There are a number of things in this world which I will never be able to look at, listen to, or think about without them bringing thoughts of my father. Sports, jazz music and politics chiefly among them.
My father grew up on the south side of Chicago and was, for better or worse... and admittedly it was, alas, mostly for worse... a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan of the first order, a genetic affliction which he passed on to me. (And even with the many advancements in medical science over the years, there is still no cure.) There was little else he was as passionate about throughout his life as cheering for a hapless group of grown men playing with a little round ball... and failing to win that elusive championship year after year after year after year.
They came close in 1959, making it all the way to the World Series for the first time in his life, but they could not defeat the Dodgers. Little did Dad know, it would be a long, long, long, LONG wait for another chance at the big prize. Bravely, he hung in there, loyal as ever. 1983 looked to be the charm, but after cruising to a division title, the Orioles made short work of the luckless Sox in the playoffs, so the wait continued. 1993 and 2000 saw two more division titles and two more rapid and lifeless playoff exits with nary a whiff of World Series glory, and it seemed the man was destined never to live long enough to see his beloved team win so much as one lousy, stinking title. Possibly his only solace in all that time was that the rival Cubs were even more hapless than his White Sox, an opinion he was eager to share with any Cub fan who dared to mock his favorite team.
In 2005, God decided to have mercy on my father and allow him, at last, to taste the sweet fruits of a White Sox championship. (I will always be grateful to Him for that.) Heaven knows, there were quite a few times I was convinced that I would never live to see that event myself! But they did it, Dad, and I am so glad I was there to share it with you.
Being a South-Sider through and through, when it came to football, Dad grew up cheering for the Chicago Cardinals. Those of you who are old enough will know why. While the Cardinals shared the sacred ground of good old Comiskey Park with the White Sox, the Bears were, back then, the Cubs of football, even playing their home games in Wrigley Field through the 1970 season. But the Cardinals, who won one championship for Dad back in 1947, were soon destined to become one the most absolutely useless football teams of all-time, and thankfully took mercy on my father by moving to St. Louis after 1959.
Dad, free of his Cardinal bonds, eventually warmed to the Bears and embraced them as his own. Their moving to the neutral site of Soldier Field could only have helped in shifting his allegiances. By 1985, he had been a rabid Bears fan for years and got the thrill of a lifetime when a childhood friend, who happened to be a season ticket holder for the San Diego Chargers, won the team's lottery for Super Bowl tickets that year, and passed them along to Dad, who got to see the legendary Super Bears crush the Patriots live and in person at the New Orleans Superdome in Super Bowl XX!
Dad also loved the Bulls (who thanks to the illustrious Michael Jordan, blessed him with six titles in eight years in the 1990s) and was a big fan of college football and basketball as well (particularly Notre Dame football).
When it came to music, my father loved jazz, especially jazz from the Big Band Era. Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Woody Herman, and many more. When he was a teenager, he began an impressive collection of 78rpm records, many of which survive to this day thanks to his meticulous care.
He and a couple of his friends even used to broadcast on a low-power radio station (in the days before strict FCC control of the airwaves) from his bedroom. This led him, eventually, to a stint as a DJ on a small station in Blue Island, IL where he got to share his love and knowledge of jazz with a small sliver of the world.
He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, but a medical condition kept him from being shipped overseas and instead of combat, Dad got to work with the USO, meeting numerous movie stars and musicians in the process, including the great Bob Hope.
As life went on, he found himself married to a woman he loved dearly and raising five children (which would later lead to 11 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren... and counting). An unfulfilling series of menial jobs eventually led him to start his own business. Utilizing his talents as an artist, he found his calling at last in advertising and graphic design.
After his retirement, Dad found an apartment he loved, with a deck onto a small pond filled with ducks and fish. He would spend many days relaxing by the water putting his ever-handy fishing pole to good use, catching and releasing the same fish over and over again. And those ducks would never go hungry as long as Dad was there to feed them. He had a soft spot for birds easily traceable to his mother's pet parakeet and later to a quaker parrot that was his almost as much as it was mine. Every morning and many evenings, a large group of his web-footed friends would gather in front of his deck in anticipation of his arrival and the call would go out to the rest as soon as he appeared in the doorway. Every spring he looked forward to the arrival of a new batch of hungry little ducklings to feed and he would get to watch them grow throughout the summer.
During the winters, while he was well enough, Dad travelled to warmer climates like Florida, Arizona, Las Vegas and even Hawaii. He would also stop in while on the road and visit with friends he had made online chatting about conservative politics, another of his great passions. After I ripped his CDs to MP3s for him last year, he delighted in playing DJ again by playing music in the background over the computer's built-in microphone and sharing it with his chat friends.
During the last few years, as so many of the people in my life have drifted away for various reasons having to do with geography, lack of time, or starting families of their own, my father and I actually grew much closer. He needed me and I was happy to be there for him as I needed him just as much in many ways. He passed away late Saturday night at the age of 76 after a period of declining health. I will miss spending our Sundays together for dinner, shopping trips and baseball or football games. I will miss our regular chats about sports and politics. Most of all, I will just simply miss knowing that my Dad was there for me anytime I needed him. I am grateful I was able to return that favor as best I could.
God Bless you, Dad. May you Rest in Peace.