A drizzly Flag Day and wet flags hang on their little poles stuck in the grass along our street. The child asks, "Why the flags?" So you talk about the meaning of the flag, that we Americans are one people, despite our contrariness, and you go on too long about this in the coffee-grinder voice of adulthood, but it's June, School Is Out, time to simply enjoy America and not try to explain it.
One of the beauties of fatherhood is the small miracle of shared pleasure. The 12-year-old girl is trying to be her own person and yet we share a love of peanut butter, which, for all the inventiveness of the prepared-food industry, continues to be made from peanuts, no fruit added, no cherry, no chocolate chips, no chunks of pineapple. A slice of bread toasted, lightly buttered, heavily peanut-buttered, is a joy to her and also to me. Equality of pleasure — this is what a father searches for in June. The little moral uplift lecture: give it a rest — forget about teaching. The trees will go on digesting food and absorbing water whether we write term papers about this or not, so let us lie in their shade and look up at the clouds and absorb the blessedness of the sun. (But do use sunscreen.)
The girl and I went to the ball game the night of the last day of school and equally enjoyed our hot dogs. No basmati rice in the hot dog, no fennel, no tamarind sauce, just a beef weenie in a white bun, mustard for me, ketchup for her. I gave a very brief refresher lecture on baseball basics and we sat back and observed, holding hands. I want her to absorb the beautiful geometry of the game, the fly ball to deep left-center and the outfielders stretching out full tilt, their paths converging, and the arc of the descent of the white ball and that thrilling moment when the ball rolls into the gap for a double. I'd like her to feel the beauty of limitations, the remarkable, unlikely and graceful things that happen within this fixed finite field. Bases loaded, one out, our pitcher is struggling, disaster is on the horizon, and then there it is — that squiggly grounder to the shortstop who underhands it to the second baseman running across second who leaps, pivoting, and fires to first for the DP, and 30,000 fans jump to their feet and yell, YES! Pure reflex. The day my daughter jumps up and yells for the double play will be a happy day in my life.
That day isn't here yet. She was more interested in foul balls, the parade of vendors, and the gang of young girls who sat behind us texting their friends through two hours of baseball and when the crowd jumped up and yelled, the girls were like, What? What happened? And you can't explain a double play.
Compulsive texting gives me the willies: It's just another form of butt scratching. But baseball does its best to accommodate the hyperactive cyberworld of children by flashing live HD video of fans on the big scoreboard. Between half-innings you can watch the intense narcissism of the young, the enormous grins on their 50-foot faces, instant fame, wowser. Okay, whatever. Baseball remains a fixed mark in our attention-deficit world. YouTube comes and goes, meanwhile it's permanently 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate to the pitcher's mound. There and their and they're are three different things. The offering comes after the sermon. Flag Day is June 14 and people still do fly the flag. Amen to all that.
A father needs to make a bond with his children based on pleasure, and this is a delicate negotiation. My daughter and I love to sing the University of Minnesota Rouser, and we enjoy jokes, bookstores, old musicals, ice cream, trains, water fights, and hilarity at the dinner table.
Have fun on Father's Day. No cologne for me, no tie, thanks, I have enough. A good joke is the only gift I need. How about the one about the father who asked for a cup of coffee, no sugar, no cream, and the waitress said, "Sorry, we don't have any cream — how about no milk instead?" What you don't want, you can't have it anyway, so how about not wanting what's available? Story of my life, kid. And then you came along. An inside-the-park home run on the first pitch.
© 2010 Garrison Keillor