Many years ago, my dad and I were driving through the little town in North Dakota where he grew up. I asked him how many times his parents had come to watch him play sports. Dad had been a star football and basketball player in that place.
“Twice,” he answered without hesitation. “My mom came and watched me play basketball twice.”
Clearly, that fact had been on his heart all these years. I pictured him game after game, looking into the stands, waiting for them to come. And the more questions I asked, the more my heart broke.
My dad’s childhood had been one of too much alcohol and too little love. When his dad died, my father, as a teenager, dug the grave because the family didn’t have the money for a gravedigger.
As an adult, I told Fred Rogers that I never believed my father was proud of me. Fred said he would be. Hence the title of the book. But Fred also wanted to know what my father’s childhood had been like. So I started to ask, and the asking changed my life.
I remember how every hockey or baseball game, dad was always there, no matter how busy he might have been at work. How he worked so hard to support a family of seven children. His love and loyalty to my mother. His honesty and integrity. His life was in fact a miracle of honor, especially when you took into account how he had suffered so deeply from the furies of depression and self-doubt that so long had afflicted me. I came to understand that my dad was not this godlike figure, to cast pronouncement on my very being, but just another suffering guy doing his best, just like me.
In his later years, I also came to learn of his deeply tender and true heart — and the depths of his love for me. I guess he just hadn’t been able to show it in ways that could fully understand. My mom told us that after we had grown and left home, after our visits back he would sit in his rocking chair and cry for hours.
Isn’t it amazing how, over the years, my dad had become one of my greatest heroes. When he died, five years ago last week, my heart, once so full of angst, felt only the purest form of sorrow.
He grows in my heart every passing year. This Father’s Day, damn, I miss my dad.