My father, like men of his generation (he was born in 1899), loved the game. Professional football was an infant, I’m not sure there was any pro hockey or basketball, the country was all baseball when he was growing up. He followed the Yankees most of his life: but I also remember being schlepped to Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds because I think it was the game he loved as much as any professional team. Oh, to be sure, he had his private demons that killed him; and one of them was that I–like many kids, I gather–was simply afraid of the ball and figured if I could not do it right (i.e., to his standard) I would not do it at all.
Did that hurt him? I would think probably it did. And I didn’t particularly care. We paid attention to each other only in anger that erupted into mutual rage. I just watched Field of Dreams again after 20 years, and when Costner’s character Ray Kinsella says to the reincarnation of his father “Dad, wanna have a catch?” I break down now as I did then. So I did this morning. I never really got to play catch with my father because I feared him and he had no tolerance for teaching a fearful kid with a plastic glove what the hell the game was about. “An easy game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.” I threw like a girl, was afraid of the damn ball, and ran like an elephant. I was perhaps my old man’s biggest disappointment as he was to me. Intolerance met intractability and it poisoned what could have been a relationship.
There were moments, of course. He pointed out Ted Williams to me in the on-deck circle in Yankee Stadium and I was properly awed. But the awe didn’t translate into real life. He’d sit with his tube-driven Emerson portable radio in the center field bleachers and I had no idea what was going on, nor would I ask. He had his battalion of resentments and I grew my own. Life in our house became like the battle of Thermopylae. It may not have been all about baseball, but baseball didn’t help.
By the time I discovered the game in the early ’70s it was on my own and I came to realize how much I’d missed. Oh, I was not going to be even a bad player. I just had to learn to watch intelligently and to fill in the history I’d missed. It felt like getting to class 30 minutes late five days a week.
Odd though it sounds, and probably to repeat, my father died at age 54, far ahead of his time. I’ve outlived him by 12 years. Ingratitude did not kill him; his circulatory system and fondness for other women did. But I have come to take seriously my part in what I now regard as Jack Wolman’s thwarting and life-tragedy, that he left behind a son who had no clue about what he legitimately loved and that I could never understand why.
So at 5 AM I watched Field of Dreams, perhaps a soppy cornball film that contains a cold steel core of heartlessness and truth: that children can turn their backs on their parents’ loves. Its miracle ending is that it can be retrieved and rescued from a life on the junkpile of family stories. And at the risk of being totally maudlin, I wish I had my old man here now (he’d be about 112 years old now) for me to say so. We can forgive each other.