It isn’t often that a son gets to wish his father a Happy 100th Birthday and Happy Father’s Day in the same week, so I’m going to do that now and share those special thoughts with a “few’’ of my close friends.
My dad was born June 10, 1918 and while he is no longer with us in a physical sense, his presence will be inside of me forever.
When people ask me why I do marathons, duathlons, triathlons and national track meets, I can think of many reasons but one stands out above the rest – making my father proud.
Walt was an athlete I could never be. He could skate like the wind, chop down a tree with an ax almost as fast as someone with a chainsaw and shoot out the visible orb of a one-eyed jack from a hundred paces.
He put me on skates to tool around our frozen backyard pond when I was about 3 and it changed my life forever.
Hockey was my game all through high school, college and adult leagues until I approached 30 and realized this was as good as it was going to get.
All through those years, dad was encouraging but never overbearing. He took his turn in the carpool driving kids to practice but always gave me enough space to grow up, which had me well prepared when I set off for distant Colorado to go to college.
Along the way, he set an example by providing me with lessons about hard work, persistence, patience. If he had a temper, he would only let it show for a brief moment (something I’m still trying to master).
By the late ‘70s, I took up running. Until then, running had been something a hockey player like me only did to stay in shape. Laps around a track seemed tedious and almost a form of punishment.
But at that point I started trail running and it brought me back to my youthful days of butterfly and moth collecting – racing across fields to catch a monarch or swallowtail, pulling it out of my net and then, more times than not, tossing it into the air and watching it fly away.
There were Saturday afternoons when I couldn’t wait to run home and show my father what I had caught that day.
They say there’s a certain youthful joy about distance running and in my case they were right.
Running those long training miles for my first marathon seemed daunting at first but whenever I had moments of doubt, dad would offer a word of support over a quiet dinner at our home in northern New Jersey.
Once, in a crazy stretch in 1981 when I ran 3 marathons in seven weeks, we shared a good laugh. I made it through unscathed (and to this day, the longest running-related injury I’ve had has lasted only 11 days).
“Dad,’’ I recall saying, “you certainly gave me a good set of knees.’’
He just smiled and nodded.
If only I had told him how much more he had given me.
Happy Birthday, Dad. And Happy Father’s Day, too.
Thanks for everything.