What dads do deserve: 'Thanks,' 'I love you'

June 15, 2008 

Like just about every other holiday and faux holiday, Father's Day has been commercialized into a sale at the mall.

"Give dad a sports coat for Father's Day," an advertisement might state, though I can't remember the last time

I saw anyone playing field hockey while wearing a herringbone tweed blazer.

Or perhaps after-shave, power tools or neckties make the perfect gift along with, of course, the obligatory Father's Day greeting card.

That's OK. People have to make a living, as do our ad sales people, who generate the income needed to pay salaries -- namely mine -- here at The Bee.

But there is, or should be, more to it than that. Father's Day is a reminder to say the things that often go unsaid. Little things like "thank you" and bigger things like "I love you."

I can tell you that my father, Ron, has been a father, friend, fear factor, role model and everything else that mattered.

There were times during the 1960s when he maintained his full-time job along with two part-time jobs to feed, clothe and shelter us.

Likewise, and like my dad, I worked three jobs at once while in high school: at the feed store he managed, at a gas station and refereeing city league basketball games.

From late April through October, on his one day off each week, we usually stumbled out of bed at 3:30 a.m. to traipse down to one of the poison oak- and rattlesnake-infested forks of the Stanislaus or Tuolumne rivers to catch trout.

At 74, his days of hiking in and out

of steep canyons are pretty much finished. With age comes wisdom, I guess. I still try to fish the south fork of the Stanislaus once every couple of years. Not because the fishing's all that great anymore, but because it just seems like the right thing to do to maintain our tradition.

He coached my Little League team when no one else stepped up, rushing from work to the ballpark just in time to turn in the lineup card and settle in for the first pitch.

He taught me to drive, too, and the hills of Sonora offered a challenging test track. He always drove pickups, and the pickups always had a clutch. You know, that third pedal you see on vehicles in museums.

Automatic transmissions? Too easy. My brother and I learned to drive in the pickup. Kill the motor or smell the clutch burning and you heard about it.

One summer morning, while I had my learner's permit, we headed into town to drop my mom off for work. As I prepared to make a left turn toward the courthouse, traffic in the other direction was solid. I had to stop and wait on an incline. I was toast and I knew it. To make matters worse, the next car came up way too close behind me. When the traffic cleared, I took my foot off the brake and moved it to the gas pedal. It was too late. The pickup rolled back two or three feet and bumped the car behind me. The clutch smelled. The motor died. So, inside, did I.

My dad -- red-faced and with eyes afire -- jumped out of the truck to check for damage. There was none. Even so, he was less than pleased. It was an embarrassing moment, right smack dab in the middle of a town where everyone knew everybody else. He came around to the driver's side and took over the wheel. After leaving my mom off in front of the building where she worked, a block or so away, we headed toward the feed store at the south end of town. Except that we detoured, taking a road that went up a hill toward the hay barn. He stopped the pickup

on a steep slope, got out and said -- with a pronounced

edge -- "Move over."

I scooted into the driver's seat, nervous and without even a smidgen of confidence.

"If you roll back so much as one inch, you won't be driving until you're 25," he told me in no uncertain terms.

I learned to drive a clutch that day -- that very moment, actually.

We also bickered over the length of my hair, which during high school was no longer than early Beatles hairdos. He wanted it very short. Military short. Perhaps he forgot his generation wore its hair more vertically, held up by enough petroleum products to grease a semi and finance a Saudi sheikdom.

And it really drove him nuts when I grew a beard and let my hair grow long during a college-age period of rebellion.

Now, with my hair graying and thinning, he gets in a good-natured, I-told-you-so dig once in awhile.

He's earned the right.

But there's never been a moment in my life that I felt he hasn't wanted the very best for me. Whenever possible, it's nice to return the favors in ways only a dad could appreciate.

I covered a George Foreman fight in Reno in 1991. I never accepted freebies from promoters, so Dad bought a ticket and went with me. After the fight, I snuck him into the reception area and introduced him to Angelo Dundee, Muhammad Ali's former trainer, whom I'd gotten to know over the years. Next to Dundee stood Jake "The Raging Bull" LaMotta. My dad had watched these men, two of boxing's most well-known figures, for decades on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports Friday Night Fights during television's black-and-white days.

It was the only time in 17 years of covering sports I ever breached the so-called press-row protocol, but the look on my dad's face was worth it. And we didn't get caught.

He still talks about that every so often. Yet, nothing I've ever done for him could compare to the little, everyday things and sacrifices he made for us. One way or another, most of us learn how to be parents from the masters: our own.

So on this Father's Day, it's time to once again say "thanks," "I love you," and only hope my daughter feels as good about her dad as I do about mine.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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