With Father's Day arriving on Sunday, my thoughts in recent days have gone back to memories of my dad, who passed away nearly four years ago.
I drive past his birthplace, boyhood home and elementary school every day as I go to and from the office.
Instead of recalling his later years when we became distant, I prefer to remember my younger days and thinking he was the most incredible man in the world.
I truly looked up to him in my youth and his interest in sports, particularly baseball and basketball, were ingrained into me at a very young age.
He took me to numerous Reds games at Crosley Field and later to the 1970 All-Star game at Riverfront Stadium, to see Kentucky play basketball at Memorial Coliseum and one of my favorite places to go as a kid, Cincinnati Gardens, to watch the Royals play in the NBA.
I remember what a treat it was to stop at Skyline Chili on the way home to grab some coneys after those games.
Even more important than just going to the games was his knowledge of exactly what was occurring on the field or court of play. He knew baseball as well or better than anyone I've ever known and he loved fast break basketball and the beauty of a well-executed pass.
There were also the countless hours he spent with me on the baseball field, working on improving my game, whether it be hitting or learning how to be a better defensive player. He showed a great deal of patience, even when I got frustrated, which was probably far too often.
We also went at it on the basketball court until I grew to be taller than him and showed no mercy by blocking his shots. That probably wasn't the nicest thing I ever did, but hey, I wanted to win.
Times were definitely much more innocent growing up in the '60s and families still shared an abundance of time together. We actually had dinner together and talked about whatever was going on in our lives, some good, some not so good.
We spent quality time as a family and I just took it for granted that all families did the same and enjoyed the same kind of idyllic childhood that I did. Our neighborhood in south Norwood was close-knit and we didn't even have to worry about locking our doors.
We went on vacations in the summer, piling in the station wagon to venture to places we had only read about.
One of our most memorable summer trips took us to upstate New York. The hills and lakes were beautiful and the mid-July weather was perfect.
After visiting Niagara Falls and being awestruck by the sheer power and size of the cascading water, we headed for Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Cooperstown is even smaller than Flemingsburg with a population of less than 2,000 but in the summertime, it swarms with tourists on their pilgrimage to visit the shrine to the National Pastime.
I was just 12 years old but I vividly recall the rickety old ballpark, Doubleday Field, and the statues that were bigger than life to me at that time.
That vacation also included stopping in Gettysburg on the way back to Norwood. Dad was a history buff as well as being a baseball aficionado and the trip was not only fun, but educational as well.
Dad cared deeply about his family and he and my mother worked hard to feed and clothe five rapidly growing children in relative comfort. I can never say enough about my mom and all that she endured, raising the kids as well as my father, who remained pretty much a kid himself, especially when it came to sports.
Dad read The Sporting News religiously every week, we listened to games on the radio and we'd race many mornings to be the first to peruse the sports pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer, which Mom says began before I even started kindergarten. He wasn't real fond of me telling him what was in the paper before he got a chance to read it himself but I think he was also happy that I shared the same interests.
Admittedly however, when I reached my later teens, we didn't relate to each other very well and rarely saw eye-to-eye on anything. We were worlds part politically, I was a know-it-all, smart aleck teenager and the late '60s and early '70s were a volatile time in America and his views ran directly opposite mine.
After some time passed, we did attend some games together after the family moved to Louisville. He was a season ticket holder for both the ABA's Kentucky Colonels and the Louisville Redbirds, the Triple-A farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals.
His passion for sports never wavered and he was particularly proud of his high school teammate, Bill Graham, who went on to pitch for the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets after a successful Triple-A career. Dad would cut out Graham's and former Fleming County tobacco farmer Woodie Fryman's box scores and articles from The Sporting News and keep them in a scrapbook.
He was proud of his roots and loved returning home every chance he got and we visited my mom's mother in Tollesboro and cousins in the area often while growing up.
That love for this area continued until his retirement when he returned to Mount Carmel and the house he was raised in.
However, as we all know, each and every moment we live is not all wonderful all the time, for any of us.
Suffice it to say, like all of us, Dad made a few mistakes later in his life that I had a difficult time dealing with and subsequently, we didn't communicate often in his later years.
In fact, the last words we spoke to each other before he died I still regret to this day.
I prefer to hang on to the memories of the good times and I realize now that he did the very best he could, which is truly all any of us can do.