Today I sit beside my father as he lies in hospice, and I think about baseball. 

In the spring of 1964, we lived in Phoenix where my dad was trying to earn a living on a real estate boom that didn’t really boom until after we had returned to California a year later. At school, my teacher passed out application forms to all the boys for summer Little League. The prospect terrified me. It was just the thing my dad would love to do with his son, and this son was having none of it. I had accepted our co-membership into Indian Guides, where we became Big Bear and Little Bear. I had even enjoyed our time together there, building drums and making bead necklaces – until our tribe went horseback riding and I slipped off the oldest, slowest nag and landed on the trail like a sad sack of maize. 

My dad is on the top right; I’m standing between him and the middle guy

And now my dad would expect me to manifest some enthusiasm over playing a sport. I was eight. I hated sports. Surely he knew this by now and would understand. But I was taking no chances. I had decided to hide the form in my closet until the registration deadline passed. (I tried not to think of my attempt two years previously to hide a vaccination letter from my parents in the same way. It was the only time in my life I became an anti-vaxxer. It did not end well.)

Unfortunately, the day was about to get much, much worse. As I stepped off the bus and trudged up the block toward our house, I saw a figure standing stiffly at the foot of our drive. It was my dad, dressed in his white short-sleeved shirt, dark slacks and tie, and he was watching me come up the street, his expression unreadable. I wondered if he had somehow uncovered my plot to evade baseball. I wanted to slow down my walking but suddenly there I was, standing before him. 

What my dad had waited in the driveway to tell me was that our beloved basset hound, Colonel, had dashed out the front door of our house and been run over in the street. It was my first death in the family, and my dad, who loved that dog as much as anyone could love any living thing, knew it was his duty as a father to break the news to me. I stared at him for a long minute. And then I drew the folded Little League application out of my pocket and handed it to him. If I renounced the evil act I was about to do, then maybe God would bring my dog back. And then I walked into the house and cried for days.

Top Row: A dad, My dad, A dad; Bottom row: Some kid, me, my friend Bobby, my brother Bruce

I ended up playing right field for the “Minor Dodgers” that summer – and the summer after that. My dad was a coach the first year and managed the team the second. He saw me in all my un-glory. In fact, he had to bench me once. I did nothing to make him proud of his son, the ball player – until the final game when I was up at bat. Somehow, after two dozen instances of being walked or struck out, I managed to connect solidly with the ball and score a single. Then the first baseman fumbled the ball, and I heeded the coach’s scream to “RUN!” Maybe the opposing team was too shocked that this “easy out” had done something right, but they kept overthrowing and dropping the ball, and I ended up sliding into home. Literally – I stepped off third base and slid all the way to the home plate. I couldn’t walk for the rest of the day. But it was enough for the crowd to cheer, for my team to look at me with newfound respect – and for my dad to grasp me in his arms and tell me how proud he was of me. He never made me play baseball again. 

Today my dad lies in his bed, his breathing wet but not labored because of the morphine my brother has slipped under his tongue. The hospice nurse has left, assuring us that my dad is comfortable, that his body is doing what it needs to do. Nurses know this then when they see a person’s brow isn’t furrowed. My dad’s brow is smooth. These assurances help my mother not a bit. We’ve got the game on, and the 49ers are tanking. At least it’s not baseball season.

My father turned 94 earlier this month. This weekend, we will celebrate my parents’ 68th wedding anniversary. The story of my mother’s love for my dad is legendary. When she was thirteen, her family was dining at San Francisco’s Clift Hotel. She looked up and saw another family enter the restaurant: a dad, a mom, and three sons. She gazed at one of the boys who, at nineteen, was the oldest, and asked, “Who is that?” My Aunt Rosalie, married to mom’s brother Gene, turned to see and said, “Oh, that’s Johnny Friedman. We went to Sunday school together.” My mom looked him over and said, “I’m going to go out with him someday.” 

Five years later, they were introduced by a mutual friend. For their first date, my dad took mom to the opera. They saw Carmen. My grandmother bought mom a beautiful dress, which my dad never forgot. After their first date, my mom told her mother that he was the most polite gentleman she had ever dated. They dated for two years and then were married. Ten months later, they achieved true bliss: they had me. 

For my dad, family was everything. He worked so hard that we only saw him at dinner and on weekends, but even though money was tight and our mom had to return to work soon after my baby brother was born, they always made sure that we had food on the table and a good Christmas. Every year, my dad would stay up all night, assembling bikes or tanks or forts, putting notes in our stockings that read, “Santa couldn’t fit this in your sock! Please go to the back yard! Ho ho ho!!” All his life, my dad wanted to be a better dad than his father had been to him and his brothers. He succeeded at that, even though mistakes were made along the way. He hadn’t been raised to talk about his feelings. That sort of thing made him uncomfortable, and it was exacerbated by having a son who was all about feelings, who studied drama and spent years in therapy and was used to sharing everything with his friends. 

John, Brad, Jim and Bruce

The two exceptions were his wife – his Barbara – and his animals. All his life he had dogs. Growing up, they were his solace when he was having trouble with his own dad, and then he shared that love with his own kids. I don’t remember not having a dog. We started with basset hounds and ended with poodles. And when the last of the dogs had passed away, and my mom said no more dogs, let’s travel . . . my dad went out and bought a cat. He named her Sasha, but he always called her “Sasha Sue.” That cat loved my dad and hated my mother, so much so that she lived eighteen years just to spite her. 

When I was a boy, I used to say, “I am nothing like my father.” As a man, I came to realize how much alike we are. He complained about my deep anxiety because he saw something of himself in it. We both hid our insecurities behind a caustic wit that sometimes got us in trouble. (My two brothers share this trait: if you ever find yourself sitting with the three of us and listen to us talk, you may come to wonder at some point what the heck is going on!) Dad and I have always had a sneaking suspicion that animals are better than people. Maybe much better. The biggest difference is that dad had a life partner, the love of his life, and raised a family. I did neither. He is my family. 

Life is a crap shoot, and I wish my dad had rolled better dice these last ten years. I have seen people in their 90’s still driving, still going to the theatre, still playing cards, still engaging. Over the last few years especially, as the Parkinson’s took its toll, my dad became a true invalid, bored with his limitations. Sometimes he was peevish and sad. Sometimes, he was dryly funny. He hated being helpless, dependent on my mom and his caregivers. He hated the hallucinations and the confusion of his disease, although sometimes the things he saw fascinated him. He always wished he could be more a part of the conversation. 

Mostly, my dad handled his diminished life with courage and humor. My mom didn’t always understand his jokes, but he and I would exchange a look and I knew my dad was still there. Hanging out with my father over the past few years has caused a shift in my lifelong anxiety over death. He showed me that sometimes you have to stop thinking too hard about all of that: you just have to live in the best way you can. For him, it became about the visits from his sons and grandchildren, the games on TV, the occasional bowl of fresh whipped cream. (Never mind the pie, just give me the bowl.) Most of all, it was about “Grammy,” the name he gave to my mother. Sometimes he vented his frustrations and said mean things; mostly, though, he just wanted to have her near him. The last thing he said to her before he passed into this new silent stage was when he woke her up in the middle of the night last week and said, “I love you.” 

When he’s gone, life won’t be the same for any of us. But . . . he’s my dad. I love him. That will never change. 

24 thoughts on “FOR MY DAD

  1. Dear Brad –

    That is such a beautiful tribute. I’m laughing and crying at the same time. You were lucky to have him and he was so lucky to have you. I’m lucky I got to know him a little bit in his healthy years. I can identify with a lot of your father/son dynamics. Later we’ll compare notes on Little League, Indian Guides, and 1960’s & 1970’s fathers. Meanwhile give Johnny Friedman (and Bobbi Friedman) a hug from me!



    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Brad for sharing your Dads story with us. It’s wonderful that you have time to sit, reflect and say good bye. I’m sure he won’t forget this time together.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brad – this is a truly amazing tribute to your dad. What wonderful memories you will have forever. I sat with my mother when she was in hospice, and was with her when she took her last breath. The nurses were just wonderful. It is such a trying time for everyone in the family. My prayers are with you and your family. He will always be with you. Keith.

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  4. You honor your beloved Father’s life, memory, and legacy with forever love, touching reminiscences, and deep poignancy, dear Brad. Your thoughts are indeed a beautiful tribute to and celebration of timeless familiness. I send my condolences and heartfelt empathy to you and your loved ones, as I hope heartwarming memories bring comfort to you all. The bond of love endures always.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing your dad with us Brad. I can’t get over how much you look like him. You will always carry him with you in your heart and all those wonderful memories. Losing parents is one of the hardest things that will be in our lives. I lost both of them a week apart….devastating. I can only send you my deepest condolences as words will never be enough to console you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Brad, this is absolutely lovely and I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for doing this, and sharing this with us at such a vulnerable time. I hope it helped you, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Brad – I wanted to say that I am so sorry for your loss. Your tribute to your father was a really touching, thoughtful piece – thank you for sharing it with us. You and your family are in my thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Brad,
    I just happened upon your post in the reader here. I don’t know you or your dad and family, but this post hit home and made me cry. Your parents raised wonderful children who can give back by being there and sharing their appreciation for all they gave you! Much strength to your mother, you and your family and your dad in his final travels… Michele

    Liked by 1 person

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