Happy Birthday, Dad

by Memoir Mentor on March 4, 2008

I’ve been thinking about my father. Tomorrow is his birthday, and he would have been 86. He died 19 years ago, when he was only 67, of complications associated with Parkinson’s Disease, a tragic, crippling illness that had sapped his mobility and quality of life since his early 50s. His name was Donald Glen Parrett. My name, Dawna Lyn, was my parents’ way of naming their oldest child after him. I am like him in many ways, sharing his general temperament, his blond hair and blue eyes.

He was born in Los Angeles, and he spent his early years smack-dab in what is now the middle of downtown, near City Hall. Later, his family moved to the South Bay, where his father worked as a butcher for Safeway Market. My dad attended Redondo Union High School in the early forties. He played basketball and baseball, and was what people called a natural athlete, someone who excelled at any sport he tackled. I have a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings from those years that applaud his standout performances on the court and baseball field, and mention the steadiness and leadership qualities he brought to his teams.

Baseball was his game, and his real love. He played shortstop and batted cleanup, and led Redondo to several championships. After high school he signed a contract to play with the triple-A Indianapolis Indians, but a bout of rheumatic fever in spring training cut short his dreams of a career in the pros.

Then the War came, and he enlisted in the Navy and was shipped over to Pearl Harbor after the bombing. When he wasn’t working in a torpedo shop, he played baseball with the Islanders, representing the Ford Island Naval Air Base, flying on Navy planes throughout the islands for games. Dad was shortstop again, team captain, and his team won the Hawaiian Island Championship.

When he married my mother and the children came, he supported all of us, first as a cabinet maker, then as a cabinet designer and draftsman. He was a good father and an adoring, considerate husband, an example of goodness and fairness I appreciate and admire to this day.

I have a memory of him from childhood that stays with me still because it had such a profound effect on my self-esteem at the time. It’s a memory connected with baseball…

“Show me how far you can hit the ball,” I challenged Dad that day in the park when I was ten. I hadn’t planned to say it. An impulse was all it was, a child’s rare curiosity to see her father as an individual, apart from his role as a parent.

Dad studied me for a moment, a look of amusement in his eyes, then he reached over and took the ball from my outstretched hand. He rested the bat against his shoulder as he positioned his body, scuffing little clouds of dust as his feet found their familiar stance. Then, in an instant, the toss, the coiled torso, the crack of wood against taut leather–a blur of sound and movement that stands out in movie-style slow motion in my headful of childhood memories.

I’m reminded of the movie The Natural when I recall the incident now: Robert Redford standing at the plate, the fans in the stands, the background soundtrack suspended in silent anticipation. Then Redford tears into the pitch, and it’s slow-mo, fast-mo, the whole laser light show–he pulled out all the stops.

My dad would have laughed at the comparison, being the modest man he was, and perhaps my memory of that day in the park has taken on larger-than-life proportions. Our memories can be highly subjective, sometimes tilted over-generously in favor of those we love. Who knows… I do remember that the experience gave me something to brag about in the school yard Monday morning:”You should see how far my dad can hit a baseball!” Beyond the opportunity to brag, that day in the park made me proud of who I was. My dad was someone special, and, by extension, so was I.

Dad was not a braggart! He spoke little about his athletic achievements. Frankly, he said little about anything relating to himself. When I became interested in family history, I sometimes found his reticence maddening. He would never let me interview him. When I tried to pin him down about writing something about his life, he brushed me off with, “Ah, don’t worry, Dawn, I’ll do it. You’ll see.”

He never did. How I wish he had.

Memoir Mentor