(Author's note: I am inspired for this entry from my own father, and from the original "papa bear", John Arguello. Look here for a reminder of the original master.)
I remember John sharing his touching Father's Day post in 2017. He laid bare his soul and his somewhat contentious relationship with his father. The respect he had for his brow-beaten father flowed as freely from John's mind and keyboard as did his his understanding of baseball. It was plain as day to anyone who understood.
I'm not sure that John anticipated the reaction that article would produce. We all connected, and began sharing stories in the comment section. The interaction with this community he so loved, and worked so hard to cultivate, led him to mention that he would like for this to become an annual feature.
We all have stories. How we became a Cubs fan, and who led us in that direction. I would guess most of us are like me, becoming a fan due to exposure to games on WGN when we were kids. We'd sneak a radio into our elementary school classes to cheat on the game, and run home to catch the last few innings on TV.
John's original post was in honor of his father, as mine will be. But it doesn't have to be for you. John wanted this to continue so that this community could bond. Maybe it wasn't your father, but your mother, or brother or sister, an aunt or an uncle. Maybe a grandparent? His wish was all about story-telliing on this day. Please feel free to share yours. Here's mine.
"My child arrived just the other day.
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away"
The very first memory I have as a human being is picking up my Dad when he returned home from Vietnam. I was 2 years old. I recall a car ride to somewhere which I'm sure would be unremarkable in any other instance, but at the end of this particular ride I met my Dad. I hadn't known him before. He hugged me and cried and I kinda liked this new stranger that had come into my life. He seemed to like me, and gave me lots of attention, and toys.
I wasn't yet aware of a monumental moment in my father's quest for continued existence until much later in my life. During a particularly intense battle, my Dad wrote me a letter and sent it home with directives to not give it to me until I was older, just in case. He described what he was experiencing, and told me how much he loved me. He wrote of how scared he was, and how he wished he would have been able to be there for me, but tried to explain how it wasn't his fault. He asked me, a one-year-old boy at this point, to take care of my older brother. He described in detail the adventures he had planned in his mind for him and his boys, if only he had the chance. He apologized. He sent a similar, but completely differently worded, letter to my older brother. "Please take care of your little brother".
I've traveled a lot in my life. I've lost most everything, including my 10,000 count baseball card collection from my youth. I have exactly two possessions I've owned my whole life: my original birth certificate, from San Bernardino, CA where Dad was stationed when I was born, and that letter from a frightened father explaining to his son why we may never know each other.
"My son turned ten just the other day.
He said thanks for the ball, Dad,
Come on let's play."
I'll skip right over the "mom" part. She didn't want my brothers and I. Dad did, and I am so thankful it worked out this way.
Dad came home and made a fascinating life for himself and his boys. He worked at a steel mill in NW Indiana, bought a house, divorced his useless wife, and raised three boys by himself his own way, our way. Everyone has stories of their youth, and all are unique. I may upset the grammar police here, but we were extra unique. The five of us: Dad, us three boys, and our yellow labrador, Sam.
Gosh the times we had. Dad would accumulate vacation time by working double shifts and covering for his co-workers who needed a day off. He would acquire enough time off to take us on amazing vacations during our summers off from school. Some lasted for months. The Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore, the Painted Desert, and giant Sequoia's. Both oceans, and a trip around the Great Lakes. Canada and Mexico. Primitive camping in every imaginable environment. I did it all with my family by age 10. Because of my Dad.
We were hiking, the five of us plus Grandma, to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where we were camping for a couple days. Grandma caught a whiff of something peculiar, and questioned all us kids. Me at 8, big brother at 11, and little bro at age 6. Someone was smoking "the weed" in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and she was determined to find out which kid it was. Dad took another hit and laughed, watching his boys descend the canyon, happy as can be. We shared that story for the rest of our lives.
Bleacher seats were cheap in the late 70's/early 80's, and Dad took advantage. We took in 20-30 games a year in the left-field bleachers. We always arrived a couple hours early, with gloves on our anticipating and admittedly agressive hands. Watch out for those Pilbean boys! Kids' days were always special. The Cubs would let parents and their children on to the field a couple hours before game time to meet the players. I saw Ivan DeJesus do things with his legs while stretching that I had previously thought to be anatomically impossible, Dave Kingman was a LARGE human being, and Billy Buck was a cool dude.
Dad always took advantage of those summer double-headers. 2 for 1. We'd be in the bleachers for 10 hours for 20 bucks, catching BP home runs and bonding with our favorite players and team. Dad worked hard to afford us such luxuries, and I was really offended by Lee Elia when he suggested otherwise. F*+k you, Lee Elia, when you don't know how much my Dad had sacrificed to bring his three sons to a day game. And another. And another.
"Well he came from college just the other day.
So much like a man I just had to say
Son, I'm proud of you,
Can you sit for a while..."
The first time I ever saw my Dad cry (other than our initial meeting) was when I pulled my truck away, for good. I cried, too. We pieced together a $75 truck I towed home from my uncle's house to make the 1100- mile journey to Houston. It was starting to get cold up here in November 1989, so we taped plastic over my missing driver-side window. We expected that to last till Houston. It didn't last two blocks. I was on my own, and so was Dad.
Time passed quickly after that. I ventured and explored America as Dad settled in. I was hired on as a specialized painter and builder in Atlanta, Charleston, Miami, Key West, and ?. Dad was proud of his boys and was planning his retirement in ten years when my brother and I got the call.
"Down in a hole, feeling so small.
Down in a hole, losing my soul.
I'd like to fly, but my wings have been so denied."
September 23, 1998. My older brother, Chuck, and I were watching the game that would get our Cubs back into the postseason. We were roommates in Charleston, SC, as we had always been. The only time we were ever apart was when he was on the DMZ in Korea and I was in college outside Houston, TX. That was only for a few years. The phone rang and I answered. It was Dad from Indiana, asking me to put my brother on the other line so we could all talk. A month before this, we had all met at a remote campground in rural Tennessee, the first time my Dad and all three sons had been together in many years. My little brother had grown up and showed his behind, venting his frustration by challenging his older brothers to a fight. Bodies tumbled and alcohol spilled in the dark mountaintops, and peace-maker Dad broke his nose. A month later, it still hadn't healed, so he went in for an x-ray. That's when they found the cancer. Our adolescent squabbles may have saved Dad's life.
Dad broke the news to Chuck and I over the phone. He was going to need some pretty risky surgery to remove a thumb-sized tumor inside the bone of his skull on the left side of his face. Needless to say, the Cubs game faded away, and Brant Brown dropping the ball didn't seem that big a deal, relatively speaking. All ended well on that front anyway, due to Neifi Perez.
Dad had his successful, yet disfiguring, surgery. They had to remove a large section of his skull around his nose, but he carried on. In true Harley Charlie fashion, he developed a new party trick. When it was dark, he could put a flashlight in his mouth and his eyeballs would glow. I love you, Dad!
Dad was forced into retirement and settled on some riverfront property we owned in Indiana. It had a perfectly good house, but Dad didn't like houses. I guess that's where I get that from. He built a teepee next to the river, and I came up to help grade the site and cut the poles. He lived there, even during the frigid winters, until he couldn't any more, which wasn't at all surprising. During my teenage years he would let me drive the heated van over the frozen winter months while he rode his motorcycle to work at the mill.
This was also the time my father developed a saying. Whenever an authoritive figure would tell him he couldn't do what he wanted, they would threaten "severe consequences". My Dad would laugh, asking "what will they do? Cut my hair, send me to Vietnam, and give me cancer?"
"I've long since retired and my son's moved away.
I called him up just the other day."
By the summer of 2010, Dad just couldn't do it any more. He was feeling the effects of his heavy exposure to Agent Orange, with cancer and diabetes and, and, and...
He had a solution that made us all happy. Chuck and I were working separately and living in the city, outside of Charleston. Dad said he wanted to come down, and to start looking for property "in the middle of nowhere". I was in the real estate business, and boy, did I deliver!
We bought some acreage that was surrounded by thousands of other undeveloped acres, and we built our dream property. Goats and chickens and girls and ducks and turkeys and the largest vegetable garden I had ever done and dogs and girls and fishing and hunting and building toys and garages and alcohol and firearms and bonfires with girls and more, and bigger, and bigger, firearms. We were in heaven!
Unfortunately, that didn't last as long as we all hoped it would. Three months into this new life, my brother and best friend Chuck and I were arguing over who would cook dinner (he was telling me not to as I was working too hard, he would do it when he got home from another trip to the river on his Sportster), and three minutes later he was gone. Dad and I persevered through the worst day of our lives. We went on until his cancer returned a few months later. It was in his kidneys this time, but tests proved it was the same cancer that had been lying dormant in his body for 14 years.
He went into the VA for what was supposed to be a relatively mild surgery, but never came out. I'll save you the details, but I had to make the decision on July 2nd, 2012 to abandon life-sustaining measures and instead focus on pain management. The doctors gave him 8 hours. Dad held on until July 5th, I know simply so that it wouldn't ruin the rest of my July 4th celebrations. Thank you, Dad.
It was at this point I started searching. I was in the middle of nowhere and literally all alone for the first time in my life. I told my friends to leave me alone, and slipped into a deep depression. I haven't mentioned that my little bro dropped dead from a heart attack in February 2012. My whole family was wiped out, unexpectedly, in a year.
When I get depressed I bury myself in baseball. It is my escape. When my father passed to complete the annihilation of my family I bought my first smart phone. Reception in my area was spotty at best, but I was desperate. I called long-lost friends asking if anyone knew the Cubs' system, who was moving and who wasn't. Nobody knew. I asked if anyone would just talk to my lonely soul about the Cubs. Anybody. Please.
I began searching this newfound internet thingy and was honestly more depressed. I was in desperate need of intelligent discussion, and all of it was crap. I was learning new sites, in the total darkness of a rural South Carolina night and my mental state, when I stumbled across a site called Cubs Den. Touchdown! This guy named John spoke my language, and the comments were something different than any other site I was glossing over. They were respectful and knowledgeable. I was home, and I was saved. I read for a year and a half before I made my first comment, but John and I communicated through other means. He was a good man, and helped me through a very tough time in my life. Thank you, John, and thank you, Cubs Den.
I buried my Dad in our family plot in southern Illinois, in the heart of the bitter Cubs/Cards rivaly. If you've never been there, it's intense. Husband vs. wife, brother vs. sister, mother vs. son. My Dad wanted a standard-issue VA headstone, just like the ones of his father and grandfather and uncles that he would be lying next to for eternity. Nice and neat, conforming to all sensibilities. Except for one thing. My family has never conformed to anything.
If you've ever applied for a VA headstone, it's a pretty rigid procedure. They allow certain info: name, birth and death dates, not much else. I fought and fought, finally getting onto a government-issued headstone what my Dad wanted. We won, and gave a final shot at The Man. I got this line on Dad's white marble, VA-issued headstone, the one everyone told me we couldn't do:
"Far out. Let's do it again."
I love you, Dad. Happy Father's Day.