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Column: Dad, I still can't say goodbye

I drove past the Little League field the other evening on my way to the grocery store and saw only two guys on the field, a kid on the pitcher's mound and a catcher behind the plate, his dad.

The kid was about seven or eight years old and his dad was about the age of a dad of a seven- or eight-year-old son. On the way back from the store, the kid was pitching and the dad was at the plate with a bat trying to hit his son's fastball. I had just one thought: "Now there is a dad." The kid probably won't realize until years from now when he's a dad himself what a lucky kid he was.

Why is it that when a young person, anywhere from age five to a GI age 25 is on camera, his or her first words are "hi, mom!" Soldiers dying on the battlefield cry for their mothers. These are well deserved salutes to mothers of course, but they may be more than that, a symptom of a common practice of dads not paying enough attention to their kids.

I remember some years ago watching each and every hockey game and noting one kid who had exceptional speed and skill. He was a star. I noticed that in the area where most parents sat, his mother was there, but never his dad. Then one day I ran into his dad and told him his kid was a very special hockey player and I was sure he'd really enjoy seeing him play. He showed mild interest in what I was saying, but I never saw him at a game. What kind of a dad is that? "Hi, mom!"

I've written before about my dad -- gone for many years now. He gave each of his three sons a new baseball glove. They were the best gloves around in their day.

Dad was always playing catch with us ("show me some smoke"), encouraging us and teaching us about baseball and about life at the same time.

To him the same rules applied to both. You practiced hard, you threw hard, you ran hard, you tried hard and more often than not, you won. But not always, so you had to learn about losing and about sportsmanship too. Then you played all the harder next time. His favorite word was, "hustle." That one word summed up his attitude about baseball and about life.

We worked with him and for him too, driving a gas truck. Looking back, I believe every son should have a chance to be with his dad at work and to work for him. Without many words being spoken, it seems that fathers pass strength to their sons by working with them and working where their sons can observe them.

If you want to hear a song that sums up the love of a son for his father, listen to "I Still Can't Say Goodbye" written and sung by Chet Atkins. If that doesn't grab you by the handles, you don't have any handles. Just a few words:

"When I was young, my Dad would say come on son let's go out and play

Sometimes it seems like yesterday...

He always took care of Mom and me. We all cut down a Christmas tree

He always had some time for me...

I walked by a Salvation Army store and saw a hat like my daddy wore

Tried it on when I walked in still trying to be like him...

No matter how hard I try

No matter how many years go by

No matter how many tears I cry

I still can't say good-bye"

To each father, whether you taught the lessons of life through a baseball glove, a Christmas tree, a guitar, a horse, an old car, a garden, a tractor, a fishing rod or a book, thanks for the lessons and Happy Father's Day.