A FEW GOOD MEN

There’s never a good time to lose one’s father—never the right time to lose a hero.

Four men—one from Michigan, one from Hungary, and two born right here. Four men, strangers to each other, fathers for the first time in 1949, to sons….

We were the Big Four that last year of high school. Bob, Alan, Stuart et moi. Truth be known, we were allies and confidantes from the moment our parents allowed us to cross streets alone. From Rowland to Greenview through Brush we were never in solitary and, game-by-game, year-by-year, we molded a steadfast bond.

Today, though, I think of the fathers.

Bobby’s dad had this green truck. I picture him pulling in the driveway, saying Hi through the window. And I remember one night—it was a Wednesday.

Mid-60’s, post-divorce, I’d lied to my mother (who thought I was at Wieder’s), and had joined pals to play tackle after dark across from Bob’s, at Bexley. Codgie was quarterback, and I cut across the middle for a pass when SMACK!!! I ran right into a “No Dogs Allowed” sign.

They took me to Snyder’s. Blood gushing from my eye, I stood leaning my right hand against the white interior of his garage when his Dad emerged. A look of fear (for me) in his eye, he rushed me back home up Wrenford. He was a sweet man, a Browns fan, and always struck me as warm. That, however, would be our longest conversation.

I knew Alan’s father better. It just was. Also soft-spoken, he’d roll his eyes as we’d tee golf balls from the upper lawn of their split level, and he’d grimace as they bounded into traffic some three or four hundred yards away. Never once, though, did he make faces or hesitate those countless times we’d ask him to move his van just so we could shoot hoops.

It was Alan’s dad as well that helped us make history. When three Browns sang “Jingle Bells’ on WHK in ’64, Al and I (after eliminating recognizable Jim Brown, Frank Ryan and one other), entered some 14,000 entries—every combination—on little three-inch square sheets in shoe boxes. Time running out on our all-night effort, we used his Dad’s business stamp; Sam Wieder NORO, (whatever that stood for), inking his name on every entry. Indeed, it was HIS moniker they announced on Cleveland’s airwaves when we won the prize!

And then there was Mr. Fenton. I knew him best. To this day, it’s difficult to think of him, almost impossible not to choke up at his memory.

From two doors down he saw me young; from Langerdale he saw me adolescent, and through life he saw me with love. We respected all the fathers, to be sure, yet knew at times we frustrated them. With Milt Fenton, the only sense I ever felt was love…and understanding. In one sentence, he’d say a lot, he’d tell you not only that he got it, but that he cared.

“Make sure you say hello to your handsome father for me,” he’d urge those dark days (when Hal and I were the only kids on the block with divorced parents).

“Make sure you come visit your Uncle Miltie,” he said when moving to Florida.

And MY Dad? What need I say? He wasn’t my hero so much for what he said but for how he made me feel, always. And that, in a word, was “loved”.

He wasn’t a perfect man, and he wasn’t even a perfect father. He had, though, a perfect heart. My father, you see, was never disappointed in me—he was, if anything, disappointed FOR me. And whether it was a bad grade from me or a bad call by an ump, as he’d wrap his arm around me and tell me that “Someday we’ll look back at this and laugh”, he not only believed it, but so did I.

“This too shall pass,” he’d promise. And it always did. “You can do better,” he’d say. When I could. “Don’t make the same mistakes as me,” he’d counsel, (too often with eyes turning wet).

Al Bogart taught me much, from how to hold a bat to how to be a gentleman. Best of all, though, he taught, by example, that if we learn from things, it’s OK to stumble with dignity.

They were blessings—all of them. And there were more. Was anyone friendlier than Randy’s Dad? Or warmer than Mr. Gelfand or Ben Selzer?  I think not.

And then there’s “Mr. Ermine”, Mark’s father. I knew him marginally when growing up, but over time, (and through lodge), he became “Danny”, a friend.

On a day like today I easily savor the gift that was my father. He played a symphony I’ll hear forever. It would be folly though, and perhaps unfair, not to think also, of the wonderful father figures that shaped my life.

Indeed, they WERE, The Greatest Generation.

4 Responses to “A FEW GOOD MEN”

  1. Aunt Helen says:

    I seem to recall that your wonderful brother also participated in the 1964 contest to identify the Cleveland Browns. (You conveniently do not mention him.) Furthermore, if I am not mistaken, he was the one who told you of the contest, came up with all of the combinations of three players, purchased the whiskey and Lucky Strikes to make completing the entries more of a fun event, drove to Papp N Jay’s for pizza, checked your spelling, shined your shoes and then helped take the entries to WHK. His only reward, in the year of his Bar Mitzvah, no less, was to be given the shaft by his older brother and your friend Alan. You forbade him from going to the game. And that is why I never understood you. Even then.

    It should be noted, however, that your Father, recognizing your callous treatment of Hal, drove with Hal to New Philadelphia to watch the Championship game as it was “blacked out” in Cleveland. By the way, as hurt as I am about your treatment of him, the only thing he ever mentions is that your Father cared enough to drive to New Philadelphia with him.

    I promise not to mention to your brother your misleading retelling of the story. It would only remind him of the hurt he felt so many years ago.

  2. bob says:

    Wish I could put into words what I’m thnking like you do B. Truth is our dad’s were very special and we will always miss them. I’m sure Mark appreciates that his dad is still with us.

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