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On Father's Day, best gift is time together

My dad thought Father's Day was for suckers, invented by department stores to flog useless merchandise.

Which may leave the impression of an ungenerous man, who didn't like to receive because he didn't want to be obligated to give. Not at all. Here are a few things he gave me:

Season tickets to Cincinnati Bengals games. Don't laugh. This was a big deal in the 1970s, when the teams were decent. And it meant that, counting preseason, we went to 10 games a year together, including a snowy brawl against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1976. We lost 7-3. Funny thing, until looking it up for this column, I'd always remembered it as a win.

Another ticket, to True Grit, my first adult movie, with John Wayne as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, which gave my father a chance to tell me that my great-grandfather had held the same job in the same town, Fort Smith, Ark., patrolling the same Oklahoma Territory.

There's a great line when John Wayne draws his pistols and calls out to bad guy Ned Pepper to do likewise: "Fill your hands, you son of a b----.''

How much did it mean to look over and see this thrilled Pop as much as it did me? A ton, just as it did when he could look back over 40 years as a baseball fan and say that the double-play combination we watched together, Joe Morgan and Davey Concepcion, was the best he'd ever seen.

We went to dozens of Reds games, starting at old Crosley Field in the 1960s, and including the fifth game of the 1975 World Series. It looked like we had the worst seats in the stadium, top row in dead center, behind the scoreboard. We had to hunch down to see the field — until some indignant fool yelled at us for taking his seats. We were one row down, with a clear view of home plate.

This is probably not a good thing, but it was a lot of fun: A few Saturday afternoons he took me to his regular bar. The bartender shot my Coke and the mixer for my dad's cocktail out of the same soda gun. We ate cheese popcorn from a flimsy little wooden salad bowl and watched NBC's Game of the Week — probably the Dodgers, because it almost always was.

In 1980, I drove with him to Wisconsin for his nephew's wedding, where my dad introduced me to his side of the family's favorite activity: sitting around drinking vast quantities of beer. In the same vein, we went to the house of a co-worker who got HBO and watched local hero Aaron Pryor beat the snot out of Alexis Arguello.

There was some wholesome stuff, too.

He took me fishing a couple of times — pay lake, cane poles — until we both decided it was pointless. On a brutally hot and humid day, or what seemed like one before I moved to Florida, he walked 18 holes with me to see if his skinny, late-developing son might have a talent for golf. I didn't.

He drove me to cross country meets, where I did okay, and wrestling matches, where I stunk. For a while, before he got Parkinson's disease and a fatal case of lung cancer, he was in great shape and once ran a 10K with me.

Fathers, this is a Sunday in June — likely a day off for you and your kids, their school worries behind them. It's a perfect chance, one of not all that many you'll be granted, to go out and have fun. Give them a few hours, a gift with staying power, and forget about the disposable junk they might give you.

On Father's Day, best gift is time together 06/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 19, 2010 11:49am]
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