August 16, 2014

Fathers, Sons, Daughters, and Sports

IMG_1086Sunday is Father’s Day, a bittersweet time for me. I am extremely proud to tell the world what a lucky man I am—blessed, some people would say. I have an amazing wife and two healthy children, a boy and a girl. When you are entering adulthood and in a relationship with someone and start thinking about having kids, you have these illusions that getting pregnant just happens with ease and that anyone can do it. But as I can tell you from experience, it is not that easy.

Things happen for a reason and I came out of my experiences on the other side the better for it. My son is six years old and my daughter is three. I am one of two boys and that is what I always wanted. When my wife was pregnant with my son, we wanted to know the gender of the baby, but we couldn’t find out until the 20 week appointment. I told everyone I knew the entire time that I was sure it was going to be a girl. It was the old reverse jinx at its finest (kinda like my “Ubaldo needs to be released” call from April). When that nurse pointed to the ultrasound picture and said “You see that? It is a penis—it is a boy,” I was beside myself. Whenever people asked us if we found out ahead of time, my wife says “I am surprised you didn’t hear Todd from where you were that day, because he was screaming so loud you would have thought he just won the World Series.”

Almost from out of the womb, I had my son into sports. He attended his first Tribe game at 18 months and I kept the stub. He went to his first Browns game at three-and-a-half and actually saw a win. My boy has learned to read and write because of Indians and Browns programs that he studies. Now at age six, he is a regular at Browns and Indians games with me and has been for the last two years. Ask him a player on either team by the number, and he knows it. And I am talking deep into the roster. For example, my man loves him some Johnson Bademosi.

We got the boy out of the way first so when the second time came around, I truly did not care what we had. When we found out it was a girl, I was thrilled, but more excited for my wife than anything. I never saw myself with a daughter. I know what I know. I am on of two boys. My father was one of three boys. But nevertheless, when that little girl arrived, it was instant love.

So many people told me ahead of time, that I would not believe the depth of the father/daughter experience. The love for your little girl is just incredible. I am here this morning to tell you that words cannot even do justice to the feelings I have for her. She is only three—so talk to me when she is 16—but I just can’t say ‘no’ to her. She is as cute and as sweet as the summer day is long. And there is plenty of me in her. Not just in her face, but in the way she is.

Like her older brother, at the age of two she was addicted to sports. We have the best of both worlds with her: She loves Nick Swisher and Michael Brantley as much as she loves Barbie and Dora The Explorer. She is a fixture at Sunday afternoon Tribe games with me, puts on fake eye black, a Tribe hat, and her Swisher t-shirt and goes crazy for her Wahoos.

She too loves reading programs, reciting players names and numbers, and can’t get enough of the hot dog race. One day she asked my wife and me to put her in a cute dress for school. The next she asks for her Tristan Thompson Cavs jersey. Sir CC is her favorite Cleveland mascot, though she still gets scared when he or Slider get too close. Things could change, but today, my daughter can be one of the girls or hang with the boys.

This is the only way I know how. I grew up in a household that was sports-centric. Some would call it sports obsessed. My parents grew up going to Browns games separately with their parents and randomly sat in the same section at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Section 37, row one had one of my grandfathers; row four had my other grandfather. My mother is an old school Browns fan who still to this day at age 66 knows more about the team than the majority of the people I know. She has been going to games since the late 1950′s. My father was sitting just three rows behind her, but didn’t know her at the time. He attended his first game as an eight-year old in 1950 and was at the 1964 NFL Championship game. He went to college in Philadelphia and used to spin tales of skipping class to go see the Phillies and watching Wilt Chamberlain dominate for the then Philadelphia Warriors. To his dying day he was a Wilt-over-Bill-Russell guy. But his first and biggest loves were always the Browns and the Indians.

When my older brother and I were beginning to crawl, my parents had us playing ball and attending games. I was extremely lucky to have the means to attend Browns, Cavs, Indians, and Cleveland Force games as a kid. I fell in love with sports right away and thanks to my parents, my father in particular, they were ingrained in me from the start.

My earliest childhood memories are almost always centered around my father and sporting events. Literally one of the first things I can remember happened in December of 1980. I was four years old and the Browns were playing the Vikings in Minnesota with a chance to clinch the AFC Central Division title. Nursing a 23-21 lead with five seconds to go, Vikings QB Tommy Kramer let off a Hail Mary pass from the 45 yard line that was tipped by Thom Darden and Ron Bolton and landed in the hands of WR Ahmad Rashad in the endzone. Fast Forward to the 4:10 mark.

My father was so disgusted that he kicked one of my toys across the room and I was terrified. He was the most even-keeled man I knew, but this is what sports did to him sometimes. I remember it like it was yesterday.
We attended “The Drive” and ‘The Shot” together. But this isn’t all about the miserable Cleveland Sports moments.

It was the little things.

Like going to Tribe games at the old Stadium, sitting in the upper deck on the third base side with my dad and brother and having our own section to ourselves. My father and sports  were the perfect combination for my brother and me. He once sprinted down one of the ramps at the old stadium, chasing a foul ball for his kids. I remember him emerging from the dark ramp, running up hill, with the ball in his hand (off of the bat of Tom Veryzer).

It was the old man going to get popcorn and hot dogs for me and my brother and missing back to back to back home runs (true story). He never cared, he just wanted his kids to be happy and have fun. This was a man who would take us every year the night before thanksgiving to Pittsburgh for a Penguins game on a boys trip and pull out a “goodie bag” with candy, baseball cards, football cards, stickers, etc. Those two hour drives used to fly by thanks to all the fun we had.

Two of my most found memories with him are bound together with the teams we loved. When the Indians beat the Seattle Mariners to win the American League pennant, my dad, brother, and I stood together in his family room, watching Herb Perry catch the final out at first and like the team on the field, we embraced. A father and his two sons, seeing something they never thought would happen, come true right before our eyes.

me and my dadThe other came ten years ago as my father and I, on a whim, used my Southwest free tickets and hotel points to fly out to Anaheim California to watch my beloved Kansas Jayhawks in the West Regionals of the NCAA Tournament. It was one of the best weekends of my life. We saw two Kansas wins over Duke and Arizona to head back to the Final Four, spent three great days together hanging out, watching sports, and eating bar food in California. It have a framed picture on my desk of the two of us and the ticket stubs from that weekend that is one of my most prized possessions.

My dad showed me how to be unselfish and to always put your family first. I mean, find me another man who used to leave Browns games with about five minutes to go, run down to the lot next to the Stadium, drive up the hill, double park it on the side, have a cop sit in it to stay warm, run back into the game, watch the end, and then be waiting for the rest of us to get in the car and beat the traffic out. And NOBODY and I mean NOBODY could navigate his way in and out of traffic to big time sporting events like he could. The guy was the master.

I have done all I can to emulate his ways with my children. My love of sports has trickled down to my young children, and they have taken to it like a fish to water.

Sadly, my dad isn’t around for any of this. It has been almost nine years since he passed away due to complications from Tonsilar cancer. He has never seen my kids, let alone their unbridled enthusiasm at Tribe, Browns, and Cavs games. It is the lone hole in my amazingly happy life.

Wherever he is, I hope he knows that I have carried on his legacy of raising his grandchildren the way he raised me; in a family full of love, laughs, and lots and lots of sports. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

  • Garry_Owen

    . . .

  • Al DiFranco

    Awesome writing…thanks for sharing. Happy Father’s Day.

  • stacykoon

    Thank you for this article. Well done. I also feel blessed in life. Luckily for me, my little girl got 5 years with my dad before cancer got him.

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    Amazing, TD. Thanks so much for sharing. Happy fathers day man!

  • Carol Grayshock

    Loved your great stories here, and wanted to wish you a Happy Father’s Day. I thought my family’s love of sports couldn’t be beat, and yours is right there. I have you on the Browns stories though. I always cooked a turkey for the Steeler games and made “Dawg-Bone” cookies. So many memories with sports and truly your kids will cherish all that you are doing with them. Glad you are here on this site.

  • Harv 21

    What a beautiful tribute, TD. Your dad is reading this and knows he’s done good.

    Your “it’s a boy” war whoop brought back memories. Before my first was born the midwife asked what I wanted. Gave the standard “I don’t care” and she snorted, “You mean you don’t care as long as it has a penis.” Yeah, that’s what I meant.

    And at age 3 one of mine also got freaked by Slider, refused to shake his body part so Slider stole his lemonade and pretended to drink it. The rest of the now-contaminated lemonade was mine.

  • mgbode

    Fantastic article TD. I’m sure your dad is proud.

    We had to wait until our 3rd child to get our girl. The father/daughter relationship is definitely an entirely different and incredible experience.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Dusty in here, eh?

  • Jay

    I think someone at work is cutting onions near me….

  • Kevin B

    This is great stuff. I’m certain your father is looking down and has enjoyed seeing the love your kids have for sports, but more importantly, the love you have for them and they for you.

  • CB Everett

    Well done, sir…and happy father’s day to you.

  • jjalovec

    great read. Happy dad’s day. I am a father of two boys. 2yr old and a 4mo old. Nothing changes your life like becoming a dad!

  • Natedawg86

    2 boys for me too 2 and 4. When u trying for girl?