I usually pass right by science fiction stories and look with much skepticism at testimonials from kooks who claim they have received a ‘message from beyond’. Little did I ever expect I would have a story to tell myself, from exactly five years ago today, hear me out and you be the judge…
I have to start with the background of deep-rooted issues formed in my relationship with my own Father. It goes back to when I was eleven in the summer of 1971.
I was playing little league baseball on the very first organized team I played on. That year I received the coveted most improved player award (which for those who do not play sports means, at the start of the year I sucked real bad but got better by the end). In other words, it is not the trophy you want to win more than once. We had some great players on my team, so good we made it to the championship team. You can tell from this picture, we had a lot of stars, lol.
I had honed in on my skills by throwing a tennis ball against the brick wall garage for hours on end. (Check out the car in the neighbor’s driveway across the street)
My team had only lost one game all season and that was to the mighty Pintos, a team which was stacked to the max and had a pitcher who could throw the ball what seemed like 120 miles an hour. They clobbered us earlier in the season giving us our only loss. But in the championship game, we had a nail biter going in a low scoring game.
My Dad was a little guy with a Napoleon type personality. Because he was only 5’5″, he carried a big bark when necessary but overall most people considered him a nice person. He was an awesome golfer and had so many trophies from golf championships that he used some of them as fence posts in the backyard.
Dad did not like to lose at anything whether it was playing Uno or shooting a game of pool. He seldom lost a game and would not let his own kids defeat him. ‘You don’t learn by having things handed to you’, was his philosophy. Here is a picture of him in his younger days as a semi-pro golfer.
The ball game was intense with a pitchers duel sending the game into the last inning. Tempers were flaring and our angst was increased, as the home plate umpire was the Father of one of the players on the other team. Our coach kept telling us, ‘the umpire is fair boys, just play the game and do not worry about him’. I could hear my Dad express his displeasure, Go Dad, on more than occasion. We were down by one run and one of my teammates got on base ahead of me with only one out.
I stepped to the plate with knees-a-knocking but confident a hit would be coming. As our coach Bob Wilcox had always taught us I took the first pitch which screamed by, ball one yelled the umpire. Awesome I thought, he is being fair! The next pitch came down the middle; I could not resist and swung as hard as I could. Somehow, the ball connected to my bat and sent a hard line drive down the first base side of the field.
I took off running as fast as I could with dreams of a heroic triple down the right field line to tie the game up racing in my mind. I was sprinting so fast it felt like my shoes came off while my feet, with nothing but lightweight socks on, floated down the chalk strike. I watched the ball floating in the air and hit first base with a perfect toe tap. My helmet flew off as I rounded the base heading for second. ‘FOUL BALL!’, yelled the umpire. Ohhhh, ‘nice try Joey’ rang the yells from the stands and bench. So close!
I hurried back to the plate to try again. I picked up my helmet and could see the sneers coming from the pitcher. My confidence was brewing now as I nearly had a hit off of him earlier in the game. I knew I could do this. I stepped back into the batter’s box, took a hard practice swing, and was ready to go. The pitcher wound up and zoom, the pitch headed towards my head. I dropped to the ground with light flashing before my eyes wondering if I would ever see life again. Ball two, chimed the umpire. I noticed my helmet was on the ground as it flew off again. Fortunately, my head was still attached to my neck and my head was NOT in the helmet, as I examined it, before putting it in place again. It was as if the pitcher knew I was a worry-wart and decided to send a chill down my spine. Admittedly, it worked.
The next pitch whizzed in at full speed and I sheepishly cut and missed. The count stood at 2-2. Coach yelled, ‘get a piece of it and it will fly.’ I took his advice as the next pitch came screaming in. I stuck my bat out and the foul ball went flying back over the catcher’s head and into the backstop. Another pitch, this one dribbled down the right side of the field off the end of my bat. I was still hanging in there. The pitcher wound up again and this time he floated in a change-up. I was ready for it but I swung way too early, the ball zipped down the third base side foul. The pitcher stared at me and I stared back.
He wound up again and fired a low fastball. I watched it all the way and could see it was low. So low was the pitch I swear it hit the ground as the catcher scooped his glove down, dust a flying, as he snatched it into his oversized mitt. I was ready for the final showdown with the count coming full. STIIIIRRRRRIIIIIIIKKKKKKEEEEE THREEEEE shouted the umpire!
I could not believe it. I shouted no way! The umpire glared at me and it seemed as if he had two horns and tail as he held his hand up with the out signal. In a blink of a moment, I slammed my bat into the plate. The umpire mouthed words in slow-motion voice you hear and see in movies, ‘that was a strike son’. He pointed to the bench for me to get out of the batter’s box. I picked up my bat, slumped my shoulders and headed to the bench. ‘Nice try Joey’, said my coach, people from the stands were cursing at the umpire which made me feel a little better. But, it was more than I could handle.
I stomped over to the bench, sat down, put my head between my legs, and started bawling. Moments later the next batter made an out and the game was over. As the tears were flowing from my eyes, I heard the voice with a sound that would haunt me for decades, from my Dad. All 5’5 of him stood up in the stands which were behind our bench. He shouted loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘get up you big baby and quit crying and act like a man’. “You get over there right now and congratulate the other team, we do not have sore losers in this family.’
I was incredulously shocked, embarrassed, and ashamed beyond anything. I could hear my Mom say ‘Louie stop’, I had no idea what others thought or said as I picked myself up and wiped the tears away. I toughened up on the spot, walked over to the other team, and shook their hands. The whole scene was a like a blurry movie in my mind and would be repeated many times thereafter. We did not talk about it in the car as we rode home in silence. Not one word was spoken.
Three days later we had a ‘skull session’ at our coaches house where he gave a speech to the rest of the team. He said, ‘caring so much that it brings tears to you from trying so hard is OK.’ He pointed out and said, ‘we all know what happened with one of our player’s parents, I don’t want any of you to feel that there is anything wrong with feeling disappointment.’ It was only then that I realized it was not a bad dream but had really happened. I thought I was ‘the problem’ until hearing my coach tell a completely different story. Still, it did not help much. It was not until I was married and we had our third miscarriage, twenty years later, that I shed a single tear again.
It was not until we had our third miscarriage, twenty years later, that I shed a single tear again.
Before you send me the names of your favorite psychologist and have a pity party for me, that was many years ago. Today I am able to talk about such things for those who may have bottled up similar happenings. I do believe there is a balance between toughing it out, like a football coach such as Bill Belichick, versus those whom ‘understand their inner femininity,’ like the males on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, who cry over every statement (negative or positive) that a judge states.
In all reality, that incident with my Father built some tough skin and a heart of compassion at the same time. It has come in handy in the business world where people are sometimes ruthless in their dealing with subordinates. Clients can at times treat sales people and customer support representatives as if they are cattle that need prodding with a hot iron. We can allow what has happened to us to cause us to turn around and treat others rudely in return.
Alternatively, for the better, we could choose to put ourselves in the shoes of people who are suffering. It provides the space to relate and understand people in ways that we previously would not care about, had we never experienced what it is like to be misunderstood. For the parents of the world, we can try to be for our kids what ours were not.
With my Father, we never talked about the baseball game situation. I tried over the years to discuss my feelings; but reconciliation remained out of reach. I never heard an apology flow from my Father’s lips, it was not part of his nature, yet we grew closer before Dementia set in and the chance for a real conversation remained afar.
On January 15, 2012, he passed away and the conversation an 11-year-old boy longed to have disappeared with it.
That is until, a message from beyond, hovered in the pasture like fog rolling into a valley. If you want to hear the rest of the story enter into the Portico…
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On Sunday, January 15, 2012, I had fed the dogs and horses and was taking a walk in our frontyard field I was enjoying the warm Carolina day that stops by a few times each winter reminding me why I moved far from the frigid cold of Ohio. On Sundays, I try to get my mind ready for the Sunday church service; however peaceful thoughts were not flowing. My mother had passed away at the end of the year and I was feeling both angry and sad.
She was in perfect health when my Dad had yet another fall brought on by the imbalances of Dementia. I was lamenting that once again he had not taken the advice of everyone like he seemed to have stubbornly acted out his whole life. Although I knew he had no control over his faculties, the thoughts went through my mind of how my Mother was taking care of him for years. This latest fall, which broke his hip, caused him to enter into rehab again. My mother, a notorious worrywart, lovingly stayed by his side and found a way to stay and care for him in the facilities. Within two months, she wore herself out and to the shock of all of us, passed away unexpectedly. We all had the knowledge in our mind that Dad’s time was limited; however, we did not expect her to leave us.
My anger side of the brain mulled memories of other past hurts, all of which never came with an apology. I had learned to tell myself, as Mom always said, that is just the way he is. The sad side of my brain for some strange reason was replaying the film of the championship baseball game in my mind again. I could picture My Dad standing and shouting. I had hoped he was shouting at the umpire, standing up for my defense of the malfeasance that had taken place. But no, just like before, he was shouting at me to be a good sport and to quit crying like a baby. I whispered to myself, why did you do that Dad? Why have you never explained yourself? Why have you not provided an apology for this, or anything, ever?
But this time, the angry Dad I had viewed in this never-ending replay, was replaced with a new face. It was the picture of him trying to show compassion. One I had snapped on the last visit I had with him in Ohio a few months before.
This time he was speaking calmly and standing for all to hear, yet only I could hear him,
‘Don’t ever let your shortcomings, mistakes, or what people say or do to you cause you to stop trying.’
‘What?’, I softly replied.
‘When you win, and you will, be humble and gracious. When you lose, and somebody has to, be the first to congratulate the winner for a job well done. Then go back and work harder so they don’t beat you the next time.’
I gasped and froze in my tracks and looked around to see if someone was playing a joke on me. It was no joke. He went on:
‘You know I was short and had these big ears, I know what it is like to feel small and be without super gifts. You cannot go around feeling sorry for yourself!‘
My attention was full, I had wanted an explanation on this topic for years, all at once it was becoming clear;
‘ I didn’t apologize for driving you the only way I knew how, because I wanted you to reach places only you can. You have a destiny for success. The only thing that will stop you, is looking at the outside, rather than what you have that cannot be measured, which is on the inside. I will not apologize for failing to say I am sorry, that was not my gift and it will do you no good to make an apology now. But, know ALL that I ever did and said was out of love for you. I loved you the best way I knew how, now go do what you were put on earth to do.’
I stood stunned for a few minutes in the field thinking about what had just crossed through my mind. Unexpectedly my cell phone was ringing, I never get calls on a Sunday morning. On the other end was my sister Christine, she was calling to me that my Father had passed away that morning.
I have on the Joe’s Portico site the line ‘dueling doubts’. Trust me; I have had five years of not sharing this story beyond those few whom I trust will NOT send the people in the green gowns with a straight jacket to haul me away. I did not have a tape recorder, which would have been useless anyway as there was no audible sound. Frankly, it has been five years since this happened; thus I had time to polish up my Dad’s ‘speech’ to be fully understood mostly for myself, but also for others. If I do not write things down I forget them, this conversation was near verbatim. It was an explanation I so wanted to hear for years.
I wanted to savor it not just for me, but also for may own kids. So many times I, like my own father, had made statements I wished I could take back. No Father is perfect. This message arrived on the same morning of my earthly father’s passing. I doubt I will get the chance to tell my own kids I am sorry for my shortcomings as I float into eternity. As a parent and guardian of people without parents, this may be the last day I have a chance to tell them they are loved.
Not all those thoughts had ever made it into my mind for the 41 years of ruminating over that day, when the blue devils lost the championship game, when my Dad publicly scolded me. It suddenly all made sense in this moment. For years, some had told me that most likely my Dad was an insecure person and felt the shame of his own son’s break down. He was too afraid to say it was more about him rather than the little boy who struck out in the last inning of a championship game. Great psychology thoughts and ones that helped me deal with it. However, I conclude he was really trying to communicate what he had learned in life and wanted to pass it on to his son.
Perhaps I heard a direct message from beyond, I really cannot say if I did, or did not. After five years of thinking of this encounter, I concluded that the green smoke (ha ha there was none) messenger was not the important factor, but the message itself was. We all find that no earthly father can meet all our needs. For many years I allowed the enslavement of my father’s words, actions, and lack thereof for all I ‘wanted to hear’, to hinder my own life.
If we blame others for what they should have done, or should not have done; and allow that to dictate our whole life, we have succumbed to a verdict of slavery, kidnapped by our own torment.
I believe that whether we have the greatest father in the world or the worst we cannot let his or our shortcomings keep us from a destiny that the Father in heaven wants us to have. To all who believe in God Paul wrote:
‘When the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus, we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of an intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you are also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.” Galatians 4:4-7 ( copyright – The Message)
This was not a fiction story. There is little doubt in my mind that it took place as I described. If I had a chance to go back to 1971 and re-record the years thereafter, knowing what I know now, I would have realized my father did the best for me what he could. I had a blessing that many do not get the chance to experience. The lesson is one I wish I had not waited forty years for ‘a message from beyond’ to grasp.
What hurt feeling, or missing affirmation from _____(whomever) are you allowing to kidnap your life from you? Do not wait for it; since you may never hear it, the one who will suffer the most is none other than you.
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