We can’t predict what will remind us most of a parent who has died, what one thing will trigger an awareness of his or her absence in our lives. Two years after my father’s death, I still can’t watch a baseball game.
When my father, Domingo O’Cherony, died at age 97, he left me with much to remember. He was, by all accounts, a character. They broke the mold after they made your father, people said at his memorial service.
A native of Cuba, he was a 44-year-old physician when he immigrated to the United States. He learned to speak English, repeated medical training courses and passed the Illinois board exams. He seemed to know everyone — in Cuba, in Miami and in Chicago — and never forgot a name or a face. In his 80s, he still was dancing the cha-cha-cha, and he made his last visit to Cuba on his own in his early 90s.
It’s not that I miss watching a few games on TV with him. I yearn for the whole season-long dialogue we shared. The stats, standings, trades, firings and the inevitable owner, player or fan shenanigans —no detail went undiscussed. Most of all, I miss my father’s almost daily phone calls: “What station is the Cubs game on?” or “I can’t find the White Sox game.”
Years ago, it was easy to follow baseball on TV. A team’s affiliation with a local station seemed as permanent as Chicago’s historic ballparks themselves. With the arrival of cable in the city, however, channel navigation became too much for my aging father.
It was easy enough for one of us — my mother, my sister, my nephews — to look up the schedule for him. But after he broke his hip and we moved him into a nursing home, things got complicated. His passion for baseball went unimpaired, but he couldn’t set the TV to the right channel for, say, an American League afternoon game and then switch channels for a National League evening game.
We did our best to time our visits around games. If I visited him at lunchtime, for example, I’d turn on the TV and set the channel to the afternoon game. If there was another game in the evening, I left a note for the staff or a visitor, with instructions to switch channels. I couldn’t ease my father’s suffering, but I could keep him from missing a televised Cubs or Sox game. A game or two a day went far toward alleviating his boredom and loneliness.
The note-writing strategy rarely succeeded. Notes fluttered to the floor, fell behind a chair or table, were thrown away with the remains of lunch. The nursing assistant was too busy or forgot or was reassigned to another room.
In frustration, my father pushed too many buttons and put the remote and the cable box out of sync. Inevitably, I’d get a call, just as the evening game was starting: “Call the cable company. The TV is broken again.”
Honestly, his calls were a nuisance. I lived 30 minutes away from the nursing home, I was an older mom with a young child. By the end of the day I was too exhausted to make a second trip to the nursing home. There were times I said, “Sorry, I can’t visit tonight.”
But when I did make it back, my spirits rose the moment I began watching the game and my father and I fell into the conversation we’d been having as far back as I can remember.
It’s not the ballgame I can’t bear to watch yet, it’s the conversation I can’t bear missing.