(My Dad, me, and brother Jim in front of Caesar's Palace in 1968. And yes, that is our white Mercedes Benz)
Today my father turns 79. He has been the best father any man can hope to have. Here are some excerpts about my father from my book, Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic (Brazos Press, 2009):
We always seemed to have guests over for Sunday dinner, which consisted of my Sicilian mother’s pasta and meatballs. These dinner guests ranged from friends and relatives to the friends and acquaintances of friends and relatives. Guests were entertained by (or forced to hear, depending on one’s sense of humor) my father and his many jokes and stories. A Korean War Veteran, my father had done some emceeing and stand-up comedy while serving in the U.S. Army. Whatever comedic skills he acquired while working for Uncle Sam, they were not missing in action when he returned to the states. It made our home a wonderful place in which to grow up.
My parents exposed me to the importance of politics and citizenship at an early age. In the mid-1960s, they encouraged my brother James and me to watch important political events and speeches. In 1968, when I was seven years old, I distinctly remember watching and listening to Senator Robert F. Kennedy on the evening he was assassinated in Los Angeles, and seeing my parents cry when his death was announced on our television hours later. Only months earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered in Memphis. My parents supported the Civil Rights Movement and were diligent in making sure that my brother and I knew of Dr. King and the tragedy of his death. Although I was too young to remember the presidency of John F. Kennedy, my father made sure we listened to the late president’s 1961 inaugural address, one of the great political speeches in American history. On several occasions, my father played the recording of Kennedy’s speech on our old family turntable. As in other matters, my father also had a sense of humor about politics. When I was eight years old I asked him to explain to me the difference between communism and capitalism. He answered, “Well, son, in America, a capitalist country, some people own Cadillacs and some people don’t. But in communist countries like the Soviet Union, everyone is treated equally, and no one owns a Cadillac.”...
I have so many fond memories of growing up. One in particular left an indelible mark. In the summer of 1972 I played the position of catcher on a Little League baseball team. Although I was a pretty good defensive player, I was a terrible hitter. My parents knew this, since they attended my games and heard me complain about my numerous strikeouts. In order to remedy this, my parents went into action. My mother—a vivacious reader—bought me a book on hitting authored by the great Boston Red Sox player, Ted Williams. My father sat me down and told me that we would both read the book and then after completing it, spend two hours every night for a week at the local batting cages, putting Williams’s lessons into action. We read the book and went to the cages. My father meticulously went over Williams’s lessons, and he did so with great patience, for I was given to emotional outbursts if I did not succeed the first time I faced the mechanical pitcher. In the face of such tantrums, my father employed his disarming sense of humor while he remained encouraging and yet determined. By the end of the week, I was easily hitting sixty-mile-per-hour fastballs. I was ready.
At the next Little League game, I had my chance. The bases were loaded. We were down by two runs, and it was the bottom of the last inning. At my turn to bat, I swung and hit a line drive that was bounding over the third baseman’s head. He jumped as high as he could, and with perfect timing caught the ball at the tip of his glove. The game ended, and we lost. Although I was disappointed in losing, for the first time that season I actually hit the ball hard and with confidence, and, in this case, nearly won the game for my team. For the rest of the season my batting average hovered around .400, and I had become a legitimate offensive threat. The next season I had the second highest batting average on the team. What I learned from my parents was the importance of doing things well and to do so patiently and carefully with deliberate determination.
(Cross-posted on Southern Appeal)