Sunday, July 06, 2008

MEMOIR: My grievance against my father

When I was a boy I used to envy my friends whose fathers shared with them a love of sports. Their fathers took them to baseball games, played ball with them, listened to radio broadcasts of the ball games with them and, like their sons, kept up with the news of the sports world.

In contrast, my father regarded athletic activities as a meaningless waste of time. To my father, who nevertheless was a loving parent, the hours I spent playing ball could have been more constructively spent reading a book.

My father's view of sports was more a matter of indifference rather than of fierce opposition. He tolerated my passion for sports as an innocent boyhood aberration that would pass as I matured.(He didn't live long enough, of course, to see me still playing tennis in my early 70s.)

Dad's disinterest in sports reflected his background as a boy raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community on Manhattan's Lower East Side. His family, immigrants from Poland, were Hasidim, an insular community that valued learning and intellectual endeavors far more than physicality.

I used to joke that my father didn't know a baseball bat from a tennis racket. He never received a secular education. He attended a yeshiva, a Jewish religious school, until he was about 18. In his day, at least, athletic activities were considered an alien activity in such schools.

In more recent generations, however, the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas have evidently become more Americanized and have apparently added sports to their basic programs of Biblical and Talmudic studies.

In reading Chaim Potok's classic 1982 novel, The Chosen, which deals with a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, I was astonished that the author describes the main character, a teenager, playing baseball.

My father's disinterest in sports was displayed even in his relations with his own friends. As a boy, I recall seeing him once chatting with a group of men who were discussing baseball. He looked bored and frustrated as the other men talked about "the National League and the American League."

With an exasperated look on his face, my father suddenly exclaimed: "National League, American League, lieg in drerd!" In Yiddish, the expression literally means "lay in the earth," or, in effect,"go to hell!" My father's remark, of course, was simply a harmless effort to make his friends change the subject.

Fortunately, I had an Uncle George, my mother's brother,who had a passion for baseball. My mother's family, also immigrants from Eastern Europe, was religiously observant. But my uncle, who was roughly my father's age, never attended a yeshiva. He graduated from a public high school and played baseball as a youth.

He enjoyed attending games at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, then the home of the now-defunct New York Giants baseball team. But to his regret, his son, my cousin Herbert, who was my own age, was disinterested in baseball. He showed no enthusiasm about accompanying his father to the ball games.

So Uncle George turned to me for companionship there. Despite my father's bleak view of sports, I thus had an adult who took me to the ball park with him to share his enjoyment of the national pastime.

I don't know whether my own son has grievances against me, but he definitely cannot complain that I did not share his love of sports.


Blogger joared said...

Glad you and your uncle could share a mutual interest. Interesting how your father's background may have influenced his attitude toward sports.

I've learned about my own adult children's attitudes toward some activities in which we engaged when they were children. We adults thought some were far more enjoyable family experiences than they did it turns out. Oh well, we did our best.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008 12:33:00 AM  
Blogger Sylvia K said...

My father frequently looked at me as though I had come from another planet and I think both he and my mother felt that the stork had made a wrong turn somewhere and had obviously dropped me in the wrong bassinet. They quickly decided to have no more children so it was a bit of a lonely childhood, but it helped me find my comfort in music, books etc. While I no longer have any ill feelings there is still that tiny sense of loss. I have four children, two boys and two girls, they are as different as you can get, but what a great childhood we had, yes, we, because I played with them. It was the greatest! So, I do certainly relate to your story about you and your Dad.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008 2:25:00 PM  
Blogger Chancy said...

My husband is spending time on the golf course with our 11 year old grandson. They have been "golfing buddies" since he was about 4 years old and I don't know who enjoys it more; granddad or grandson.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008 2:53:00 PM  

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