My Real Personal Trainer: My Dad

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WPCNR THE SUNDAY  BAILEY. By John F. Bailey. Republished from The CitizeNetReporter of June 17, 2007:

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My father gave me four pieces of advice in life: Always drive an air-conditioned car. Always centrally air-condition your home. Stay out of court.

And don’t sit in traffic.

Always take the service road on the Long Island Expressway. (He would have loved a Garmin.)

In retrospect, his advice has served me well.  I am always comfortable. I sit out traffic delays in comfort. I have not made lawyers rich.

He was not an emotional man. He was a banker and always wore suits to work. I have fond memories of going to meet him when he got off the train in Pleasantville – when  the train tracks were at grade with Manville Road.

I was most impressed as a young child by how he always smelled of coal cinders when he got off the train – lcommuter’s cologne.

Sadly on today’s electric trains you do not get that. You always heard those steam engines coming. You could see them: Clouds of very busy and industrious black smoke streaming at the horizon down the line. He’d get off the train.

My mother would move over and he’d drive the old Hudson Hornet home. He always spoke quietly. Never raised his voice. Drank scotch and soda in the winter. Gin and Tonics in the summer and he smoked Philip Morris’s, Marlboros, then Kents.

He set up a Lionel train set in our basement – perhaps our unspoken connection. When I was sent in by train for the first time to meet him at the office during Christmas time, He’d have his secretary greet me at Grand Central Terminal which still is a very big and scary place to me.

He would take me to lunch at Jack’s Monte Rosa restaurant on 49th Street – which I thought was a very great place. When I first went to it with him, I was a little disappointed that it was not more glamorous but I was really impressed that Jack the owner greeted him by name. I thought that was great that my Dad was greeted with respect.

When I first started working in Washington, D.C. in 1968 I ate regularly at a restaurant below the television station WMAL-TV where I worked, it was called Marty’s Italian Village.  Marty, the owner (who looked like Humphrey Bogart, the only thing missing was the white sport coat) started calling me when I came in around 7 PM, ‘Hi John, how are you?” People would look at me. They thought I was big.  I liked that. Feeling big in my small world.

When my father came to visit me in Washington where I worked. I took him around town. I told him when he got off the plane. “Hi, Dad, welcome to my town.” I wanted to impress him. (I can’t say that was original, I borrowed that from the WMAL midnight to 6 disc jockey.)

We’re always trying to impress our fathers.

Another Father time was when my Dad came out for Dad’s Day at college. I mean this was a big thing to me. He watched me do play-by-play of a football game from atop the press box in 15 degree weather. It was cold. But he watched. Acted impressed. He hated cold weather.

Another time he impressed when I lost a job where I was working at the television station that I had been being considered for. And I told him how unfair it was, he put things in perspective:

“Puggy,” he said,  “The film manager wasn’t going to put you in as his Assistant if you were going to be bucking him all the time.” It put things in perspective. No false sentiment. No making me feel better, he was tough enough to teach by being realistic while telling me not to feel sorry for myself.

Then later in my career when I was fired out of a job completely blindsided. He again intervened, saying to me he thought what the agency head had done was a terrible thing. I needed that at the time.

He also, in a very supportive move, told me if I could make $1,000 a night writing a free lance direct mail package, I should keep trying to do that. It was the launch of a career where I worked for nobody, my time was my own, and enabled me to be a better parent.

Dads are there to say the right things to you at the right time–if you’re lucky. Sometimes it is not always the right thing, but they try. Often, if you’re lucky, as I was, they say the right thing. And not the wrong thing.

With my father, who was not really my father, since I was an adopted child, it was never all about him, it was all about you.

When I bought my first house in White Plains. He never criticized the house. But when I sold it, he complimented me, “I think it’s great how you came out of it (the crummy first house).” They’re personal trainers.

The good ones  train you to run a race. If you stumble, no one hurts more than they do. When you succeed, no one is prouder.

They know what you should do, but they can’t tell you, because you won’t do it if you’re a kid.

But the more subtler of them tell you any way in hopes it will sink in to the rebellious offspring mind. My dad was subtle.

Another fond memory: My father took me camping once at a friend’s cabin in Pennsylvania. Funny thing was there was such a great comic collection we wound up sleeping in sleeping bags on the porch of the cabin. That was funny.

Another time when I was being threatened in college over a position at the radio station, I asked him if I should just abdicate and assign a play-by-play position to the person who was being forced on me. He advised me to “stick to your guns,” so I reported the threat to the Dean.

That ended the physical threats.

The position was compromised, but I was never threatened again.  He never shared my love for baseball and sports. In fact he never played catch with me all that well.

But one night he took me to the Yankee-Tiger game on September 1, 1961. It was 95 degrees and humid at the 8 PM first pitch at the big ball park, 65,000 in the grand towering stands. The Tigers and Yankees were tied for first place. Into the night the teams battled in a scoreless game. The Taggas kept getting into threats. Whitey Ford did not have it. Casey kept changing pitchers to put out Detroit threats. It was three stifling, sweating hours later and it was still 0-0. Then the Yankees strung two singles and Moose Skowron won it with a clear sharp single. My father hated hot weather. He stayed to the end.

I mean I could have made the big leagues (pipe dream) if he played catch with me more. But that’s a small criticism.  I wish I had more of his financial acumen. But I do not.

As you grow into your 30s and 40s, little things they say to you you begin to understand. My father never struck me, but always disciplined me with quiet words. I have not always been that way as a parent myself, being somewhat volatile. I wish I had his even temperament. He always asked me to take care of my mother. And the only time he really got mad at me was when I had made my mother upset with me.

He was a little like John Wayne in movie roles in the way he disciplined. But my Dad was real.

I remember he would say admonitions quietly. Such as when I got an F in an English course at college. He told me, that was the last F I would get at Ohio Wesleyan, because the next one he would stop paying my tuition.

That had an effect. And that was when tuition was only $3,000 a year.

So, on Father’s Day, I think of him as I do every day of my life. I become more like him every day. He is always lingering in the background of my thoughts. I do not know what he would think of what I am doing now.  But, he’d say — “If that’s what you want to do. Do it.”

He also would say, “You have to make yourself happy.”

How true.

I also think, even today of what advice (laconic as always) he’d give me in a situation. And I wish I could discuss property taxes with him.

I especially have to salute him, because I am an adopted child. That alone makes me appreciate his love and acceptance with a sense of awe to this day.

You never outgrow your need for Dad.

You miss him and appreciate him always.

Your Dad is immortal.

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