So I’m standing in the middle of right field with two outs in the last inning of a Little League game that we were actually — miraculously — winning, and I’m praying, praying, the ball doesn’t come my way. It’s my first year, and my coach — Dad — has wisely placed me in the area on the ball field where most balls don’t go.
I hear the crack of a bat and see a ball heading my way. Uh-oh. I start to run in, but then realize it’s going over my head. I back up, close my eyes as tightly as I can, and throw my hand up. I feel a kind of pull on my arm, look into my glove, and find, there in the webbing, an actual baseball.
I look to the dugout, stunned, and see my father smiling, clapping, and looking equally stunned, but also proud. His son has won the game.
That’s what fathers do, really. They plunk their kids into the world, teach them as best they can, and then applaud their efforts, for better or worse. Our father wasn’t perfect, no father is, but he and my mother raised a half-dozen good, decent people, and that’s a darned good legacy.
He left a legacy in the business world as well. Commended by Richard Nixon for his achievements as President of the Smaller Business Association of New England, Dad was a businessman and an achiever from the word go. He loved bowling and playing cribbage, games that require grace and mathematical skills, neither of which he gave to me, apparently.
He was loyal. Just ask our dear friend, Herb J, who knew Dad for, well, a long time, right Herb? Or Bob D, who couldn’t be here today but who wrote this to me:
He’ll be remembered for his demeanor.
But most of all, for his smile.
He is with God now.
Remember the good times.
Dad loved his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren, and they loved him. They called him “Pop,” “Pop-Pop,” and “Popstar.”
Our family gathered every summer at his house and again at Christmastime, visits he enjoyed enormously. “Christmas to me isn’t Christmas,” he often said, “until you kids get here.”
And when we would say our goodbyes and start to head back to our own homes, he always walked us out to our cars and waved lovingly as we drove away.
Unfortunately my last goodbye to him didn’t go quite as well. He was sitting in a recliner, smothered in blankets. I told him I had to leave and that I would see him again, at some point down the road. Then I said, “I love you, Dad.”
He said, “I love you, too.”
I kissed his forehead and gently patted the top of his head.
Trouble is, my ring accidently clunked his skull.
Suddenly I was transported back to my childhood. Uh-oh, I just hit Dad in the head. I’m in trouble! I started to slink away, hoping, praying, that in his current state, a kind of foggy confusion, he hadn’t really noticed. But he had.
I heard a weak voice behind me. “You’re getting a little too old to be smacking me in the head.”
Fatherhood. I guess it never ends.
Goodbye, Dad, and godspeed.
Oh, and give Ma a big kiss and hug from all of us.
In memory of Joseph F. McPhee, who died March 4, 2015.