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My dad: Ten years later (1941-2000)
By. Mark Harris

July 1, 2010


On July 1, 2000, my dad, Robert Milton Harris, passed away at age 59. - He was a great dad, career drinker and alcoholic. - He died of liver disease.

He was a California kid, born and raised in the San Francisco bay area with his sister and parents. My parents met in San Francisco, they both worked for Wells Fargo Bank.

My parents had three sons and then divorced when I was ten, but all things considered, I had a very good relationship with my father. He was a great dad, provider and even though divorced from my mom, made an effort to keep us in his life. Up to the time he passed away, he and I often spoke 4 to 5 times a week. He lived alone, and I worried about him.

His passing wasn’t surprising or shocking. I think those close to him, aware of his condition probably uttered that familiar sentiment that they feared that inevitable call in the middle of the night announcing he passed away. I’m glad his ailment gave us more time to arrive by his side and say goodbye properly. A month after he went into the hospital, he was gone. Experts will tell me I’m supposed to be mad or angry at him. Im not mad. but, I often wonder what it’d be like if he was still around. I catch myself thinking how he’d react or respond to certain news events. If I let it, in those personal, quiet moments, I can still get sad. His voice is still very audible in my head. I hope that never fades. More often now, I catch myself doing things I know he did. –a facial expression, the way I verbalize a frustration, maybe my laugh, or simply my reaction to something being discussed.

I think he would have enjoyed very much seeing my older brother’s kids grow up. Little Carter is a great baseball player, and I think Grandpa Bob would have loved going to all his games to cheer him on. I think my brother, Mike would have enjoyed that too.

My dad had all boys. As kids, we played sports, got dirty, broke many windows, got in fights, lost our baseball glove, couldn’t find our cleats and watched wrestling every Sunday morning before church in our underwear, saying “ahh, mom. We don’t want to go to church. We want to stay home with dad.” I think he would have enjoyed the arrivals of mine and my brother’s daughters. I’m sure it would have been different for him, but I know it’s a change I know my brother and I have enjoyed. He would have enjoyed being a grandfather.

I loved my dad’s handwriting and tried copying it. When my teachers needed a parents signature, I loved getting my dad to sign his name because it was so cool looking. My dad was unsuspectingly smart. And what I mean by that is he never boasted or pretended to know things. But quietly, he seemed to know a lot about everything. I remember saying if I was on a game show and I needed to call someone for help with an answer before knowing what the question is, I’d call my dad, because I’m pretty sure he’d know it. As a kid, my aunt says he would sit for hours writing down baseball player’s statistics and would memorize their batting averages. His love for sports and their statistics would carry on through adulthood, often memorizing interesting and sometimes useless facts about a ball player. When we were cleaning up his things after he died, not surprising, we found piles of notebooks filled with notes he’d take – mostly stock market notes. We also found old crossword books. He’s one of the few people I know that could complete one of the hard ones they publish in the papers.

He grew up in a strict 50’s catholic household. Nothing was handed to him without earning it. My aunt recalls sometimes their father may have been a little too strict on him. My grandfather came from nothing and that was a lesson he was assured to teach my dad. And as a kid, my dad wanted to teach us that same lesson. He was a meticulous saver and rarely spent frivolously. A lesson I think he learned from my grandfather.

My dad was an Elvis guy. Though, to him, the king of Rock-n-Roll was Little Richard, followed by Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. I often joke, but im also being serious when I say I grew up on 50s music. My favorite song for years was Hound dog, by Elvis, because as a kid I’d play his old records in my room. At some point, my dad sadly went country. I blame John Travolta and that Damn Urban Cowboy movie. But the truth is, I think Johnny Cash reeled him in way before Willie did. Today its hard now to hear a Willie Nelson song and not think of my dad. My dad loved Willie.

My dad was a sports freak. And by saying so would be a huge understatement. He was a huge San Francisco Giants and 49er fan. His world revolved around sports. He played in organized softball leagues for as long as I could remember. Story goes, he missed the birth of my youngest brother because he was in a softball tournament. He rushed over as soon as it was over. In all fairness my little brother was 2 months premature and they didn’t have cell phones, so maybe he felt he had time. My older brother Mike was his prize. His firstborn and an athletic gift from the Gods. You think I’m kidding, but I’m serious. Neighborhood kids wanted to play like Mike way before Michael Jordan. My dad was often hard on Mike, but he loved to coach him and watch him to play ball. From the stands at a football game, parents would say to my dad, is that your son? He would proudly say, yes. Sports for me came less naturally. I played because it was fun, my friends were there and I’d get a uniform and a hat. Mike played to win. I love my dad for recognizing my talents as different. I still played my whole life, but he never pushed me, like he did Mike. - -in a Doctor Phil moment, looking back, I think Mike would have preferred he let up some, and encouraged him in the same way he encouraged me. But I think my dad knew a ball player like Mike was rare.

My father wasn’t perfect. In fact he admitted such when facing his own expiring mortality during that last month of his life. He made many mistakes and had some regrets. His life he felt went too quickly. It felt like a dream, he said. I could sense his pain, he wished he could do certain things over. One regret he didn’t have was his sons. He even said he felt he was a terrible father and was undeserving of the love of his kids – very touching moment, but in that moment it was made clear to me what matters most in life. All his life, he surrounded himself with things that made him happy for the moment - -watching sports, playing sports, drinking beer, collecting sports memorabilia, sitting at the bar with his friends, and in the end the only thing that meant anything to him was his relationship with his sons.

I miss my dad terribly. I can’t say he haunts me daily. He doesn’t. I function quite nicely without tears or depression. It’s been ten years now. But I havnt forgotten him. – and I finish as I start off, In those personal, quiet moments its nice to think of my dad and hope in some way he knows I miss him.

I don’t drink, - perhaps in part to my negative experience with it and my father’s premature passing, but today I lift my glass of chocolate milk to my dad, a San Francisco kid who wanted little else in life than to be a ball player. His favorite song was, “I left my heart in San Francisco” – on a visit before his passing I sat with him and his buddies at a bar while they played that song over and over. By the third time I was singing with him doing the hand motions of the cable cars climbing halfway to the stars. It was a great moment I wont forget.

Before passing, he asked to have his ashes scattered in the San Francisco bay. We did that for him.

The end of that song goes, “When I come home to you, San Francisco, your golden sun will shin for me.”

He’s home now. I still miss you dad.

- Play ball

- m a r k


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