“But now I understand he was making me…”
Dateline: Father’s Day, BASSfest
I was born on Father’s Day.
June 15th, 1952.
It was my first day on earth, and damn near my last. The same priest who baptized me that day, also gave me last rites.
My name is Donald L. Barone Jr., but it wasn’t supposed to be that. I was supposed to be Sal, as my dad wished, or Reggie, as my mother wished, but as my father once told me, “They said you didn’t have much time and that we had to have a name. Your mother was still out from the birth, and I told the nurse, told the priest, ‘okay, okay, just name him after me."
And so, at 4:58am that Sunday morning, I became a Junior.
Throughout life, I have carried his name, and pretty much, only that.
We never much got along; my first year or so of life was pretty tough on my parents, touch and go, in and out of hospitals; doctors, lots of medical bills for working stiffs.
I think that hurt, brought a lot of stress, as he told me, "a sick kid can do that.”
I grew up mad - grew up mad at him, grew up mad that I brought so much trouble, that I ... survived.
At 17, he kicked me out of the house. It was deserved. Had I not left, one of us wouldn’t have survived.
Probably him. Dad was a kind, gentle, man. I was not. When you grow up mad, violence is just one tear away.
I will be brutally honest here - and it took me half an hour to write this sentence - I never really loved my father.
Until I held my baby girl in my arms.
And then I got it.
Then I understood.
And when I handed my baby girl to him for the first time, he cradled her in his arms, smiled, and leaned over and gave me a kiss.
In a tiny kitchen of a small apartment in Fresno, California, with a tear running down my cheek, I told him I loved him.
And I know, he knew then, it was the first time I really meant it.
My father died 9 years ago, but in the 21 years that we had together from the moment I handed him my baby girl - and later, my baby boy - we became great friends.
Dad told me once, as we sat in the cheap seats of a Buffalo Bills game, that he was afraid of me.Not physically afraid, but “it was just, I was always afraid from the time you were born that you were going to die. That when I held you that day, when they gave you the last rites, I sort of... sort of, stepped away.”
As everyone stood to cheer for a Bills TD, I leaned over, grabbed his arm, and yelled a little above the crowd, “It’s okay, man, I’m going to be okay. Going to be okay.”
The greatest talks I ever had with my dad came in the cheap seats, both of us decked out in Buffalo Bills garb.
The way I cover sports to this day is a homage to dad. And in some way, to all the dads in the cheap seats.
Because now, when I sit in those seats with my son...
Dad is there,
“…become the man…”