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.