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John James, founder of The Grief Recovery Institute

John W. James

Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute®
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve

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Father’s Day 2016 - My Dad, Babe Ruth, and the Ball That’s Still in Orbit

In the kind of emotional reviews our minds and hearts make on chronicling days like Father’s Day, we often discover a level of appreciation that we’d never realized or expressed directly to our dads in exactly the way we now feel it.

In one of those almost automatic reviews I made years ago, I realized just how much it meant to me that my dad had spent so many hours playing baseball with me when I was a kid. I was pretty sure I’d always thanked him, but I knew that I had never sat down with him as an adult, and told him just what it meant to me.

Fortunately, when I had that awareness, my dad was still alive. On impulse, I booked a trip to Florida to visit him, with the express purpose of expressing my appreciation to him. [Yes, my dad, like me, loved word play.]

That trip turned out to be one of the best impulses I ever had and followed. It was a little hard for my dad to sit still and accept the compliments and thank yous I was giving him, but he managed to take it in, if only barely.

However, it really opened up his memory bank. Since we were talking about baseball, my dad told me in vivid detail about the time he’d pitched to Babe Ruth in spring training. Although I already knew most of the story, I was not about to rob him of the joy of telling it again.

My dad was a semi-pro baseball player back in the 1930’s when there were industrial leagues with teams fielded by the larger corporations. One year, my dad and one of his pals had managed to get themselves invited to participate in the New York Yankees’ spring training camp.

As luck would have it, my dad was put in a game to pitch to Babe Ruth. Dad said Ruth hit one of his pitches so hard and far, that it’s probably still in orbit somewhere. Later that day, The Babe invited dad and a bunch of the other young guys to go bowling with him. They had a blast.

Dad remembered that The Babe called him and everyone else “kid.” Turns out The Babe was such a big drinker that he never remembered anyone’s name, and “kid” became the universal greeting so he didn’t goof up anyone’s name.

A few years after that trip I made to Florida to have that chat with my dad, he died, at age 93. Needless to say, on the day I got the call that he died, one of my first memories was of that trip and the story dad told me about his innings with The Mighty Babe.

The Memories Keep Coming

My dad’s death was not the end of my memories of my life with him and of the discoveries of other things that I wish I’d talked to him about. Nor was his death the end of events in my life that I wish I could have shared with him.

In December, 2010, I was privileged to attend the Kennedy Center Honors, as part of the entourage of one of the honorees, Jerry Herman. Jerry wrote Hello Dolly and Mame and other Broadway shows. In addition to being with our friend, Jerry, we got to spend a lot of time with the other four honorees, Oprah, Sir Paul McCartney, Merle Haggard, and Bill T. Jones. You may have heard of some of them.

Equally thrilling, was that we met and chatted with and had our picture taken with the President and First Lady at the White House. We were also part of an elegant evening at the State Department. And much, much more.

Can you imagine how much I would have loved to share that whirlwind weekend with my dad? In a way, it is my Babe Ruth story. One of those magical, once-in-a-lifetime things that most of us only dream of.

And because my dad wasn’t alive for me to share it with him, it became a new piece of unfinished emotional business that needed to be completed by sharing it with one of my confidants.

It was not a complicated communication, but an emotionally important one for me. My friend listened as I talked about how exciting it had been, as an American citizen, to be in the White House and actually talk to the President, and how sad I was that dad wasn’t here to share it with me. Although my words were directed to my dad who wasn’t there, they were being heard by someone I trusted.

As I neared the end of what I needed so say, tears sprouted in my eyes. When I finished, my friend offered me a hug, which I gratefully accepted.

Sports Linked Me To My Dad and To The President

Since sports was a usual theme of my relationship with my dad, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that sports was the topic of my short chat with the President. You see, I met the President just a few days after an incident in which he had had 12 stitches in his mouth after getting elbowed in a basketball game.

The odd connection was that on the day the President got hurt, I was playing golf with Rudy Tomjanovich, himself a former professional basketball player and coach who was once involved in an infamous incident in which he’d gotten hit in the face during a basketball game. The President was very aware of that event and asked me to give his regards to Rudy T—which I did. As you can see, the thread of sports in my life and its connection to my father is a very strong emotional bond, one for which I am exceptionally grateful. Although I think of my dad often, every Father’s Day ups the ante and puts him on the front burner of my mind and heart.

And I get to have the joy of my memories as I share a little bit of my dad with you. I hope you will follow my lead and share your memories with the people close to you, not only on Father's Day or Mother's Day, but everyday.

© 2022 John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute®. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at info@griefrecoverymethod.com or by phone, 800-334-7606.

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