I've come to believe the most challenging element in surviving the passing of a loved one is lost conversation. Physical presence is invaluable, of course, but we are foremost a species of communication. And it's the lost chats -- long or brief, in the same room or across a phone line -- that make the absence of someone we love so acute, so permanent.
As Father's Day approaches -- the third since I lost my dad - my mind has wandered in scattered directions, imagining the conversations Dad and I would enjoy these days, so many of them attached to the world of sports.
Dad and I would discuss the glorious irony of the Stanford St. Jude Classic somehow rising above the biggest name in the world of golf. How somehow, year after year, the PGA's visit to Southwind manages to present Memphis -- Dad's hometown -- in a shining light of class, dignity, and southern grace. Dad would scoff at how much the world's top-ranked player is missing, whether he knows it or not.
Dad and I would discuss Big Brown and the nature of a "sure thing" in horse racing. Dad would remind me that guaranteeing a Triple Crown champion before the Belmont is run is why sportswriters don't cover Wall Street.
Dad and I would discuss the vexing sport of baseball, still the hardest team game to forecast. His beloved St. Louis Cardinals say goodbye to three All-Stars -- Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and David Eckstein -- and replace them with the likes of Ryan Ludwick, Skip Schumaker, and Cesar Izturis . . . and improve. A team that the experts assured us would be in its division cellar without Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder to pitch are contenders in June with Todd Wellemeyer and Kyle Lohse fortifying the rotation.
Dad and I would discuss -- and laugh about -- the Rick Ankiel Story. No Hollywood producer would accept the script. Flame-throwing lefty loses his capacity to hit the catcher's mitt, only to return six(!) years later as a slugging outfielder. One who makes the catch of the year at Busch Stadium on June 1st. (And Dad would remind me of another southpaw prospect of days gone by, one who happily turned his attention to hitting, too. Name of Musial.)
Dad and I would discuss the first NBA Finals since 1994 without Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, or Tim Duncan. And while the Lakers and Celtics make for high theater, I can hear Dad paraphrasing Lloyd Bentsen: "Kobe and KG, you're not Magic and Bird."
Dad and I would discuss the beauty of hockey, relative to NBA basketball. (Dad came to love hockey late in his life, as his employer -- Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont -- won a pair of Division III national championships.) In watching the Stanley Cup finals, a viewer could see six minutes of continuous action between Pittsburgh and Detroit, however difficult it may be to follow the puck. In watching pro basketball, we're fortunate if we see sixty seconds of continuous action. Dad would agree, the most boring moment in all of spectator sports is an NBA player shooting a free throw.
Dad and I would discuss the upcoming Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, and we'd emphasize to one another how very little the medal counts will mean, how the stars in the swimming pool, on the track, or in the gymnastics arena will be merely players on a stage the world desperately needs to see stabilized. An economics professor, Dad would point out how the Chinese will shape the twenty-first century every bit as much -- perhaps more -- than we Americans. He'd hope, as I do, that the Olympics provide a launching pad to greatness for the globe's most volatile super power.
Dad and I would discuss, of course, the joy of watching our children play games. And he'd insist I tape the softball games, tee-ball games, gymnastic shows, and horseback events his granddaughters are so enjoying these days. I'd tell him that he'll get the chance to see them himself, perhaps on his next trip south. And he'd remind me that every moment counts, that we mustn't plan too much for tomorrow as today unfolds.
So sons and daughters, have a conversation with your dad this Sunday. Fathers, do the same with your children. It certainly doesn't have to center on sports (aim higher, but use sports as a happy cushion if needed). The chat may seem fleeting, may even distract you from the day's events. But you'll find that the right kind of conversation will last a lifetime. Even a little longer.