Friday, June 14, 2013

"Father's Day 1957"

Being fatherless on “Father’s Day” is like being at a marshmallow roast without a stick.

It wasn’t good having no Dad.  It saddened our mother.  And left my brother and me, riding a plane with a single parental wing.  It was easy to wobble off course.

“Father’s Day” was particularly tough to navigate.  It was the day the world set aside to celebrate the familial arrangement I didn’t have.  Though I understood, at least theoretically, that there were other children without fathers, on “Father’s Day”, I felt…well, imagine Christmas with a world full of Christians and one Jew.  That’s pretty much how Christmas feels anyway.  But this was more personalized.  This was the a holiday that, if renamed, could legitimately be labeled,

“Not me.”

Can you imagine a card for that?

We know your Dad has gone away
We understand you’re brokenhearted
We’re sending this to you today
So at least you won’t be non-gift carded.

Happy “No Father’s Day.”

Is this too sad?  I have a tendency to overshoot.

In truth, though uncomfortable, the situation was more disorienting than devastating.  The fact is, I had a loving mother and a protective brother.  And, though I cannot – nor can I ever – explain why,

I had some friends.

One of them was Toronto Hebrew Day School classmate, Arny Wise. 

But first, an expositional digression. 

Before the Major League Blue Jays came to town (in 1977), Toronto was the home of the minor league Triple-A Toronto (baseball) Maple Leafs, not to be confused with the exalted and in no way affiliated Toronto (hockey) Maple Leafs.  I don’t know why the hockey team allowed the baseball team to have the same name.  Maybe because it was the off-season, and they weren’t using for it.

“But we want it back in the fall.”

Like with all baseball teams, to crank up attendance, the organization scheduled certain “giveaway” events, when, for the price of admission, baseball fans also took home an autographed towel, or a team-logoed seat cushion.

On “Father’s Day”, the first three thousand kids aged 12 or under who arrived at ballpark accompanied by their fathers, would receive an actual-sized, varnished, wooden, exactly like the players used in games, Official Triple-A authorized and signed with a flourish by the Commissioner whoever he happened to be at the time…

Baseball bat.

I was twelve years old – my last year of eligibility.  And without a Dad.

But I still wanted a bat.

Arny Wise was determined I would get one.

Arny lived two blocks away from me.  I had slept over at his house.  He has slept over at mine, where, for our dinner, his mother traditionally made us – spoken in an accent I could never identify – boiled…

“Ha’ Digs.”

Arny was my age.  He had two brothers, an older one, Sydney, and a younger one, Marty. 

On “Father’s Day” 1957, at Arny’s insistence, his father dutifully drove down to the southern tip of Bathurst Street to venerable Maple Leaf Stadium, in the company of his four sons –

Sydney, Arny, Marty,

And me.

For that day, I was a member of the Wise Family.  When we passed through the turnstiles, the three of us would receive bats.  (Older brother Sydney was above the “cut-off.”)

Would they put you in jail for sneaking into at a ballgame “Under an assumed father”?  Probably not.  But I was a sensitive child.  And to a boy of a delicate temperament, a public “outing” and banishment as a “counterfeit son” held no less dread than incarceration.

My stomach was already churning, as Arny’s father parked the car and we got out and headed for the ticket window.   Four seats were purchased, and we proceeded towards the entrance.  As the “Moment of Truth” drew ever closer, I began harboring second thoughts.  I volunteered to skip the double-header, and wait in the car.

“You are coming with us,” Arny instructed, firmly, but with a quiet sensitivity.

The line was understandably long.  They were giving away bats!  As we snailed our way forward, I started studying my “brothers”, wondering how I could miraculously morph myself into a believable possibility.  The Wises were swarthy, almost Arabian-looking.  My genetic recipe screamed Minsk and Pinsk.    

Though Arny was somewhat younger than me, he was already shaving.  How could we be the same age and on opposite sides of the “Puberty Line”?  How could we be the same age and not be twins?  I mean, even fraternal twins looks somewhat alike, don’t they?  Here, there was absolutely no similarity.  I looked like someone they’d kidnapped!

I was sweating through my t-shirt as we reached the front of the line.

No questions were asked.  There was barely an acknowledgement.  As the “Wise Boys” entered the ballpark…

We were each issued our own bat.

I examined it in my hands.  A brand new baseball bat.  Mahogany reddish-brown.  No scuff marks.  No dents. 

The new bat was beautiful.  And despite the single prerequisite for receiving it, a prerequisite I did not, in fact, possess…

It was mine. 

Did I tell Arny’s father, “Thanks, ‘Dad’?”  No.  I lacked the cleverness, and the buoyancy.  Besides, a joke of that nature bore the whiff of betrayal.

I just sat there watching the game and cradling my new bat, grateful for a “Father’s Day” that was actually

Not terrible.

Today, it’s different.  I have my own kids, and we celebrate and have fun.

But it’s still “Father’s Day.”

And there’s always that thing.


cjdahl60 said...

That's a great story. Although my father has now passed away, I never thought about Father's Day from your childhood perspective. Thanks for making me think......

Kathleen said...

You write so beautifully. Thank you for your story.