A picture of an emotional day
In third grade, I broke both the major bones in my leg and they did not heal correctly, requiring me to wear a leg brace that was strapped on, beginning at the hip, locked at the knee and finally attached to my shoe, from ages 10 to 13. I was allowed to remove it for two reasons: one was to bathe, the other was gym class; I even slept in it. The lack of mobility it allowed, amongst other things, caused me to pile on the weight as well.
Well meaning as they were, my doctors decided to add one additional activity when I could remove my brace to help with the weight gain and muscle atrophy: playing basketball, and the JCC was where I was signed up to play it. To say that when the brace came off for those few hours once a week did not unleash bottled up prowess on the courts was an understatement. The public humiliation of being the last one picked when teams were chosen was something I now went through twice a week, gym class and JCC Basketball, a shame I was too embarrassed to share with my parents. I thought it was by the grace of G-d, however, that my brother, Hal, had second session Sunday School during basketball time so Mom just dropped me off and picked me up after. Until the weekend when she went to Denver for a CARIH (Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital) convention, a cause she was very active in & this particular weekend coincided with no Sunday School; timing is everything. My father, Marvin, would be handling the carpool duties that week.
It was latish in the school year and it was tournament time for JCC Tween basketball – something the jocks, and their folks, took very seriously. My heart sank when Dad got out of the car; he wanted to watch me play & even with his bad back, he hobbled onto the old rickety bleachers. I felt the world melting under my feet – or I wished that was what really would have happened at the moment – as the truth was, I had been on the bench all season and never even played 60 seconds during an actual game – I was about to let him down, big time down, and I knew it.
With this being the final game of the season, the stakes were higher then usual and team picking more harsh; I was the last one standing and when the athletic director, Murray Guttman, walked me over to what was to be my team. The captain ripped off his shirt and said he would rather walk out then have me on his team – and everyone saw and heard that…including my father. I had humiliated him in a way I thought I would never ever be able to make up for – and the game had not even started yet.
After restoring order, Murray put his arm on my shoulder and walked me to the half court room used for practice. He had already had my dad moved there & he was sitting on a chair when Murray & I walked in. Murray threw me free throws until I sunk a basket so my father could see me do it. On the 17th try, I finally got it right through the hoop. He and my dad clapped and cheered like I made the winning dunk in the last second of the Olympic finals. Murray went back to the tournament and Dad and I went to the car.
Though he was very free with his feelings for his family, beyond that, my dad was definitely from the “big boys don’t cry” school and I cowboy-ed up, trying to keep the emotion of the day from rolling down my cheeks as I sat next to him in the front seat of our fire engine red Caprice Classic, my head turned away from his, staring out the passenger door window.
We sat silent for minute then my dad dug out one of his monogrammed handkerchiefs and handed it to me without a word. After what seemed like an eternity, he said in that low voice of his, looking straight ahead over the wheel, that while he was glad I made that last shot, what made him the proudest the were the first 16 I missed because I kept on trying. As he explained it, “What really separates a man from a boy is not just the destination you arrive at, but how you conduct yourself on the journey there.” Then he turned, looked me right in the eyes & said “and every day, I am proud you are my son.”
All any boy wants to do is make his father proud and I thank Murray Guttman for facilitating that by acting as more then just the athletic director that afternoon, but, as they say in yiddish, a “Guteh neshomeh,” a good soul, who took the most humane and extra step to restore our dignity. Most of all, I would like to thank my dad for putting being a good father and husband above anything and showing me what being a man is really all about by always acting like one.
“Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice”