On the occasion of my parents’ 48th wedding anniversary, I thought I’d share one of my favorite articles. It was supposed to be a chapter in a Chicken Soup for the Soul but the project was cancelled.
Anyway, I share this with you to express my gratitude to and for my parents and for my family and friends who lost a parent or parents. I do appreciate how lucky I have been to have and still have Domenic and Janet D’Eramo as my parents.
We make our Dads happy…really
“Every child had a pretty good shot to get at least as far as their old man got”
Billie Joel, Allentown
Throughout time, sons have always felt the need to achieve more than our fathers in order to please them. Even though very few of us can actually remember our dads saying that. More tragically, we link our own happiness with our lives to the day we finally do step beyond the long shadows cast by our fathers.
I was Exhibit A of this case study. At 35, I hadn’t even come close reaching what I perceived my father’s lofty expectations of me to be. Still single, living in small one-bedroom apartment, I awoke every day to go to a job I hated, feeling direction-less in just about every way imaginable.
Looking at my own father unnerved me because I sensed disappointment in those steel gray eyes. After all, this man came to a new country at the age of 12, learned English in a year, overcame the loss of both parents by the age of 17 to attend Brown University on a scholarship and go on to a brilliant career as a civil engineer in the Boston area. With much affection and without a trace of stereotype, the Massachusetts engineering community referred to him as the “godfather”. How could a man like this possibly respect me? How could I not feel like I let this man down? By the time he was my age, he had three kids, a home, and had already laid the foundation of what would become a very successful career.
Of course, he never said I disappointed him. It’s just something I sensed during our “debates” about my career. Yet like Daniel Stern’s character stated in City Slickers, my father and I could always talk about sports. So, when he asked me if I wanted to take my two oldest nephews to a Red Sox game on Memorial Day, it was a no-brainer. Besides, if there was one area of my life where I felt I met and exceeded expectations, it was as an uncle.
I picked up my older sister’s son Michael at their house outside Boston. Dad brought my other sister’s son Jared up with him from the Cape. Seven-year-old Michael wasn’t much of a baseball fan. But his grandfather wanting to take him anywhere made it a special occasion. Eight-year-old Jared on the other hand ate, breathed and slept sports and this was his first visit to Fenway.
We met in the concession area beneath the first base grandstand. It was a steamy Memorial Day that felt more like the 4th of July. I gave the area a quick scan, taking full advantage of my 6’6” frame. Sadly, that frame comes with eyes riddled with nearsightedness and astigmatism. That’s why I wasn’t surprised that my search came up empty, interrupted by a familiar voice.
“Hi, Joe. Been here long?”
It was Dad and Jared.
“No, we just got here, Dad,” I said.
Pleasantries exchanged, we adjourned to our seats along the first base line. A long shadow cast upon us, granting some shade on a day the devil himself would have brought a fan. How long that shade remained would certainly dictate how long Michael, the reluctant baseball fan, would want to stay.
Jared, on the other hand, hung on every pitch. He reminded me of me when I was his age. Fenway Park was my Mecca. I pitched the 7th game of the World Series there in my mind every afternoon, tossing a tennis ball against the chimney of our house for hours. I lived for the pilgrimage my father and I made each season and saw that same look in my oldest nephew’s eyes.
Conversely, his cousin had more of an interest in scoping out the Coke bottles above the Green Monster with my binoculars.
“Having fun, Michael?” my father asked.
“Yep,” Michael replied.
Somewhere around the fifth inning, our friend Mr. Shade drifted behind our seats, giving way to Mr. Sun. That’s about the time the game heated up too, with the Red Sox cutting a 5-0 deficit to 5-2. It’s also about the time that Michael began asking to leave.
“Uncle Joe, can we go now?”
“Michael, the Red Sox are coming back. Just a few more innings.”
With the sun beating down on our faces and the Sox rallied stalled, I told Michael we would leave at the end of the seventh. Jared left his baseball trance to ask, “Michael, you’ll miss the best part.”
“That’s okay, Jared,” said my father. “We’ll tell him how it ends.”
Almost on cue, in the seventh inning, the Sox began another rally. A couple of runners got on, then Jason Varitek went yard to tie it up. As Fenway erupted, Michael had but one thought on his mind, “can we go?” Wisely, he held that request until after the Red Sox took the lead on a two-run homer by Mike Stanley. Beaten into submission, I agreed.
So, as his grandfather and cousin slapped high fives, we collected our gear.
“We’re going to get going now, Dad,” I said.
“Huh? Okay,” he said. “See you later, Michael. Did you have fun?”
“Yep,” said Michael.
As we drove to my sister’s house, I was struck by the contrasting reactions of my two nephews. It made me think back to my Dad taking me to my first game. I don’t remember much. The Red Sox played the Yankees and lost. For some reason the Red Sox catcher Bob Montgomery—later Carlton Fisk’s backup—didn’t wear a helmet when he batted. One thing I know for sure about that first game, despite nearly three decades having gone by, is that you couldn’t get me to leave that ballpark before the game was officially over. Just like my nephew. To see that same love of the game in the eyes of my nephew gave me a feeling of such tremendous joy that mere words could never do it justice. I felt beyond happy.
After dropping off Michael, the pleasant memory of Jared’s reaction led to another revelation. My father must have felt that same euphoria watching me watch my beloved Red Sox, the same as I had just experienced with my nephew. Despite all my perceived shortcomings in my career and personal life, I know in my bones that I gave my father this magical, wonderful feeling. And if I made my father feel this way just once, there was no way I could be a let down as a son.
As children, and later as adults, we place such an emphasis on making our parents happy that we lose sight of what really does: our happiness. That doesn’t necessarily mean accomplishing great things, like passing the bar, or owning a great house, car, etc. Just being happy. Even if it’s only for a moment and something as simple and effortless as enjoying a baseball game. We’ve all made our parents that happy at one time or another in our lives. It’s too bad that somebody else has to make us that happy to realize that we did.