71: The Best Gift of All

71: The Best Gift of All

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

The Best Gift of All

Kids spell love T-I-M-E.

~John Crudele

“Look! There’s Dave Righetti!” My dad pointed at the taller of the two men leaving Cleveland Municipal Stadium. It was dusk and shadows had started to creep up the pavement, leaving us in cool summer shade.

“Really?” I stared at the Yankees pitcher. We’d been waiting for a half hour for the players to shower, change and head out so that I could nab some autographs.

“Go!” my dad said, but I was already scooting towards Rags, my ball and pen in hand. When I returned to my dad, triumphantly holding the signed baseball in the air, my dad leaned down and said, “Did you know that was Steve Sax with him?”

The second baseman? I gasped, spinning around, but the Yankees had already disappeared. “Darn.” My dad laughed and clapped a hand on my shoulder. Maybe next time.

At twelve years old, this was the first of many annual weekends my dad and I took to Cleveland to watch the Yankees play — and try to get autographs. It became our father-daughter thing. Sometime in March, my dad and I would examine the Major League baseball schedule and see when our Yanks were going to be in Cleveland, only four hours from home. In the meantime, we’d check box scores in the paper together and stay up to watch games on TV.

And once the warm weather came around, we’d take the long drive to Cleveland, talking about baseball, school, and my softball season. My dad, baseball guru that he was, was also my coach.

“Line up the knuckles on your left hand with those on the right. Choke up about an inch on the bat. There.” Dad adjusted my hands as we stood together in the empty ballfield, the summer sun blazing on our backs. He’d just returned from a weekend coaches’ camp and had acquired some new tips for improving my batting average. Somehow, those tips were magic. Dad jogged to the mound and lobbed me a pitch. I swung, the crack of the bat a sweet, satisfying sound. The ball flew over the dirt and landed — plunk — in the grass of right-center. Dad nodded, smiling.

“Again,” I said, checking my grip on the bat, making sure the knuckles were still exactly right. “Throw me another.”

Later that summer, I hit my first home run and my dad caught me as I leapt into his arms after crossing home plate.

“That hit felt good,” I said, hugging him hard.

“It sure looked good.” Dad grinned as widely as I did and I think he probably was just as happy.

Over the next six years, my dad watched me hit dozens more home runs and take All-Star and MVP status in various tournaments on various teams. He attended every game either as coach or spectator and helped me fine-tune my stance as well as my confidence over the years.

We continued our trips to Cleveland as well as other places. “Do you want to fly out to Kansas to see K-State?” he asked one spring Saturday when I was fifteen.

In the kitchen, my mom raised her eyebrows, glancing at my dad.

“I’ll take her,” he continued. “I wouldn’t mind going back to see my Alma Mater. We can check flights this afternoon.”

“Sure!” I agreed. Why not? I’d never been that far west and I’d wanted to see where my parents attended college. And who knew — maybe I’d like the school enough to apply.

And so we went. My dad and I. We sat side-by-side in the airplane, chatting mostly about my life as a sophomore in high school: teachers I liked, the economics class that made me want to cry, friends, sports, and the future. We were comrades in the rental car, on the campus, getting lost and finding our way again. When I needed an emergency trip to the eye doctor because a fleck of metal had gotten caught in my eye, my dad inquired about where to go and took us there. He took care of me.

After that weekend, I knew I couldn’t go to college that far from home.

My dad isn’t known for wrapping Christmas or birthday presents, let alone picking them out. That’s my mom’s job and she does it quite well. But the gifts my dad gave me growing up — college visits, baseball games, a better batting stance, advice, laughter, confidence — created memories that are more valuable than any bracelet or pair of socks.

Now when my dad comes to visit my family, he spends hours rolling around on the floor with my son, making him laugh, pushing him on the swing in the park, or reading to him on the couch. On his most recent visit to Boston — over six hours from his home where I grew up — my dad said, “I’d love to coach Aidan in Little League. I wish we lived closer.” To our home, he brought books and new footie pajamas that my mom had picked out, but from him — well, he brought himself. And that was good enough.

For almost thirty-three years, my dad has given me more than any father could. He gave me what a child ultimately finds most precious from her parents. It’s the stuff memories are made of, of which photographs are taken and cataloged over the years. What I wouldn’t trade for anything is exactly what my dad gave me and what is sometimes, for some people, the hardest thing to give. But he gave it freely, happily, and as often as possible.

My dad gave me — and continues to give me — his time. And for that, I am most thankful.

~Mary Jo Marcellus Wyse

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