On Being a Fan of a Dad Who Was a True Sports Fan
Taking a COVID break today. . .
Hope you had a nice Father’s Day.
Like many of you, I would imagine, I got my sports gene from my dad. The truth is, he was a better sports fan than me. He was more loyal, more dedicated, less jaded.
A lot of that, of course, is because he was a fan. And when I became a sportswriter, I no longer was a fan in the sense that he was.
On Father’s Day, I would have the U.S. Open on TV in the background. And he would suggest that we turn to the Cubs. A tight duel for golf’s national championship. And he wanted to see if the Cubs could get back to 10 games under .500.
That’s a fan.
If there was an important family event—a wedding or anniversary party—and the Bears were playing, he had a little transistor radio with a discrete earpiece. Nobody had to know. My mother did. She hated that. He stood his ground.
That’s a fan.
My dad has been gone 16 years, but I have been thinking about him more often lately, not just on Father’s Day. He died on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, 2004. Went to a family wedding, said, ``Gee, the lights look beautiful on Michigan Avenue tonight,’’ got in a car with my mother and passed peacefully while my brother drove them home.
I was in Indianapolis covering the 500. While we were writing after the race in the track’s giant fish-bowl of a press box—high up, wall-to-wall glass windows—there was a thunderstorm so violent that track officials announced we could move downstairs to safer quarters if we preferred.
We all laughed. Pick up our laptops and move on deadline? What a hoot.
When I found out in the middle of the night that my dad was gone, I thought of those thunderbolts that had lit up the Indiana sky. To me, they were Howard Gould's stairway to heaven.
And even on that day, his last day, he was teaching me.
First lesson: I agonized over skipping that Indy 500 to go to that family wedding. Not an easy decision after spending the month of May writing about the race, a race that no one at the newspaper had any knowledge or interest in.
My dad owned a small drugstore. He was there from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. most days. Took Wednesday and Sunday off—when he could find a reliable relief man. Closed early, at 6 or 8, on Saturday. Is it any wonder that man’s son was dedicated to work after growing up around that?
Second lesson: After missing my dad’s last day on earth, I always took the day off for important family and personal events. I was shocked to learn that the newspaper still came out the next morning. But it did.
Don’t get me wrong. Yes, it bothered me that my dad wasn’t often at my Little League games. But when he was around, he was really around. Running alongside my first wobbly efforts on a bicycle. Pitching and catching in the backyard. Building a very major telescope—it took him years—showing me and my brother exactly what went into that.
On days off, everyone piled into his Chevy—my favorite was the turquoise-and-white Belair, just before the over-sized fins came out—for trips to museums and Cubs games, whether at Wrigley Field in Chicago or against the Braves in Milwaukee. Sometimes there were even tours of a brewery in there somewhere.
On vacations, I think we saw every major Civil War battlefield in that Chevy. But maybe it was more than one Chevy. It wasn’t until I was buying my own cars that he switched to Toyota. That was not an easy decision for him. He had been in the Army in the Pacific in World War II. But he changed with the times.
Strange though it seems, I have been thinking about him in this baseball-less spring. Another source of amusement for him was advertising pitches—on TV, but especially when we were in the car and saw billboard signs saying things like Factory Direct. . . Wholesale Only. . . Liquidation Sale. . . Today Only. . . Outlet Sale—he loved that stuff.
I mention this because my wife occasionally puts on the Gem Shopping Network. She never buys anything, but she likes to look at the jewelry and listen to the pitchmen. Marvin is her favorite: ``Wow! Look at those diamonds! That watch is brand-new! Never been worn!''
Whenever I see those sparkling baubles on the screen while Marvin is feverishly dropping the price and talking about what a steal these awesome gems are—and aren’t you lucky!—I think my dad would find Marvin’s shtick wildly amusing. And I wish we could share that moment with him.
But then I realize we are doing exactly that.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Miss you.
CHECK OUT HERB'S BOOK
If you like sports history with an extra bit of drama, please check out Herb Gould's 1908 Cubs novel, The Run Don’t Count: The Life and Times of Frank Chance and his 1908 Chicago Cubs. As Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray used to say, you can’t beat fun at the old ballpark. . . Excerpts and other information at facebook/therundontcount. It’s available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.com.