At about 10:30 on Thursday night, I dialed my father’s phone number for the first time in a couple of months. Why I don’t talk to him more often is a long, complicated, sad story – some of which I mentioned here. Tonight, our negative history was irrelevant.
Sounding simultaneously happy and sad, the first thing he said to me was: “I knew it was you.” Of course he did. Only I could be calling him when Derek Jeter had just knocked in the winning run in the last game he’d ever play in Yankee Stadium.
It was 1977, and I was in the third grade. It wasn’t my first trip over the western state line, but it was the first I could remember alone with my dad. My parents were thankfully separated. Life was much quieter. But I saw almost nothing of the former man of the house – until suddenly he was taking me to Yankee Stadium.
We sat with his friends from work in seats right above the Yankee dugout. I yelled out to Reggie Jackson and got a smile and a wave. My father smiled a lot, too, in between answering my questions about the rules of the game. I couldn’t remember the last time he’d talked to me so much. I’ve been a Yankee fan ever since.
The safe subject for most people is the weather. For my father and me, it’s the Yankees. Bad trades and costly contracts, win or lose, I’ll always love them for that.
The sports fan that I am, who’s waiting anxiously for baseball season (and the last year on the diamond for Derek Jeter), has been checking in on the Olympics faithfully, though none of the winter sports are of interest to me at any other time. What I’ve seen every time I’ve watched is at least one competitor hit the ice or snow or wall when falling down was certainly not supposed to be part of the program.
I feel for these athletes in a way I never have before. It’s the difference between sympathy and empathy. The last time the Games were on, I had never before publicly competed. Now, I have a clear and personal idea of what it’s like to train for something for a long time and essentially disqualify oneself in the moment of truth. Devastation seems like an understatement.
My kung fu family yesterday wasn’t disqualified from anything, but they did spend a considerable amount of time in preparation for naught. The Chinese school’s New Year’s celebration was cancelled for weather-related reasons. Two months of choreography, giving up chunks of one’s Friday night and Saturday mornings, went out the window with nothing to show for it. The disappointment in class yesterday was palpable.
More importantly, the Boy Wonder’s performance at the trials came in under par. While the heel held up fine and he apparently hit the split, he lost points for other parts of the performance and must fight back hard today to stay in contention.
Me and mine are off shortly for the hour-long drive to dispense love and support. His place on the national team requires stronger prayers than yesterday and near perfection on his part today.
Regardless of the outcome, the effort alone must be applauded. The time, the dedication, the love and desire is what all of us have felt and given to a lesser degree for this art that consumes us. He can fail to make the team, but he can’t let us down. That outcome could never be part of the program.