From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

The Fan Club

When my husband, Paul, was little, he was so skinny his mother fed him pure cream to try to fatten him up. He was a tow-headed runt and skinny as a rail. It didn’t seem to matter how much he ate. Paul was wiry and a bundle of energy. His sisters tell me tales of how his mom tied pillows on his arms and legs when he learned to roller skate. She was so afraid he’d break something.

Needless to say, when our son Patrick was born, I wasn’t surprised when he weighed in at six pounds and was only eighteen inches long. He was a tow-headed runt, too. But he was a healthy child, just like his father, and had his boundless energy embedded in his own genes.

When he played Little League, the first baseman would yell, “Easy out. This kid’s a shrimp.”

“He’s little, but he’s fast!” my husband would yell back.

Patrick would smack the ball, and in a whirl of dust he would run for first.

“Told you so!” my husband would yell proudly as Patrick took the base, much to the bewilderment of the other team.

About this time, I started working full time, and on Saturdays I was extremely busy. I had the usual chores of laundry, grocery shopping, and running to the dry cleaners, not to mention chauffeuring Patrick’s two sisters to dance class or gymnastics. I have to admit it wasn’t my cup of tea to warm the bleachers every weekend, so I had an out. But Paul made all the Little League games; Patrick’s faithful cheering team of one.

In high school Patrick joined the band; he played the cymbals. It wasn’t long before he became a drummer and then head of the drum line. The band participated in many competitions every weekend, sometimes traveling as far as 100 miles on a bus just to bring home a trophy.

The band also made guest performances: Rose Parade, Rams games, Chargers games, Hollywood Lane Parade, and the Angels season-opening games. The booster club of parents traveled right along with them, and, yup, there was Paul cheering them on.

When the band wasn’t competing, the drum line entered its own competitions. Every weekend was taken up by one competition or another. Paul was the consummate cheerleader, beaming with pride as his only son won again and again.

High school ended and so did Paul’s weekend cheering when Patrick moved on to college. A few years went by, but Patrick and Paul stayed close, talking on the phone and both of them enjoying Patrick’s weekend visits.

Then one Monday morning, Paul needed his own cheering section. He was undergoing a five-way heart bypass. The operation went smoothly, but I knew I might have problems with Patrick as we gathered in the recovery room. I was afraid he might crumble to see his hero lying so still and unconscious.

The whoosh, whoosh of the ventilator and the smell of the antiseptic filled the air as the family all trooped into Paul’s room. I saw Patrick start to turn and leave. I knew he was having a hard time reconciling the sight of his pale, seemingly lifeless father with the strong man who was usually yelling encouragement from the stands.

Fighting back my own tears, I reached for his shoulder.

“Patrick, I know this isn’t easy, but please do it for your dad. He was always there for you. This time be there for him.”

Patrick looked at me through his tears and nodded. He went up and gingerly stroked his father’s hand, the only part of his body where there was bare skin.

“I know you can’t hear me, but I’m here, Dad. You’re going to be fine. I love you and I need you. I’m your biggest fan.”

Sallie Rodman

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