enough mustard to garnish a thousand hot dogs, ushered in another Redskins/Cowboys war.
I remember watching the games, Joe Gibbs' wise-professor face, John Riggins' steam-shovel thighs, Art Monk's speed-enhancing Toostie rolls, and I remember watching Daddy's face - intense, unwavering, ballooning with indignant blood when officials failed to notice a last-gasp timeout being called from the Washington sideline.
I wanted the Redskins to win because I loved the Redskins, and I wanted the Redskins to win because I loved my daddy.
I wasn't a conventional girl child growing up in the late 1970s in the South. I fought my mama over the dresses, and even the corduroy pants, she thought should sometimes replace my patched-at-the-knee jeans. I played with Barbies, sure, but oftentimes they drove the tractors and hay baylers and combines - all green, all John Deere - that Daddy would buy me at the Hess station on our early morning way to farm equipment auctions. I know for a fact that Kissing Barbie made more than one trip to the Grassy Pond Fire Department tractor pull, where Daddy and I rooted for the Black Widow underneath the considerable shadow cast by a water tower in the shape of a giant, cloud-grazing peach.
I never felt out of place or unwelcome or unwanted. Those things would come later, and in droves. But not when I was riding shotgun in the cab of the John Deere, or watching sports, with my daddy.
Six or so years ago, Daddy and I sat in the 300-level seats at Nationals Park, the self-important glitter of Washington D.C. spread before us beyond the outfield wall, and watched the Dodgers take, then almost blow, a lead against the transplanted Expos. We had a beer as we settled into our seats, and then didn't move for nine tension-fraught innings. I watched scoring chances squandered and big pitches made, the biggest the final strikeout, of Adam Dunn by Jonathan Broxton, to preserve the thin L.A. win.
I watched my daddy's face unfold into a smile, though we both grumbled about runners left in scoring position.
(I wrote a little story about it, which you can read at this blog).
I live farther from my daddy now than I ever have. We talk and text about once a week, on average. We talk about the weather, and about my cat, and about my husband and my mother.
We talk about baseball.
I suppose such things could seem trivial. And maybe they are. But if there are no storms brewing near us in the Atlantic Ocean, Daddy doesn't worry too much, and if my parents are getting rain in South Carolina, I know Daddy's hay fields and cows are all right. My cat has been my companion for 14 years, and he likes to sit in Daddy's lap when he visits, and Daddy scratches his orange fur and calls him Tiger. A quick check on my husband and my mother means our lives are going well, and that Daddy can continue to rest assured that I, having been given a textbook (playbook?) example of what a good man is, picked one myself.
And baseball ... well. Baseball means I love you. On Father's Day, and every day.