Saturday, June 18, 2011

Robert Gilbert Sands: Happy Father's Day

My Dad circa: 1948
Tomorrow is Father's Day. I've written numerous newsletter posts and blogs about my Mom over the years, but never really pontificated about my Dad. My favorite Dad stories have to do with sports: the one he wanted for me and the one he didn't.

My Dad wanted me to play baseball and for years I played in every summer league in town. He rarely missed a game and always staked out the same location: right behind home plate. You see, I pitched and my Dad loved that by engaging in that activity I was giving him the right to criticize, harass and just plain be mean to whomever was unlucky enough to draw the home plate umpire duties for the day. From his perch, my Dad powered through every ump cliche ever used, as well as a few of his own. His trademark, however, was the extra pair of glasses he would offer after a disputed ball was thrown.

One time when I was seventeen, about 20 minutes before a game I was warming up on the sideline and our umpire for the day, Sam Palmara, opened the gate, entered the field said "HI" and then did a double take. He stopped and said, "Sands, you're pitching today aren't you?"
"Yeah," I answered, "is there a problem?"
"Not with you. That just means I have to put up with your old man. Man, he gets to me."
"If you called them all strikes, it wouldn't be a problem, huh?"

Might be the best picture I have of my Dad
My downfall with my Dad (probably not my ONLY downfall) was that I didn't end up playing baseball. I chose to run and worse than that, I chose running in college over the war in Vietnam. Despite never missing a ballgame, in the 25 years I ran while he was alive, he came to ONE meet. It was the Schafer Relays and I was mid pre-race ritual for anchoring the 2 Mile Relay. Out of what seemed to be nowhere, my Brother Ernie appeared and said, "Dad's here."
"What's he doing here?" I asked. "He came to see you run. You'd better be good."  Yikes.

They handed me the baton that day in fifth place. I moved us up to second. In the process I ran my fastest half ever, a 2:02 (even splits of 61, 61). When I arrived home that night, I handed my Dad my medal and said, "Thanks for coming to watch me run."  "You passed alot of guys," he said. And that was it.

My Dad died of cancer in 1991. The night before he died, I was able to fly in from Colorado to spend some time. "Richard needs to be here," he told my Mom. That night, I barely understood a thing he said. After six years of fighting and having half his neck and throat removed in the process, much of what he said had to be in a faint whisper. Instead of making him talk, I read him the newspaper.

Visiting us in Colorado 1984
The next morning, I awoke to what seemed incomprehensible. My Dad was in the living room, talking AS PLAIN AS DAY, to my Mom. Knowing our time was short, I spent a great deal of the morning just yacking with him about whatever crossed our minds. Later in the morning, after amusing himself with my Mom's antics while losing a game of Dutch Rummy to me, he laughed, excused himself to take a nap and left us for the last time. We tried to wake him a few hours later to take his medicine, but he was gone. He hadn't looked so content and peaceful in years.

A few years before his death, it dawned on me that in my whole life, I don't ever remember him telling me those words every child wants to hear, I Love You. My Mom said it was just his way, heck, he rarely told her either. He ADORED his Grandkids. There was no doubt about that love. I took it, however, as a challenge. From that moment on, whenever my Dad and I conversed, it always ended with me saying, "I Love You, Dad!"

The closest he ever came was at Christmas, a few weeks before he died, he answered, "You too."

Robert Gilbert Sands: I love you. Happy Father's Day!

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