In June of 1972, when I was nine, I was selected to play in the Queens Valley Athletic Association All Star game. I was one of the few kids in the neighborhood who could actually pitch, and my performance led to a Most Valuable Player Award. It was the zenith of my baseball career, though I didn't know it then.
That summer, my family adopted a Welsh Terrier named Gee Gee (short for Guinevere). My father had a thing for Welshies, and every weekend, we visited Gee Gee at a breeder in Yaphank, waiting for her to be weaned until we took her home. I was a deeply allergic child, and those were the days before non-sedating antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays. Each night I came home from camp, to house and puppy, a mess of eczema, sniffles, and watery eyes.
As the summer wore on, I began to awaken in the middle of the night, unable to breath. I'd go to my parents’ room to tell them, barely able to speak. My Dad would come back to bed with me and join me under the covers, our heads propped on pillows to help the breathing. Night after night, he’d tell the same stories. How he'd grown up in the East New York section of Brooklyn. How he'd become a Giants fan because the Dodgers were awful back then. How his cousin Herbie loved the Giants, so Dad went along too.
My Dad told me how Carl Hubbell struck out five future hall of famers in the 1934 All Star Game: Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons, and Cronin. Whenever Hubbell got two strikes on a batter, it was over. He told me how the great slugger, Mel Ott, lifted up his front leg when he swung. He endlessly replayed the last game of the 1951 playoffs, when Bobby Thompson hit the "shot heard round the world."
In the 1950s, my parents moved into their first apartment, near the Polo Grounds in Washington Heights, where the Giants played. One of my Dad's favorite players was Sal Maglie, nicknamed "The Barber" because he threw so close to batters' faces. Ballplayers lived in the neighborhood back then, and though my Dad never saw Maglie walking around, he did see his enormous pants at the dry cleaners.
A comfortable pattern emerged as the long nights repeated themselves. The two of us cuddled as he told Giants stories, until my airways relaxed and I fell asleep. Before long, he took me to an allergist who confirmed that I was allergic to everything, including ragweed and dogs. I started asthma treatment and allergy shots and, sadly, we had to bring Gee Gee back to Yaphank.
I learned about kindness that summer. My Dad must have been exhausted, spending night after night, soothing me with the same old stories. But his kindness left its mark. He died five summers ago, after years of decline. I last saw him as Heide and I were leaving with the girls for a trip to Europe. He was sitting in the living room, listening to music, wearing, as always, his vintage Giants cap. I hugged him and told him I loved him and left for the airport.
It comforts me to believe that my Dad lives on somehow, through the good deeds he shared when he was alive. I think of him every day, but especially on Father's Day. He was many things, but above all he was kind. He wasn't a doctor, but he taught me that kindness is a powerful medicine. I do my best to remember that when I’m with patients, because kindness is the only medicine that’s always safe and always effective.
So here's to baseball, to stories, and to endless supplies of kindness to share with those we love.
Happy Father's Day everyone,