Saturday, August 2, 2008


When my Dad died on March 21, 1984 at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas it was the culmination of his long and courageous battle with cancer. While my emotional psyche was in overdrive, I was able to overcome public (and private) demonstrations of the terrible grief that I felt. I was strong during that trying time and given that failure to grieve, some Friends back in Atlanta rightfully sensed that I was in trouble, well at least emotionally. So when was the big fall going to occur? We all knew that it was just a matter of time…

I had been very close to my Father when I was young and literally battled the rest of the Family after my parents divorce and what I felt was a forcible exile from Dallas to Pawtucket, Rhode Island where I lived with my Brothers, my Mother and her parents at their “Cottage”. This divorce was exceptionally cruel…

Dad had been an athlete in prep school (St. George’s in Newport, RI) and college (Brown University & Babson College) and had played football and soccer and encouraged me to pursue what appeared to be some promise in the athletic domain. I developed into a football player of some note and was even invited to play the game at Ole Miss by the legendary coach, Johnny Vaught. Dad and I tossed footballs and baseballs back and forth and he helped hone my athletic skills. Those were the best of times in my youth.

Dad was charming and entertaining though always rather matter of fact in his interpersonal style with his kids. He operated at a high intellectual plane and I suspect that I may have disappointed him with my mostly mediocre academic record. Athletics were another aspect, however, and allowed me to hone my leadership skills and prepared me for my career.

While my Mother did a hell of a good job raising us kids, I think that we suffered not having the male influence of our real Father. Grandfather Littlefield proved to be a great surrogate Dad.

Five years passed and still no real grieving as I pursued life as best I could.

In 1989 some incredible films were released to include When Harry Met Sally; Glory; My Left Foot; Born on the Fourth of July; Henry V (Kenneth Branaugh); Batman; Driving Miss Daisy; Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Dead Poets Society; The War of the Roses; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; Crimes and Misdemeanors and one of my personal favorites, Field of Dreams. While Field of Dreams didn’t win any awards it was nominated for Picture of The Year, falling like several other great films to the genius of Driving Miss Daisy.

Field of Dreams was a baseball fantasy though based on some real life characters to especially include one of my personal heroes, Shoeless Joe Jackson, now vindicated after being tainted by the infamous Black Sox Scandal of 1919. It was a film adaptation of W. P. Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe about an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield and ends up attracting all the great (though deceased) players of the game circa 1919-26 save the Ty Cobb who the players, “hated as much in death as life.”

The plot of the film revolved around the enigmatic whisper “Build it and HE will come.” That HE turned out to be the Father to the movie’s title character, one Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) who never really had the opportunity to know his Dad. Well, the baseball field that Ray Kinsella built in his cornfield also attracted his Dad, John, who had a fleeting major league career. With the help of Shoeless Joe Ray recognizes his Father as one of the players and initially introduces him to his Family simply as, “John.” With the formalities over and as his Father is heading towards the outfield and the corn to join the rest of the players, Ray asks his Father to play catch, finally calling him "Dad". It was an incredibly poignant and supercharged emotional moment as they tossed a baseball back and forth while a long line of automobiles wind their way to the cornfield ostensibly to end the Kinsella’s financial woes.

Well, when Ray asked his Dad to play catch the dam burst. I totally lost it right there in the movie theater. Off and on for the next two days I paid the piper as I and my Friends knew I would. That scene brought back the moment when my Father and I shared that same experience which became for me the epitome of our relationship.

I certainly learned that emotions can be incredibly powerful and many times unpredictable. The bottom line is that we will all be ultimately accountable for losses such as that in our lives. Though I would certainly advise, sooner than later, I don’t know if we really have any choice over the timing of those events.

Through episodes such as these we reflect the feelings that we have for those special people in our lives. A Mother once advised her daughter, “Don’t trust a man that can’t cry.” Aside from being emotionally and physically destructive, the failure to emote throws one into an unfeeling Neanderthal state that will never fully allow one to appreciate his or her humanity. Don’t be afraid to put it all on the table. No doubt there is a risk of hitting lower lows though those highs are absolutely stratospheric. No regrets…


Ned Buxton

No comments: