I imagine that those who read A Coach at Heart will wonder what my relationship with my father was like.
“You’re letting out some serious anger issues in your writing. He must have been one rotten dude. You guys must not have gotten along at all.”
My Dad was born in Arkansas in the early 1920s, was raised in Little Rock and fought as a Marine in World War II. He wanted to be an actor and ended up with bit roles in movies like “Battleground” and, while he was in Hollywood, helped a friend start Marine Toys for Tots. Eventually, the time came to get a real job, so he followed that friend into public relations and went on to a brilliant career that included a one-year presidency of the Public Relations Society of America and the founding of the PRSA’s student branch. He also, thankfully, met and married my mom.
He was something of a paradox, though. You’re really putting yourself out there as an actor and PR man, but he was a very private individual. He loved conversation, but generally only with those he was close to. He was generous with his time and advice to his kids, friends of his children and neighbors. He was also demanding and had his own notions about what my sister, my brother and I should be.
So how did we get along? Pretty well, all in all. I mean, every father and son relationship has its glitches. And the generation gap was a real issue at the time. Kids these days like to think their parents don’t understand them or the issues they face. The truth is parents do understand them, and their issues are the same ones the parents faced years earlier, just that the stakes have sadly grown by a huge amount. The generation gap was a major problem back in the 1960s, though. Parents and kids might as well have existed in different dimensions for their lack of knowledge of what each side was going through. My parents had no clue what was going on in our world, but they did read the horror stories.
But in terms of any real conflict between my dad and I, I can only think of one instance. It was back in probably my first year of high school, and I swear to God I don’t even remember what it was about. It was around that time in a kid’s life where he’s gaining more opportunities while, at the same time, parents are trying like hell to manage that freedom. So it very well could have been in that hazy area between what I wanted and what they would allow.
What I do recall is that we didn’t speak to each other for about a week. It could have been two weeks.
And as a lot of our relationship was centered on being sports fans, it was football that pulled us out of the trouble. I very reluctantly accompanied him to a Rams-49ers game at the Los Angeles Coliseum. We were San Francisco fans, and the 49ers sucked that year. But they pulled off a massive upset, won on a late field goal by Steve Mike-Mayer. The game was famous for Rams K Tom Dempsey kicking an onrushing field goal blocker in the throat, which delayed the game for nearly a half-hour while the unfortunate soul’s life was saved on the field in front of 70,000 onlookers. Something like that would surely put any mundane disagreement into perspective.
When I was in college, I made a major decision he disagreed with and when he picked me up one day at the train station, I’m sure he wanted to unload on me. However, we drove home listening on the radio to QB Joe Montana leading the ‘niners to another amazing comeback, and all was well again between us.
Dad was no Henry Steele by any means. When I dedicated A Coach at Heart to him, there were plenty of good reasons. And it made sense, with the subject related to football, because our mutual love of sports was how we bonded and accommodated each other, and kept our relationship intact.