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(Photo courtesy of Al Emmert)
This week we have (a very special treat): Randy, a 60-ish retiree that has taught me more about life and what it is to be a father than any other person on this earth
Randy is not a blogger but he is no stranger to writing. The man has lived an incredible life full of ups and downs and everything in between… How can I say this so definitively? Well, I’ve had a front-row seat to his life for the past 32 years. He is my father and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have his contribution below.
This isn’t one of those, “My dad wrote it so I’ll publish it” situations. This is very well done and hard hitting.
So without further adieu, here is Randy (my dad):
As an avid reader of Mikedupblog, and his father, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Wins and Losses Series. Reading the highs and lows and the impacts that others have so graciously written about, I wondered, “What would be some of my own wins and losses and what if any impact could they possibly have made on others?” As I pondered, I decided, “Hey I’ll give it a shot.”
Let’s start with some wins
“The Best Gift Ever”
When I turned twenty-five I was hired as a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service, a great job for a guy with a year of college and no idea what he wanted to do when he grew up. During my second day on the job a guy, who we will call Al (sorry Paul Simon), introduced himself and said, “Hey – I will come out and check on you later and let’s do lunch.”
That gesture started a great friendship that through the years saw weddings, deaths, the births of our sons, spring and summer softball games, autumn football games, and winters just surviving the elements. We worked side by side for fifteen years and became family.
Then something was said or something wasn’t said – who really knows – and we had a falling out. Pride and stubborn indignation replaced common sense as we drifted apart. I was eventually promoted and transferred to a new office, and before we knew it – twelve years went by.
Then one day out of the blue my phone rings and on the other line I hear, “Randy, you’re my best friend and I miss you, let’s do lunch” Twelve simple words and twelve years later we met for lunch.
Over lunch, I asked him, “So what have you been up to?”
Well, he said, “After I retired I was getting bored and saw an ad for a baggage handler with the airlines so I went for an interview. I accepted the job and during orientation, I hear the instructor mention ‘flight benefits!’ So I sat up and listened like it was a dream… Anywhere we fly you can fly free on standby and then when you retire you can keep those benefits for life.”
As Al was talking it sounded surreal. We both shared a passion for travel and at the Post Office when postcards came through, we always tried to guess where they were from. Then we dreamt of going there ourselves… So these “flight benefits” were right up his alley.
Al continued his story of him taking the job and setting off to see the world. He had been just about everywhere and I sat there fascinated just listening to all of the stories of adventures he had been on.
Then he looks at me and says “Bud” you know what’s cool? I get to add two friends…
And as long as you and your wife will use them – they are yours. I was speechless. I said, “No way can I accept that.” He insisted. And now he and I travel together at least once a year, and my wife and I eventually came to see the world ourselves.
When other friends ask me how we get to travel so often, I tell them a friend of mine gave me the best gift ever. But the truth is the best gift is having my friend back.
“Field of Dreams”
It was 1996 and by now I had hung up my softball cleats and was coaching my son’s (Mike’s) youth baseball team. I lived the sport and knew baseball all my life, but knowing the game and teaching it are completely different things.
So when I saw an ad for a coaching clinic in our small town I signed up right away. And in our town, everyone knew everyone but at the clinic, I saw a guy hanging around in the back of the room that I didn’t recognize. As the clinic was coming to a close our commissioner said, “Guys, before you go I would like to introduce Lou, and he has an idea that just might interest you.”
Lou was from New York and he had just opened a youth baseball facility in Cooperstown, New York that year. He was at our clinic trying to drum up interest from local clubs throughout the country to spend a week and play some tournament games on baseball’s hallowed grounds. I had a quick conversation with another coaching friend of mine (Guy), who said, “Randy that sounds like something we need to do let’s go talk to him.”
So we hailed Lou down in the parking lot and committed on the spot to send 2 youth baseball teams to Cooperstown in 1997 during Hall of Fame week
OK – we were in… Now what?
We found out quickly that the trip would be costly, so we called up the parents and sold the idea to them – and thankfully they loved it! The next few months we sold candy, had fundraisers, washed cars, and did anything we could do to offset the expenses. And when all was said and done, we had met our mark!
With our goal achieved, it was time to go. Hotels had been secured for the parents as they used this as their yearly vacations, and we chartered a bus to carry twenty-four boys ages 11 and 12 and six coaches on what we hoped would a journey to remember. Lou met us on arrival and showed us to the bunkhouse that we would share with another team from another state.
Kids were everywhere. Some had flown in from California, Puerto Rico, Texas… your name it. 36 teams in all representing 20 or so different states.
These kids were BIG.
They sure didn’t look like 12-year-olds and pretty quickly I gave up on my hopes to win at least 1 game (we were guaranteed to play at least 8). My only other goals where that each boy would pitch an inning and get at least one hit.
For anyone who has never been to Cooperstown – go! Baseball fan or not it’s a must-see. Cooperstown may not be heaven or even Iowa for that matter but it’s amazing. Nestled in the Adirondack mountains, the scenery is spectacular.
The week was more than we had hoped for
We won three games and everyone got at least 1 hit and pitched an inning. As we were preparing to leave after the week had ended, Lou pulled me aside and said, “You guys are now grandfathered in for this week for as long as you want it.” So we went back again the following year. And every year for the next 16 years 12-year-old boys along with there parents from our little community were able to spend a week in July watching their heroes in the Hall of Fame game and then living out their own dreams on the field just down the road.
As the years went by, I would see the hats on some kids at the airport or shirts on some of the dads at the beach and remember the magic moments of the days we had spent there
Yesterday my wife and I were taking our daily walk and I heard someone yell my name. I looked over and saw one of the ‘kids’ from that first year, Mike. He introduced us to his wife and his 2.5-year-old son Deacon.
His face lit up when he said, “Coach – I hope someday my son enjoys baseball because I can’t wait to take him to Cooperstown and show him where I got to play. And maybe he can do the same! I still have everything from that trip, my hat, uniform and the bat that I bought there. And I still keep the rings right next to my bed!”
Twenty-one years have passed since that trip and those boys are now men with families of their own, and as we walked away I felt a sense of satisfaction knowing that maybe – just maybe – I did make a small and positive impact on these young men’s lives.
“The Long Goodbye”
And now onto the Losses… They say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. As my Grandma Cameron used to say, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” those two sayings describe my losses.
My parents divorced when I was 4, my mother at the time was only 23 and my sister was an infant. The archaic court system determined that fathers get every other weekend and every other holiday. And for most fathers that is a criminal sentence to receive, but for mine – every week became every other month. And then every other month became every other year.
My memories of him in my life are vivid because they are so few and far between. Sure, I remember the only Christmas gift he ever bought me. I was nine and it was a pair of Gum Boots…
The only baseball game he showed up to I was 13 and playing in Pony League. I still can see the home plate umpire going over to the stands and asking for a father to volunteer to ump the bases, and sure enough, my father’s hand went up… And there he was at second base playing umpire.
In the very first inning I hit a ball down the line and when I rounded first, the coach waived me on to second base. I slide in before the tag but I heard my father say, “You’re out!”
“What? No way!” I looked up and said, “Are you serious?!?”
He replied by throwing me out of the game… One glorious inning in and I’m kicked out by my father in the only game he ever showed up to
When I was seventeen some friends and I were driving to play some basketball and my friend Tim said, “Doesn’t your dad live in this town?”
I thought he did, so we drove around the bend and there he was on the front porch. His house was only 20 miles from mine. For a 9-year-old it may as well have been a thousand miles. But now that I had a car, I realized just how close it was, so we stopped.
My friends ended up loving him and they couldn’t believe the things I had told them
The next time I expected to see him was when I was twenty… I had a health situation crop up that left me hospitalized for 17 days and although his wife, my stepmother, who was and is an amazing person, came in 3 or 4 times with my step siblings, never once did he show. That’s when I decided the book was closed with him. Never again.
Three more years go by and I was then engaged to my future wife who wanted to do the right thing and mend this mess of a relationship. She cajoled me into going over and we ended up inviting him to the wedding. But in my heart, I was still done with him.
He came to the wedding, we smiled for a photo or two, and the next 22 years went by without a word. Then one day I’m in some line at a ticket booth or at a check-out line and I thought, “Wow if my father and my son (who was then in college) were in this line standing next to each other, they would never know who the other one was.”
At that moment I decided that if I’m ever going to introduce my son and my niece and nephews to their grandfather I had better do it before was too late. This thought just happened out of the blue and something spontaneously told me I needed to do this soon. Thanks to modern technology I tracked him down and made the call.
He was happy I called and he also wanted to get together – I promised him that we would. The next weekend I made the dreaded drive and knocked on his door. We talked for hours, nothing heavy just ‘how have you been doing?’ and ‘what’s new’?
I had always thought he was a Penn State fan so year after year I would celebrate Penn State losses… It turned out he was a Nebraska Cornhusker fan… (sorry for the misplaced rooting, Penn Staters)
My main purpose for going was: did he want to meet his grandkids? He said that he did, so I made plans to bring my sister, her three kids, and Mike over to meet him that next weekend. It was a great day. Hours were spent joking and laughing, just talking and watching them get to know each other.
When we left we hugged and promised to get back together soon. Two weeks later I answered another phone call from my father. This was the first time in my life that he had ever called me.
He said, “Son, I just came back from meeting with my doctor – he just informed me that I have terminal lung cancer.”
My heart dropped, through my sullen and shocked voice, I asked, “How much time?”
He replied, “Months, maybe weeks.”
The next day I went back and spent some time. He thanked me so much for bringing his grandkids over to see. He shared with me his regret for all the missed time with my sister and I and also his newfound grandchildren. I called him later in the week to check up and his voice sounded week and frail.
Two weeks later my step sister called and said if I wanted to see him I needed to get to the hospital soon. My wife, Sister, and Brother-in-law hurried over as hospice was already on the scene. As we sat there with strangers who were family, one by one we went in to say our goodbyes.
When my turn came I went in alone. He reached out for my hand and said, “Son I love you and I have no right to ask for anything but could you do me one favor?”
“Sure, anything” I said.
“Would it be possible for me to be buried in Mike’s game jersey?”
My son, at the time, was playing college football. “Absolutely, it would be no problem.” As I sat there for those last few minutes I thought back to the time he was diagnosed, which was only weeks ago, and each time I talked to him not once did he complain about the hand he’d been dealt. I marveled at how strong he was in the imminent face of death and I learned something at that moment. I hope that when my time comes I want to be just like my dad who taught me that:
It’s only too late if you never take the time to say goodbye.
“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”
Death is always difficult to comprehend but for a 10-year-old, it can mark the end of your innocence.
1966 was that kind of year for me
In the spring my paternal grandfather passed away. I didn’t really know him well and I didn’t understand, at that time, everything that I would come to miss by never having that opportunity. By all accounts, he was a wonderful man whose garden was the envy of the neighborhood and whose Sunday pasta dinners were something to cherish. But at that time he was just a stranger to me.
The real blow came in December as my maternal grandfather also passed away at the age of 54. He was my role model, I spent every summer with him and almost every weekend throughout the school year. My mother was a single working mom who took any help she could get with babysitting and the Grandparents were always ready to pitch in.
When he died it left me filled with questions that bore no answers. The only man I had ever loved was gone and there was no one to take his place, so I thought.
That following January my mother married George
George simply stated was the nicest human being you could ever meet. He was 36 and his first wife had passed away when they were in their twenties. They had one daughter together, Barbara. George was a Navy navigator in the Korean war whose plane was shot down. Miraculously the whole crew survived.
He was also a college graduate who went on to work as a plant general manager overseeing 10,000-15,000 employees. That is what he did for a living, not necessarily who he was. Who he was as a person was the kind of guy that would come home on his lunch break to check on his new stepson. And when he found the boy playing basketball with his friends with a volleyball, George would pull up, shake his head, and say, “Come on fellows. Hop in we’re going to the sporting goods store to get you guys a basketball.”
These were the days when 10-year-old kids could play outside all day without adult supervision. For you millennials, it was like the movie Sandlot. He was the kind of guy who could make a difference in a young man’s life if given the chance. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
My 11th birthday fell on a Friday that year so the parents decided to celebrate it on that Sunday
It was a spectacular autumn day. The family arrived, presents were opened, I received a new football that year. George said, “Randy how about we go out and toss the ball before we have cake and ice cream?” He didn’t have to ask me twice so out we went, just he and I.
We threw the ball for about fifteen minutes, then he looked over and said, “Wow I don’t feel good all of a sudden, would you mind if I took a break?”
I replied, “Of course not.” So he went inside. I stayed outside just throwing the ball in the air pretending I was catching passes from Fran Tarkenton. It wasn’t 10 minutes later I when heard my mother’s screams, that 52 years later I still hear as clear as I heard them that day.
I watched in amazement as my uncles carried my new stepfather to the car and sped away to the hospital. it was too late. George had suffered a massive heart attack and at the young age of 36, he was gone. Just like that our world which was once so full of promise was suddenly shattered and for me it sent me emotionally into places I was to ill-equipped to comprehend.
George’s death shaped the remainder of my formative years as I tried to navigate the darkness and attempt to understand the meaning of life. I became a pessimist who always saw the glass as half empty, and that’s no place to be. It left me as a person who lacked confidence in himself, who trusted very few people, and who had zero direction.
But then one day in my early twenties something happened… And I’m still not sure what it was but at that moment, everything in me changed. It was an amazing attitude adjustment from somewhere within me and I was changed forever. Gone was the despair and the questions that had no answers!
Grandma, thank you, as you were right once again. It didn’t kill me, it only made me stronger.
Thinking back now 52 years later I remember the impact that this moment had on my life and I realize now just how devastating it must have been on my step sister of ten months who by the age of nine was now an orphan. Barbara went to live with her aunt and I only saw her once again after that when we were in our twenties. We did not speak.
I wish so much that I could just have that moment back. To just go up to her and ask how she was doing and to tell her what an impact her father had made in my life.
But so it goes… Although we don’t get the moments back, we can do well to learn from them moving forward.
My house is officially out of tissues… This Wins and Losses Series has been more than I ever hoped it could be. Every single contribution has been open, honest, raw, and insightful at the same time. And I literally just learned things about my father that, in 32-years, I had never known…
I’d love to know your thoughts below. Have you shared any similar experiences in life? Or do you have some wins and losses that we may all learn from?? Let us know in the comments below! Or, if you’re feeling adventurous and would like to contribute to the series, send me a note here.
Thanks for reading!