Memories and Merry-go-Rounds

It was a little under two weeks ago. On March 16th, 2015, my father passed away suddenly from a heart attack. It was six months to the day from my mother’s passing in 2014. I didn’t find out about it until three days after the fact because my father had been living alone. The neighbors noticed that there multiple newspapers in the driveway, something my father went out and fetched every morning – rain or shine. They called the law enforcement folks, who came to the house for a welfare check, where they found him.

I’ve mentioned a few times on the blog that I was not particularly close to my parents. I was the disappointing child. The rebellious one who marched off to the beat of his own drum. My parents had dreams of me being a doctor. My completely submerged high school grades utterly destroyed that notion.

I wasn’t a particularly studious kid. I read on subjects that interested me – History, Mythology, Technology, and Religion – but I could have given a rat’s ass about other subjects. When it came time to take my SAT and ACT tests, I went out and partied with my friends the night before the test. I drove over to the testing center each morning with a massive hangover. I could read and comprehend what I was looking at, but the overhead lights were just killing me. I scored pretty good results. It took my sister three tries to beat my scores. And she STUDIED hard for her tests. I honestly didn’t really try. So, I wasn’t a really stupid kid. I was incredibly lazy.

I don’t particularly recall my parents being any sort of encouraging either. I heard a lot of how I was stupid because of the grades that I got. But the ACT and SAT scores refuted that. I was “lucky” was what I was told. I know it was a relief to my parents that I joined the United States Air Force after an abortive try at college with Louisiana State University in Shreveport. A decade and a half later, my father told me that when I was in the Air Force, he didn’t worry about me.

Don’t get me wrong. There were good times between myself and my parents, particularly when we lived overseas in Germany. At that time, I was the attentive kid. I was the one that studied. I was the one that always offered to help the teacher. I always went the extra mile in class. And then high school hit. I identified more with the “heads” in school than I did with the “preps”. And it wasn’t a rebellious phase that got me to that point. Nor was it a desire to be accepted. It was because they wanted to talk about topics.

My first two years of high school were at Montgomery Catholic High School in Montgomery, Alabama. It was my freshman and sophomore years. It was the last two years of my father’s long thirty-plus year career. All the “heads” hunt out at the merry-go-round on the hill during recess and lunch. It was the designated smoking location for the school. I didn’t smoke (never have), but this is where the good conversations happened. We didn’t talk about which young lady was good at oral sex, though that topic did get discussed a time or two. Plus, the crowd was a mix of males and females. Conversations were quick, loose, and candid. The topics were far deeper at times.

One particular conversation that we had which piqued my curiosity towards some of the more Pagan topics was on reincarnation theory within the Buddhist and Hindu cultures. That eventually led to a week-long discussion on Zen Buddhism and Tao. None of us really knew what we were talking about, but we certainly bounced ideas between all of us. And everyone got the chance to say something – no matter how silly or over-the-top it might have been. You certainly weren’t going to get conversations like this in the lunch room.

When it rained, we all hung out at one end of the gym, under the metal awning that covered the walkway up to the school. One rainy Spring afternoon, we talked about how there was some kind of spiritual aspect to Nature. We made commentary about how the smell of rain was pleasing because God had made it so. That rain feed all of lie around us, and since it was important in that aspect – it was made to be a pleasing smell to our senses so that we would appreciate the beauty and necessity of what water was.

I’m not so certain that this was what led me to explore my own way through the world. Perhaps, it was the time when my father came up to my bedroom and tore my headphones off my head. He had been drinking and had a can of beer in one hand. He pointed to my collection of cassette tapes on the floor and told me that I shouldn’t pay attention to the anti-nuclear messages that these musicians sang about. How the nuclear weapons that the United States had were keeping me safe. he then told me that Ozzy Osbourne wasn’t going to have any of the answers. Then he went downstairs.

I hadn’t been listening to Ozzy Osbourne. I was listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” – an album that opened my eyes to looking at Christianity from a completely different angle:  that of a big con game. My father was not a Catholic, in fact he was a Presbyterian. He never went to church, never had the time for it. He certainly didn’t seem to mind sending his children to private Catholic schools.

Growing the Seed of Curiosity
My senior year in high school

There are many other memories that I suddenly remember for one reason or another. And while I don’t really seem much like my father – aside from the fact that I am a mean, vicious drunk as he was – I can see where the puzzle pieces fit for how I got to where I am today. It took fifty-plus years to realize the way those pieces fit together. Like any father-son relationship, my father was a formative part of who I am. But in the end, I am myself. Not the product of what my father and/or mother put into me. I am more a product of my own explorations. Certainly, parts of all of that were influenced by my father. But I am not my father. I am me. And I thank the Gods and Goddesses every single moment for that.

Baseball Memories, My Father, and Uncle John’s Band…

Its the mid-point of baseball season here in the United States. Sadly, my beloved Cincinnati Reds look like shtako, so the season is not nearly as fun for me. Plus, the Reds are about to start trading some of their players, which means that they are waving the white flag on this season (as they should). As a fan that has endured one of the worst seasons in Reds’ history (1982), as well as a World Series (1991), and several strong runs at the playoffs – I hate seeing them play this bad. I still remain a loyal fan though…

I got my love for the Cincinnati Reds through my father. He was a fan of the team when he was growing up in Kentucky. He listened to the games on the radio, especially since there was no MLB-TV option on DirecTV. But it was the one thing we understood together. We talked baseball quite a bit. He was very interested in my Baseball database (I have been working on that for close to fourteen years now), and we would talk quite a bit about the Reds’ players from the 1950s. He was a stronger Dallas Cowboys fan, and I have a very vague, fleeting interest in anything American Football. So there was very little to talk about during the winter months. But every Spring, we would talk about how we thought the Reds might do. Admittedly, two player strikes were enough to kill my father’s everyday interest in the game of baseball – but he still peeked in from time to time.

My father passed away in mid-March of this year. Spring Training had only started at that point – and we had not talked much about the coming season. This is my first season without him around to talk with. My boss and a few coworkers are Texas Rangers fans, but that’s American League play. I prefer the National League play, where the pitcher has to hit. I am pretty much a purist in that fashion. But talking with them is not the same as talking with my father. They talk very fan-based perspectives – about how the Rangers are strong enough to win the World Series (they aren’t). How the Rangers are going to make a move to get Cole Hamels from the Phillies (they won’t). And when I interject with a Reds fan’s perspective – they look at me like I am crazy. Why can I not support the Rangers? After all, I live in the metro-mess where they play. These days, I tend to put my headphones on, tune them out, and work. After all, that’s what they pay me to do when I am there.

But all of this is about more than just baseball. Baseball is the connective tissue that formed a bond between myself and my father. I played the game as a child. I was not the greatest in the world at it. I played good defense in the outfield. I could play catcher when necessary. I couldn’t play the infield. I couldn’t pitch. And I was a terrible hitter. But I was good at getting hit by the baseball when I was batting. My first year in American Legion baseball, I was hit twenty-two times…in twelve games. I would dig into the batter’s box as close as I could to the plate, and I would never move. if I got hit by the pitch, I went to first. If I didn’t get hit by the ball, it was a pretty good chance that I didn’t hit the ball. It was a one-way relationship of abuse there between me and the baseball. My father knew I wasn’t that good, but he came to all my games. He rooted me on. To be honest, I was a far better soccer (I call it football) player than I ever was a baseball player.

My father didn’t understand or care about soccer. It was “a game for Europeans” he told me once. I always wondered why he would say that, when soccer is played in nearly every single country in the world. Where baseball brought us together, soccer set us apart. As did other things. Politics – he was a staunch Conservative, where I was always an Independent, non-affiliated individual with a strong streak of liberalism. He was career Air Force, where I had utilized the Air Force to learn a trade/skill-set in Information Technology – which I have leveraged into a fairly decent patch-work career in the business industries. He was not religious, where I have steadily grown in my own personal Path within Paganism. He was very cautious in his processes – I learned to be cautious to a similar degree by being reckless in my life choices early in life. In many ways, we couldn’t be more different if we tried. But we still had baseball…

When I found that my father had died, my sister was in New Orleans, calling me to inform me of his death. Oddly enough, I was on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, Louisiana attending the very first OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering. After I found out, I spent a good portion of that afternoon in a semi state of shock. But I managed to set that in the back of my mind until I made it home. Over the next three months, I spent time going through the house – removing things that I wanted to keep. My mind was on taking care of what needed to be taken care of. I was the child that interred both of my parents there in the cemetery in Hot Spring Village. In those three months, I think I cried once. When I left the house my parents had built for their retirement for the last time. And up until earlier this week, I had never realized that I’ve not mourned the loss of either my father or mother (my mother passed away six months before my father, but her illness had us watch her die moment by moment over three-and-a-half years). And its been the mid-point of the baseball season, where I normally would spend a good hour-plus on the phone with my father talking about baseball trade possibilities, and how awful the Reds were this year as compared to the last – this is where I have started to realize that my father is not there on the other end of that phone.

I am sure that there will be many, many times where I try and pick up the phone to call him to talk, and realize just after I press the contact that holds his name and number, the truth of the moment. I turn 50 in nearly 90 days. My personal health could definitely be far better than it is. And I feel every moment as mortal as I know myself to be. And I wonder – sometimes aloud – how much more time I have on this mortal coil? And I realize that its not something that matters. However much time I have, is however much time I have. How I live those years out is my choice. I can wallow in the mire of a mindset set on the idea that I am getting old. Or I can settle on a mindset that says that there is so much more to be done – what challenge is next around the corner?

My father is gone – all I have are my memories of him — good and bad. And I do need to take the time to mourn his passing. I also need to take the time to remember that this is a changing moment in my life as well. There is a time to press forward. There is also a time to stop, rest, and remember. My time of resting and remembering is here. Soon, I will be moving forward again…with whatever happens. And that moment of soon is coming far quicker than I may realize. There is, after all, Life to be lived, challenges to be accepted, and yes — work to be done. Or as the Grateful Dead remind me in “Uncle John’s Band”:

It’s the same story the crow told me
It’s the only one he know –
like the morning sun you come
and like the wind you go
Ain’t no time to hate,
barely time to wait
Wo-oah, what I want to know,
where does the time go?