On the Father’s Side

I remember sitting outside on a warm spring day a year or two ago and watching a painfully long game of Tee-ball. To help alleviate the boredom, a friendly argument ensued over the poem, Casey at the Bat.

“I love that poem,” one of the Tee-ball dads shared, “especially when the kid wins the big game at the end.”

“Nah,” I disagreed, fairly certain the man was thinking of some Hollywood baseball movie and not the poem. “Casey strikes out, No joy in Mudville…remember?”

And this is where the tragedy of modern technology comes in.

Several parents whipped out their iPhones and looked up the poem so quickly that there was no reason to continue on with the lively discussion. Instead of drawing more people into the light-hearted debate and collecting side wagers, the conversation ended abruptly and without warning.

And for the record, Casey did strike out. I might not remember my own kids’ names, but by God, I remember useless facts. Call me Cliffy.

The Little League games this season have proven much more enjoyable than those early days of Tee-ball. Kids actually make contact with the ball. Nobody picks dandelions in left field. Our local alderman, Matt O’Shea, even serves as a frequent pitcher. And the dads? They just beam.

This Normal Rockwell like image got me thinking about actress Jenny McCarthy’s article in the Chicago Sun Times this week. Ms. McCarthy offered up a sad lament on dating LA guys. Having grown up on the southside of Chicago, she is now in short supply of those “meat and potatoes” men who eschew makeup and recognize a real pizza when they see one. She writes:

L.A. does not breed down-to-earth men. Even when they become fathers, they send their nannies to their kids’ sports games. Who does that? I’ll tell you who doesn’t do that – Chicago guys. They might show up a little toasted, but they are there in the front row, cheering on their DNA.

I can’t help but notice there are lots of different kinds of fathers in the world. Some men correlate their parental success with their professional success. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when one considers how many fathers shirk their financial responsibilities and leave children struggling for the very basics. These men epitomize hard work and discipline. They take great joy in their jobs because it is how they show their love and commitment to their families.

These men also seem to have a big picture view of parenting. They bear a heavy weight in attempting to serve their kids the American dream up on a platter. At the end of the day, these men think of themselves as the last barrier between the cold world and their loved ones. While some may decry these dads as old-fashioned and unengaged, I cannot be as critical. After all, it was this brand of man who faced down depression and war in the 1940s. It is this kind of man who throws aside his own dreams in favor of even bigger ones for his children. There is much to be admired about this kind of father.

There are also the dads who live and breathe for their kids’ day-to-day lives. Without being prompted, these men will study game schedules and take the necessary means to attend all important events (school productions, dance recitals, field trips). They change diapers, know the pediatrician’s number by heart, and help with carpool. They will skip golf outings and social events to coach Little League and chaperone dances. They spend money not on vacations and luxury, but on camps, ballet slippers, and cleats. These men rarely talk about their jobs and instead prefer to regale anyone who will listen with tales of their kids’ latest misadventures.

Naturally, there are many other kinds of fathers who fall everywhere in between. But Jenny McCarthy had it mostly right about the southside dad. These guys are the firemen, police officers, and teachers of the city. They recognized early that their chosen professions would never make them rich. Yet they also knew how living in a working class neighborhood would impart a deep sense of community and family on their children. Many of these guys are exceptionally bright and accomplished. They could have easily selected different paths which included stock options and bonuses. One such neighborhood dad I know holds both a law degree and an engineering degree, but he opted for a career as a Chicago policeman. At first, I thought the guy had to be nuts. Taking bullets over a corner office?

I get it now.

So as we head into Father’s Day, I would like to applaud all the different dads out there who give so much of themselves. They might not share the same strategy, philosophy, or focus, but they get the job done in more ways than can ever be fully acknowledged.

I would also like to thank my own dad and husband whose styles are both represented in this essay. They have definitely brought much joy to Mudville and far beyond.

Because when it really matters, the mighty dad never strikes out.

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