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Things passed along

My dad will not be watching the World Cup today.

He will not be watching the 24 Hours of LeMans or baseball or the U.S. Open, unless it's by accident. This is because a TV remote in his hands these days is less a guidance system than a demonstration of chaos theory.

Of course, if he happens upon the NBA Finals, he'll watch, because it's basketball and he played it once upon a time. Football, he'll watch. The Olympics, because it's the Olympics. Everything else ... well, it might be on, but that doesn't mean he's paying much attention to it.

And if you take that to mean that the father of a career sportswriter is largely indifferent to sports, you're right. Mostly. He's a fan, but not, you know, a fan.

I'm thinking of this now because it's Father's Day, and because the things that get passed along from fathers to sons are not always reliably transferable. My dad has always been a cursory sports fan; his son grew up a passionate one, plastering his bedroom walls with Sports Illustrated covers. If there was a rabid sports fan in the family, it was my mother, a Purdue grad who used to put the Purdue football game on the radio while she cleaned the house on sunny autumn Saturdays.

Leroy Keyes, Mike Phipps and Lemon Pledge: It's a hell of a sensory soup sometimes, childhood memory.

And it's a hell of legacy my dad passed to me, and which I'll always cherish, our sports disconnection notwithstanding.

My dad never taught me to throw a curveball or run a square-out or use the backboard, a largely forgotten basketball art. I taught myself to do all that -- except for the curveball, which I never mastered in the same way I never mastered the ability to throw a strike or hit the cutoff man or get my foot out of the bucket at the plate.

Baseball, shall we say, was not my thing.

What is my thing is a certain combative stubbornness, a useful trait on those nights when the words won't come and the deadline looms. Or when something I've written isn't quite right.

I hear my dad's voice then ("If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right"), and I heed it. His stubbornness becomes my stubbornness -- or, to use another word, meticulousness. It kind of works out to the same thing.

In that regard, my father is the most meticulous man I know. He's also scrupulously honest, a lover of history (particularly Civil War history, something else he's bequeathed to me) and a creature of habit whose wellspring is both his meticulous nature and a finely honed sense of duty.

To wit: If he says he's going to do something -- or show up somewhere at a certain time or arrive home from work every night at the same time -- he does it. Duty calls.

I'd like to think a lot of that he passed on to his son. I don't flatter myself to think the son is half so good at any of it.

What I do know is duty calls, and today it calls me to his apartment down in Decatur. Eighty-six now, alone since my mother passed 18 months ago, he's in assisted living there, surrounded by friends and a staff that adores him. The fastest walker I ever knew uses a cane now, his gait slowed to a snail's pace by age and infirmity.

But he's still my dad. And so we'll go to lunch today. And maybe, while we're solving all the world's problems, I'll think about the time we were building my parents' retirement home up on Lake Huron, and I was holding a couple of 2-by-4s above my head while he measured the place where they would join.

He measured once. He measured twice. He measured again, fretting that they were juuust a scoche off.

"Push 'em higher," he said. "I need an eighth of an inch."

"Oh, for God's sake, Dad," I blurted out, my arms screaming. "It's an eighth of an inch. Just drive the damn nail."

He didn't, of course. Not until he got it perfect.

Another lesson learned.

Ben Smith's blog.

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