Category Archives: Betheboy Dad Stories

Riding With The Big Man

When he was still in his early 20’s my father owned a Camaro. In my head I can still see it in front of my grandparents’ house; blue with a white stripe down the hood with an 8-track player and seat belts that were only a suggestion.  I remember how it sounded when it pulled up to the house and I remember what it felt like to sit in the front seat on the rare occasions it was just dad and I going for a ride. Outside of that, the only thing I remember is that one day the car was gone and instead of a Camaro my father was driving an old van, which he later swapped for an old Ford Bronco. My father would never again race someone who pulled up beside him at a light but the Bronco held his tools during the week and his kids on the weekend, which was enough.

The one thing the Camaro and the Bronco had in common was music and by the early 80’s this usually meant Bruce Springsteen. My father played Born to Run like he was preparing my brother, sister and I for a test on it and if there was a test we would have done just fine. We knew it was a town full of losers, we knew about the back streets, we knew most importantly when the change was made uptown and The Big Man joined the band because of all of the songs on that album we liked 10th Avenue Freeze Out best (I never thought about it at the time but I suppose we liked it because it was easy for us to all sing along with.)

In 1986, when Springsteen and the E Street Band released the live set of songs from 1975-1985 my father carefully selected his favorites and copied them onto cassette so we could listen to them in the car. He included a live version of 10th Avenue Freeze Out but our favorite song soon became the live version of Rosalita. By this point in time my father had seen Springsteen live but for the rest of us this 10-minute version of Rosalita was as close as we would get to the live experience. In case you’ve never heard it, that version of Rosalita, recorded at the Roxy Theater in 1978, includes a break to introduce the band which culminates in us learning that Bruce had in his corner, the man he called the king of the world…The Big Man Clarence Clemons. We had seen Clarence in pictures and on TV but it was this song that captured my imagination and set the image in my head of The Big Man as more than just Bruce’s sideman, he was also (as far as I could tell) his protector and confidant which is just what I needed and why in my head, when I recast my family as the E Street Band* I always made my father Clarence Clemons.

*Don’t act like you’ve never cast your family as a famous band. My family has been The E-Street Band, The Wu Tang Clan and many more over the years. Basically any band with more than five members can serve as a stand in for your family. Give it a try.

Here is the Clarence intro from around the same time as that Roxy show.

Yesterday, I was saddened to hear the news that Clarence Clemons had passed away. Today is Father’s Day and as many of you know, my father passed away about a year and a half ago.  Today I’m thinking of both big men and I’m grateful for the times we all spent together, I won’t let the fact that Clarence was never actually driving with us stop me in the least. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.

Happy Father’s Day to the big men in all of our lives, wherever they may be.

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Opening Day (Cheer up Charlie)

Today the Mets start their 2011 season and after 30+ years of watching opening days I keep my expectations reasonable. I don’t expect much from the Mets this year so anything I get will be fine. I’ll still catch as many games on TV and on the radio as I can but I’ve learned to not take it all so seriously. However, a few minutes ago I was thinking of the game and realizing that I feel like Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory* after his family believed the last golden ticket had been found and that means tonight is my last chance to dream about the Mets being great before reality sets in.

*Let’s all agree that the Cheer up Charlie song almost kills the movie before it really gets going.

The last time I got my hopes up for a Mets game in April was in 2009 because I was going to be in New York for the Mets home opener which happened to be the first Mets game at the new Citi Field. My father called me a few days beforehand to tell me that he scored us a pair of tickets to the game. New season, new park and my father, who is responsible for my being a Mets fan, was taking me to the game. This was as good as life could get when it came to baseball.

I’ll spare you the details but long story short we didn’t make it to the game. Through no fault of my father’s the tickets fell through at the last-minute, this felt like a bad end to a disaster of a trip (I wrote about it at the time here). At least I thought it was a bad ending at the time.

My father apologized for what had happened and invited me to join him at his favorite bar to watch the game. We sat over a few beers and enjoyed the first few innings before heading for home to watch the rest. The Mets fell behind early and lost the game but that didn’t matter, it was good to watch the game with my dad. After 34 years of misunderstandings and missed opportunities we were finally just talking like two people who actually liked one another. We talked baseball, comedy and family When the game ended we stayed up a little while longer talking about the future. He had to work early the next morning and I had to catch a flight back to Los Angeles so we said goodnight and goodbye.

The next morning my father was gone before I got up and despite the great night I had watching the game I left my hometown disappointed by the whole trip and unsure when I’d be back. As it turned out, that Mets home opener would be the last game I would see with my father; my next trip home was six months later when he passed away.

It’s been two years since that night and the disappointment I felt that day has long since been replaced with perspective and a genuine grateful feeling for the fact that I had one last opening day with the person who taught me that opening day was important.

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The NY Jets and How I Won it All

Last year the New York Jets were one win away from going to the Super Bowl and on the eve of that game I broke down and cried. Three months earlier my father had died unexpectedly, I took it very hard but I didn’t cry. I was deeply saddened and angry through the travel, the wake, the funeral and the handling of my father’s estate but I could not bring myself to shed a tear even though I wanted to.

When I got home I tried to return back to my normal life but I felt like there was a tremendous hole in the middle of me that couldn’t be filled. The closest I felt to normal came on the Sundays the Jets played. My father was a Jets fan, which means I am a Jets fan. My father and I had our difficulties and were often at odds with one another but when we had cause to not speak to each other we still had the Jets to talk about. Eventually football talk would give way to other discussions. When I was a child we sat over chocolate milk, cookies and the preview of the weekend’s game in the paper. We talked about match ups and betting and then finally the reasons my parents divorced. Years later, over drinks we talked about games and made peace with one another over slights both real and imagined. The day after I got married in Las Vegas, my father and I stood in the Sports Book discussing possible wagers  on the upcoming Jets season and he told me he thought that my new bride and her family, who he had met 48 hours earlier were: “The Goods” and that I did pretty well for myself.

The last time my father and I spoke was after a Jets game, in September 2009, a few weeks before he died. After he was gone I’d watch the games on Sundays and everything would feel normal until I’d reach for my phone to call someone who wasn’t there. Over the course of the rest of the season I attached a great significance to the Jets playoff hopes. Since the Jets were the last thing my father and I spoke about I felt like the season represented the last tangible connection I had to him and that connection would be severed when the season ended. When the Jets managed to get into the last playoff spot I felt like I had been granted one more week to feel connected to my father. After they pulled off two straight upset wins I began to think that maybe something magical was going on and maybe the connection I had created in my head would last all the way through the Super Bowl. However, the night before the AFC Championship game against the heavily favored Colts I knew that the odds were against the Jets and I would likely have to let go sooner or later, so I cried. I cried for the loss of my father and I cried over the memories of Sunday afternoons spent watching football with him. Then, when I had gotten it all out, I got ready to watch the game. When the Jets lost I was sad but I was okay, I had gotten everything I needed from the season including some closure.

This Sunday, the Jets are once again underdogs who are one game away from going to the Super Bowl and I have some perspective. I want the Jets to win it all but as time goes on I’ve realized that my love of the Jets has always been and always will be a stand in for the love I have for my father. Sometimes my father and I needed the Jets to help us communicate but I never doubted that he loved me and I’m sure he always knew I felt the same. No matter what happens this weekend, nothing can take that away. No matter what happens on Sunday, I have won.

That said: J-E-T-S! JETS!, JETS!, JETS!

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A Year, Briefly

On Saturday October 16th it will be a year since my father died. I’ve spent the last 365 days grieving, adjusting to the changes in my life and  trying to move forward. I’ve done all of these things with varying degrees of success and I will continue to do them for a long time.

Today, instead of dwelling on the loss of my father I’d like to thank him for being here for the first 35 years of my life; I wish we had more time but I’m grateful for all that we had. I’d like to thank my mother for doing the work of two parents this year. I’d also like to say thank you to all of my family and friends; you were here for me on the hardest day of my life and you  have been here for me ever since. Your kindness and generosity will never be forgotten. Finally, thank you to my wife who helped me keep it together for most  the past year and picked me up when I fell apart.

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Thanks Jets & Thanks Dad

The Jets season has come to an end and as promised, I am just fine.  Football is fun but it is not real life. I’ve had a great time for the last several weeks and I will have fun again next year.

It goes without saying that I miss my father today. You know what he’d tell me if he were alive? That I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up in the first place; but I do, I always do, and I like it that way.

A few things before I sign off on this season:

New York Jets- I’ll see you next year.

Dad – I wish you were here to say you told me so. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay.

To all my friends and family – Thanks for cheering on the Jets along we me, you have all made this more fun than you know. While we won’t see the Jets in the Super Bowl, there’s nothing to be sad about today.

Life goes on starting right now and I’ve got some stuff to get done.

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Keeping The Jets In Perspective

A few days ago I posted something about what a New York Jets win against the Chargers would mean to me and then hoped for the best. As luck would have it, Sunday wound up being a special day at our house: the Jets beat the Chargers and more importantly, my friends both near and far (and some people I have not been lucky enough to meet yet) rallied around the cause and cheered the Jets on with me. I’ll share my feelings on all of this in a minute but first let’s talk about what to wear when watching a game.

In my closet you’ll find a dozen articles of Jets branded clothing, all gifts from my father and father-in-law.  For good luck and because they were gifts from people I care about, I like to wear something Jets related while watching the game. Prior to the game starting on Sunday I was wearing a Jets tee-shirt with a warm-up jersey over it (I couldn’t decide which to wear so I wore both). I pulled three replica jerseys out of the closet, one for me and the other two just in case anyone else in the house wanted to wear one; that was the plan at least.

Midway through the third quarter, feeling that the two shirts I had on were not lucky enough, I put a jersey over the shirt and jersey I already had on. A few minutes later, with the Jets about to score in the fourth quarter, I put yet another on. Twelve minutes to play and I’m wearing 4 shirts, it’s ridiculous but the Jets are winning.

After an interception by the Jets deep in Chargers territory, I reached for the last jersey. Those of you who follow the Jets might recognize it as a replica of the #10 worn by Chad Pennington in the 2002 season, it was also given to me by my father. Just after New Year’s Day 2003, I flew home to New York just in time to see the Jets play the Colts in a Wild Card playoff game. My dad was waiting curbside at JFK with the jersey and I had to put it on before he allowed me in the car.  We arrived home in time for the kickoff of the 41-0 Jets win. Ever since that day it has been the go-to good luck charm, it’s silly but so is rooting for a team full of strangers.

With seven minutes to go in the game the Jets are ahead by ten points and I’m wearing five shirts. By the time the Chargers scored with 2:14 to go I had to shed the top three jerseys because I was afraid I was going to pass out from the heat. Luckily the Jets held on or I would have blamed myself; it might have helped that my wife put one of them on too.

Superstitious clothing talk aside, the Jets beat the Chargers yesterday and this makes me happy. My desire to keep the Jets season going stems from the fact that the beginning of the season was the last thing my dad and I shared before he passed away suddenly in October. In my mind this season has been the last living connection I have to him. It’s a made-up connection but it’s the last one I’ve got.

Midway through writing the post where I talked about what the Jets-Chargers game meant to me, I put down my Macbook and said to my wife “when the season is over I’ll feel like he’s really gone” and cried. When I finished the post I asked for one more win, so I’d have one more week to feel connected to my dad. Now that I have that, I’m going to enjoy it but I’m not asking for anything else.

Sure, I hope the Jets win and then win the Superbowl but if they fall short it doesn’t change anything. A Jets championship might mean something to me and to other fans but it doesn’t really mean anything. My father isn’t coming back and I’m going to have to let go of this imaginary connection I have to him sooner or later.

When the time comes I will let go and continue living as well as I can.  Maybe the Jets make it to the Superbowl and maybe they don’t but no matter what happens I’ve already have everything I need. I had 35 years to spend with my father and I have friends and family who will help me to keep his memory alive. I’d like to thank every one of you for your support.

When the Jets play the Colts on Sunday I’m going to cheer the Jets on and hope for the best, I hope you’ll cheer along with me but no matter what happens, we are all going to keep on living. Now that we are all clear on that: Lets Go Jets!

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A Quick Letter

Dear Dad,

I’ve got good news, the Jets won today so we’ve got at least one more week left in the season (hopefully more). The AFC Championship Game is next Sunday. I hope you can see it from wherever you are.

Love,

Will

(If you’re confused by this, see the last post)

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