I am 35 and live in Los Angeles. My father, 81, has never left New York. The cable connecting us is attached to our televisions.
My father had 46 years on me--nearly half a century to define himself before I, his only child, came along. His ways were set, and my arrival, almost smack in the middle of what has blessedly evolved into a wonderfully long life, never did much to affect those ways. By the time I'd managed to create a few of my own, I knew I would be less my father's son than a reaction to the image I had of him. Our separateness seemed inevitable.
Growing up, I saw my father in terms of outward flourishes. He sold women's hats; I hated women's hats. He never learned to drive; I couldn't wait to get a license. He fell asleep after dinner; I read through the night. He was quiet; I rarely shut up. The world of my father was not the world I wanted to be from--except . . . except my father loved the Mets, and I loved the Mets, and that would be the first flourish to ruffle the distance between us.
In 1962, we conspired--him to skip work, me to skip school--to be in the old Polo Grounds on that first damp afternoon of National League baseball's return to New York. Cold and wet, we were deliriously together. He'd slip me sips of beer and bits of insight culled from five decades of watching the game. He had seen Cobb and Ruth, Mathewson and DiMaggio. He had played against Gehrig in high school and Greenberg in the sandlots. Between cracks of the bat, he pitched me his memories. I couldn't get enough of them.
Opening day became a tradition for us: the next year again in the Polo Grounds; an April later, we house-warmed Shea. Of course there were other games, hundreds of them, both in the stands and on the old living room portable. Together, we built a common history, the Mets and us. When there was nothing else to talk about, we had our team. Like the Mets, we sometimes stumbled, and we sometimes scored; through them, my dad and I could be together, the arc of each game offering time to search out each other, as inning after inning we sat and watched, watched and communicated.
Pitch after pitch, we opened to each other. He would tell me about himself, about his childhood, lived so many years before, in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge before there was a Manhattan Bridge. He would talk to me about school, about books, about friends, about dreams--his and mine. He revealed himself to me as I revealed myself to him. For a brief few years, our gears were meshing as we explored the ways we fit together as father and son. Through the Mets, we had found the great leveler.
And then, like a high pop in the August sun, we lost it. I went off to college--same time zone, different area code. I was 18. The Mets seemed less important, and my father, in his mid-60s, seemed suddenly the ancient mariner. We couldn't understand each other anymore--as my hair grew long, his tolerance grew short; the more advice he had to offer, the deafer I became. There had always been an age gap between us, now there was--officially--a Generation Gap. We didn't look for a bridge.
Other area codes soon followed, then new time zones, and the Mets, like my father, stayed behind. I sporadically followed the box scores, and sporadically called my dad, but our relationship lacked continuity. We were like stranded baserunners with no path to get home.
Not long after I moved to Los Angeles, in 1978, my mother died. After 34 years of marriage, my father was alone; his mate gone forever, his son a nation away. He adjusted. He learned to shop for groceries, and wash his clothes. He learned to make coffee and eggs and soup and salad. He learned to do the things my mother always did for him.
His closest friend became a television.
It had been my mother's pride and joy, that set--our first color set, a big, beautiful, 19-inch model made in Japan. She kept it in the bedroom where she watched her nighttime programs, while my father, self-exiled to the living room, would read his paper and tune in a ball game on the dilapidated portable we had stared into so often as a team. The sound on that portable hissed like a scratched 78, and the picture, when it came in at all, hopped like an errant knuckler. I knew my father had begun to make peace with my mother's death when he junked the old set and wheeled hers out in its place. He never felt a television belonged in the bedroom anyway. Soon, he added cable.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the cable company that serviced my Hollywood Hills neighborhood opted to add the New York superstation, WOR, to its choices on the selector box. With it came little hints of home--the Million-Dollar Movie, Joe Franklin, old Bilkos . . . and the Mets.