A Father’s Day Salute

Sunday is Father’s Day, which in my mind really honors anyone who plays that role despite gender–or sexual preference—or even if you’re not the father. Are you there? Do you play catch when you’d rather be sleeping? Tag, your it. Happy Father’s Day to you!

I’m pretty traditional when it comes to fatherhood, except for when I celebrate it.

For me it’s always June 14th which this year arrived a week before the “official” Father’s Day. It’s the day I recall my  most memorable day with my dad.

We went to see the Giants play baseball.

My dad loved baseball. He was also from the Philippines, from Ilocos.  “Like Marcos” he was proud to say, when people were still proud to have some connection with the dictator. My dad spoke with an Ilocano accent which I know so well, I can turn on and off like Jim Nabors doing Gomer Pyle.  My dad sounded just like Marcos, but without the power. He spoke English too. But I spoke it better. It made our relationship a quiet one. The only time we really connected was when watching baseball.

My dad was many innings older than me—50 years worth. I remember when he taught me how to play ball. We’d go to Golden Gate Park’s Panhandle—an appropriate name for a fry cook and his son to play catch.

He wasn’t great. But when he couldn’t make a basket catch like Willie Mays, he’d take us to Candlestick and see No.24.

Baseball always gave us a context. “What’s the score?” one of us would always ask. One of us would always know. We followed the score. But of course, there were seasons when not even baseball could save us. Before I was out of middle school, my father had retired, and I was going to father-son events alone. He was old. By the time I was twelve-years-old, I was an ageist.

We kept drifting apart, our lives patterned as a baseball diamond. He was the first base line, I was the third base line, a field apart connected only at home.

But then I went to college on the East Coast. Though I majored in alienation, I took a few courses where I learned a little about the hardship and racism endured by Filipino immigrants in the 1920s. I learned about the anti-miscegenation laws.

I never understood why my father, after coming to America in1927, lived a bachelor’s life until the 1950’s. I thought it was by choice, or lack of social skills. I never saw it as a function of the kind of wastefulness that comes out racism. History taught me that, and through it, I found a clear path to my father. Perhaps a little late, but it set up our ninth inning perfectly.

On the Wednesday before Father’s Day 1978, we did a day game, my treat. We were a striking pair. I was wearing a jacket and tie so we could get a businessman’s discount. He was in a Giants cap and running shoes, and acting like a rascal—cutting in line, running about, me in tow. Seats cost a buck-fifty to sit in left field back then. But the little guy wanted to sit closer. So we sneaked down past the guard and wound up in prime third-base territory.

During the game, we enjoyed our passion quietly. Fancying myself a broadcaster, I did play-by –play in my head. Every now and then, I would turn to Dad for a little color. He was involved with the drama himself, in between bites of his homemade adobo sandwich—vinegary pork bits on white bread, tastier than a ball park frank.

The Giants celebrated our outing with a fine performance. They fought back to take the lead from the Phillies. And then it was up to Vida Blue to mow them down in the bottom of the night. Blue, no longer in his prime and written off as an old man in his 30s, stuck out both Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt, the heart of the order, to end the game.

We stood and cheered together in wild appreciation, which led to our only real conversation of the day. Would the Giants get through June and go all the way? My dad was willing to take a psychic flyer on that one. “They will  go all the way now,” he said.

As it was, the Giants didn’t. But my dad did. Two hours later, back home, after he was the future and the highlights on the local news, my father died on that Wednesday before Father’s Day.

Hardening of the arteries, the doctor said. But deep in my heart, I knew it was Pennant Fever.

The origins of this essay date back to 1989 when I was at NPR. Not National Philippines Radio, National Public Radio in Washington. Every year I reprise some of it as my Father’s Day salute. This year, I shared the story with my young son for the first time as we sat in left field at AT&T Park.

The Giants won. And everyone was safe at home.