I can write about how he held on until all four of his kids made it (Cheri flew from NYC and literally sprinted to the hospital to get there in time, while Joey and Dani abandoned their cars in illegal spots to run in) and passed peacefully in his sleep while all of us and mom held his hands. It was beautiful and I will never forget it. I could also write about how 30 minutes before that he scared the ever-loving shit out of me and made me scream and leap across the room. Thanks, Dad. Had to get one more in, didn't you?
But here is what I am actually going to write about: my Dad and the impact he has had on me as a person, a parent, and a professional.
I have to start with baseball, don't I? It wouldn't seem right somehow if I didn't. I have slept in the Jim Edmonds Cardinals jersey I got him every night since I found it in the closet. Here he is wearing it when I took him on the train from Memphis to Chicago one summer as a Father's Day present.
Neither of us had ever seen a game in Wrigley Field, so we went, just the two of us, and had a great time watching the Cubs beat the Brewers. Naturally, I kept score (in a scorebook Dad bought me 15 years ago) and Dad almost got us in a fight thanks to that damned Cardinals jersey and some rather inebriated Cubs fans who were not excited about the intrusion of Cardinal fans on their turf. Ah, good times.
What made that trip so good, though, and what made all of our baseball memories so good, is that it was more than that. We spent hours on the train, and I remember I was studying for my graduate school comprehensive exams. Dad asked me all about school, gave me tips for the flashcards I was creating, and got me to open up about this new guy I was dating (and ended up marrying). He never had overt "parental" talks with me, but he would slip it in among conversations about on-base percentages and ERAs.
I have so many memories of Dad and baseball. Him coaching my and Cheri's teams when we were kids. Him taking me to Tim McCarver Stadium when I worked as an usher for the Memphis Chicks in high school, and he would be one of the like 100 people in attendance at the game while I did the chicken dance on the dugouts at the 7th inning stretch. Touring the construction of AutoZone Park the summer I worked with him downtown before I left for college.
I think he was always confused by my obsession with the Atlanta Braves, but what can you do? I was a teenage girl, and I could actually see the Braves on TBS every single day. Javy Lopez was my first husband, and Dad literally saved my life once when he pulled me up by my backpack when I almost fell over the right field wall at Busch Stadium when John Smoltz threw me a ball during batting practice.
Two of the most important things my Dad taught me: always get there in time for batting practice, and a ball from a future Hall of Fame pitcher is totally worth risking your life for.
And that baseball is a thinking man's sport. It is not about home runs, but about "small ball" - one hit, one sacrifice bunt, one blooper "ball with eyes" - and together you have a team-earned run. So much more satisfying than a one-man show of power. That's good, smart baseball. So many life lessons hidden in our many baseball talks - never overt, but always there and sneaking into the very foundation of who he raised me to be.
And all this current talk about the DH potentially heading to the National League? Well, Dad, I'm glad you don't have to see it. Just horrible.
Did you know Dad made extra sure the room for my wedding night overlooked AutoZone Park and had enough room for me to spin around in my dress? He did. And I am told he even made them switch rooms that night when he personally went to check that it was perfect. I spun in my dress and ate wedding cake with my new husband overlooking the lights of my ball park. It was perfection. Thanks, Dad.
And that was him to a tee. He knew that view would mean something to me, and he knew I would be a total girl and spin around like a fool in my ballgown. Of course he did. Again, he was not obvious with his parenting style, but he was always keeping tabs. He knew when I brought home a B+ on a paper, I would be pissed off. He knew all my friend's names and how to make them laugh when they visited. As I look back through this blog, he commented on almost every post until recently. His kids mattered to him so much, and he invested huge amounts of time and energy into our upbringing. He was never a PTA guy, but he attended one - only one - Men's Club meeting at our elementary school. He was trying to get new uniforms for the girl's softball teams that he coached (we wore the old boy's uniforms - gross). Well, long story short, we did not get the uniforms, and Dad never attended a meeting again. People who did not respect or value his daughters were not worth his time. But the fact that he went to that club of stupid men and fought for his girls means so much.
My Dad was a writer and a poet. And a hell of a hard worker. All of his children have college degrees in the Arts - poor Mom and her love of math and science was lost on all of us. Cheri holds a PhD and is a tenture-track professor of philosophy. Joey has a degree in Communications and is now helping to run the independent film industry in Memphis. Dani has a Performance degree and is getting closer and closer to her dream of professional acting and practically runs a community theatre. I am not as directly using my master of arts degree, but I have a great career working with college students, hold a top position in my field, and have published extensively. Dad shared his creativity with us, and his work ethic. We knew homework had to be done. Period. We knew grades mattered, and we knew college degrees were mandatory. We all held jobs at young ages and have worked hard for everything we ever earned. My parents did not pay my way through college, but I was prepared by my parents and earned multiple scholarships and held jobs to get me through school.
Dad taught us to be generous with friends and family always, but never expect something for ourselves. If you are offered a helping hand, you pay it back in full as soon as you can. Right before I moved in November of last year, Dad called me to offer money to help with the move. I tearfully accepted because he knew I needed it (and would never have asked for it), but every dime was paid back to him and Mom before New Year's. They would never have asked for it back, but they taught me better than that. I am an adult and I honor the commitments I make and the people I love.
Books are a huge part of all of our lives. My master's degree is in English Literature and I have studied with the Royal Shakespeare Academy in London. Books will always be a safe and treasured place. We read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter as a family. A few of those were when we were children and one was when we were adults. Dad was the best at reading out loud to us. He did all the voices and made books come alive to us as little kids. My own children will refuse bed until we read to them. Just last night, Brian and I tag-teamed to complete a full month of Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the monsters at bedtime: it is a non-negotiable routine. I can't imagine what my life would have been like without some of my best friends, Elizabeth Bennet, Dill Harris, Anne Shirley, Nancy Drew, Archie Goodwin. I thank my lucky stars Dad introduced them all to me at such a young age.
Even more than the baseball and the books, though, I will remember the utter goofiness that was my Dad. He was seriously the strangest person I ever met. He won Best Actor awards at Murder Mystery weekends. He wrote family poems in 30 seconds that were full of imagery and humor. He loved a good costume (hell yeah!) and he won countless Halloween Best Couples Costume Awards with my Mom. He could quote the strangest movies and knew the lyrics to what seemed like every single song ever. He was the life of the party. In making the slideshow for his funeral, I found myself laughing at all the photos of him pole dancing or hamming it up with cute girls at parties. He could make anyone feel at home, and, man, could he tell a joke. He inexplicably loved The Three Stooges, and the nonsense of Groucho Marx and Yogi Berra are mainstays in our family lexicon. I had to include quotes in his slideshow because there are just so many things that stick out in our minds as being uniquely Dad.
I have been typing for hours and I feel like I have barely touched on what I want to say. I will never turn off an Elton John song, I will always keep score at a baseball game, I will read to my children every night, and I will dress up in crazy costumes for ridiculous family events.
And I will do it all because my Dad told me to.
And he was the best.