Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Father's Day stroll

Father's Day is big in baseball culture.  Most people into baseball were introduced to it by their dads. I became a baseball fan as an adult, so I don't have the baseball memories &  the details, names & stats you  pick up as a kid.  My older brother Jim was the Yankees fan. My mom listened to baseball on the radio as she ironed.  Dad wasn't a fan of professional sports or an athlete.  He became a Little League coach, a very good one, when Jim played. He  took us to Yankee Stadium  a few times - his company had very fine season seats, & there was  some process through which regular employees could use them. But it wasn't baseball, dad, & me sharing that special moment at a game.

My other older brother, Joe, was into Boy Scouts seriously, & Dad got involved in that with him.  A  problem, I think,  was  Dad couldn't figure out what I was into, & it frustrated him. None of it was "organized" activity. For him, I was a kind of solitary, anxious, moody, stuttering child given to day dreaming.  Very unlike him, it would seem.  Nowadays I'd probably be diagnosed with Attention Deficit.*  In fact, I had a capacity for a  good deal of patience & focus. Dad -  unfortunately,  not until I had grown & he had grandchildren  - failed to notice there were times I wanted to be around him. & they were filled with the potential for intimacy. I loved walking with him. I recall tagging along on his meandering late afternoon beach strolls.  He & mom usually walked the Ocean City NJ boardwalk with no special agenda except to drop into this store or that one, or look in on The Music Pier concert. When we occasionally visited with his friends at their  small weekend home in Poconos above Dingman's Ferry PA, every  early evening  toward sunset Dad, Mom, their friends, & some little dogs, went for a long, leisurely walk down a rural road through the woods. Participation for kids was optional.  I was like one of the little dogs, going off & coming back, circling around back in their footsteps.   They were pretty quiet walks & they would stop & examine things - plants, tiny roadside springs with  small, contained worlds - now we call them ecosystems, & listen for songbirds & small animals like chipmunks  & toads. Dad was a generalist in those moments, curious about stuff.  Dad didn't teach me how to play baseball,  start  a campfire, or build a birdhouse. He showed me how to observe without looking for anything in particular.  Unknown to him, he taught a very important skill for a poet & writer. When, in my early twenties, I got more serious about poetry, &  comfortable with modern poets who wrote with economy, I knew exactly what I had to do: strip away all the extra stuff & just go for a little walk & describe what I saw. Might be one thing would grab my attention, like in a famous poem by William Carlos Williams,  The Red Wheelbarrow, or several, or the walk itself become the subject.

My sister still takes unhurried, looping walks around her neighborhood with her husband, sometimes through suburban streets, sometimes down the country road by Black River. I've accompanied them, & the only decision they make at the outset is how long they want to be out, & the direction.

Dad could be so competitive at times, project-oriented, into mastering skills, he can hardly be blamed for not seeing that I loved him most when he put those aside. Perhaps I would've been more receptive to the lessons he  considered most important.  But I can easily imagine what he would say now  about people blabbing on their cellphones as they use a late afternoon beach at low tide merely for some fast walking exercise, rather than for noticing what the ocean  deposited on the shoreline.

I cherish that we took a few walks together later, some  just around his  backyard.  He always wanted to know that what he saw, I  also saw. & I did.

*Does an ADD kid catch a bullfrog, finish a 400 page book, & stay hidden  during hide-n-seek?

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Another home run, Bob. Thanks for writing it.
Thanks for taking us on this walk with you, Bob!
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