I took my father to a baseball game recently. I have done it once a year for three out of the last four years. It is hands down one of my favorite days of the year. Just my dad and I eating pulled pork sandwiches and watching the Mets lose.
We went on a weeknight this year when the Mets were playing a less than stellar team on a night that should have poured but ended up perfect. The stadium was empty.
We sat on field level on the first base side. The row in front of us had only two people in it a couple that appeared to be anything but in love. The woman was sitting closer to home plate and watched the game at almost a right angle to her significant other. He practically watched the game over her shoulder.
They didn’t hold hands, they didn’t laugh, and they barely looked at each other. And when she did turn to look at him it was almost disdainful. Like when she yelled at him for overtipping the guy who sold him a soda.
It was one of those interactions I had a hard time looking away from, nor did I have to as I was afforded the luxury of anonymity, watching them from behind.
I couldn’t get over how completely unhappy they seemed to be. Perhaps they had just had a fight, or maybe something more severe was taking place, but I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to spend their time like that.
But as I watched them not be in love with each other I started thinking other things. And the thoughts fell like dominoes.
How could anybody tolerate being in a relationship like that?
I don’t want a relationship like that.
I want to truly enjoy the person I’m with.
And then the couple I have watched interact with each other more than anybody else popped into my head; my parents. I thought about how they might sit together at a baseball game. I thought about how I’ve seen them sit together on a bench, out to dinner or anywhere else.
I realized I never saw my parents sit like that couple at the baseball game. They were always enjoying each other’s company, always affectionate with each other, subtly but consistently.
Now I am lucky to be the child of parents about to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. I know that puts me in the minority in so many ways. It is a minority I am very lucky to be a part of. And as all things go in my life, I am suddenly understanding lessons from many many years ago. Lessons I hadn’t even realized I had learned.
The first vacation I ever took with my college girlfriend was months before we actually started dating. We were best friends at the time, spending all our time together, laughing and driving her car around Arizona. At the end of our sophomore year we decided to take a weekend road trip to San Diego.
In my memory the trip is colored by the beautiful innocence that exists between two people when they have unlimited time, tremendous capability and a healthy ignorance of all future responsibilities.
We ate, we experienced, and we laughed. We grew closer in new ways.
On our last day there, on a morning soaked in stubborn fog we said goodbye to the beach and started back to her car. She stopped to tie her shoe while I was looking in the other direction and I didn’t notice until she was already ten steps behind.
I slowed my pace as a sudden affection came over me. Wanting to express something but unsure of how to show it, like a giraffe learning to nuzzle, I did something for the first time that also seemed strangely familiar.
While slowly walking still looking straight ahead and with my arms at my side I reached the fingers of my right hand open wide, wiggling them slowly, as though stretching. And without a word exchanged, or even a glance, by the time she caught up with me her palm found mine.
It hadn’t been something I’d thought about in advance. The action of it almost seemed foreign to my body, something I couldn’t control. It wasn’t until her fingers were laced through mine that I realized why it seemed so familiar.
It's what my father did. It’s what he always did when he held hands with my mother.
I had seen him do it many times before. Walking side by side with my mother he’d open his hand wide and her hand would find his. I can’t remember specific instances, this memory comes in bulk. But it’s there in the cells of my being, a built-in example.
It seems silly to say that I am regularly learning things my parents taught me decades ago, but I suppose that is how it goes. The knowledge never matters until it does. The experience is kept on the shelf until it’s needed. And hopefully, the familiarity of it all isn’t lost on us.
As I get older I inhabit more of my father’s mannerisms than I can count. Some of them seem insignificant, simple gestures, motions that indicate nothing else but uniqueness.
But there are some gestures that have come naturally to me and embody much more just an action. They embody a mentality, a personality, and a way of being. They are things that connect me to my father.
They are effortless yet significant, spontaneous yet important, and most warmly unexpected.
Like two hands finding each other for the first time.