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Missing the Old Man
2007-01-17 06:52
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

As you can well imagine, yesterday was tough, and today feels even tougher. It feels so strange saying, "I watched my father die two days ago." Here is the Death Notice from today's Times:

Don Zvi Belth, 69, of the Upper West Side in Manhattan, died unexpectedly on Monday, January 15. Son of Helen and Nathan Caro Belth, loving husband of Kathy Neily, father of Alex, Samantha and Ben, father in law of Erin and Emily, grandfather of Lucas, brother of Bernice Belth, brother-in-law of Fred Garbers, nephew of Anita Fried, cousin of Don Fried, Paula Luzzi, Deborah and Mary Wallach, Rosanne Stein, and Stephen and Andrew Belth, uncle of Gordon Gray, Alexandra Pruner and Samantha Garbers. He will be remembered for his encompassing warmth, his humor, his intense loyalty and the vigor of his opinions. For the past 23 years Don has been an active and vital member of the Upper West Side recovery community. His passion for his beliefs and the way in which he shared them has been an ongoing gift to countless people and that voice is his legacy. His signature greeting, "Hello anyone," is sadly now "Good-bye anyone." The family will be receiving visitors at the home of Bernice Belth, 875 West End Avenue, on Wednesday and Thursday evening, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations can be made in his name to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Pop wasn't much of a sports fan as an adult, though he did admire the isolated great play if he happened to catch it on TV. He liked baseball best, and followed it casually in the Times. But growing up he was a passionate fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers--even though he was raised in Washington Heights, which was Giants or Yankee country. Dad liked to say that he was "second-to-none" as a fan of Jackie Robinson. He actually got Robinson to sign a copy of an early Jackie autobiography for him when he was a kid (Pop was ten-years old when Robinson broke the color barrier). Dad gave me the book when I was a teenager.

One thing was clear, though: Pop was a classic Yankee-hater. He hated them because the Bombers beat the Dodgers every year. Dad was 18 in '55 when the Brooklyn finally defeated the Yanks in the Serious. That was a highlight for him for sure, but he seemed to have remembered the many defeats more than that one highlight. (He was riding in a car down the West Side highway with my grandparents when Bobby Thompson hit "the shot heard 'round the world.") My grandfather was friends with a man who owned a company that printed the Yankees' programs. This guy had box seats at The Stadium, just behind first base, and so my Dad went to see many of those World Series games in 47, 49, 52, 53, and 56.

Pop took me to see a handful of games as a kid--including an extra-inning affair in the early eighties where Bobby Murcer hit a game-winning dinger in extra innings against the Birds--and claimed to have never seen the Yankees lose in person. He stopped going to games, mostly because he wasn't particularly interested in baseball, truth be told, but also because he felt he was a reverse jinx. If he went, the Yankees would win. And while Dad respected and even liked certain Yankees along the years--Reggie Jackson, Joe Torre, and Mariano Rivera come to mind--he absolutely loathed George Steinbrenner as a bully, and interloper.

One of Pop's favorite Yankee moments when I was a kid involved Reggie. We were at a game where Jackson hit a game-winning bomb. I don't have a clear memory of it, but according to Dad, it must have been in '80, or '81, maybe against the White Sox or the Brewers. Dad liked to tell me he called the shot, and I believe that he did. The following day, Pop was at Tiffany's on Fifth avenue with his friend Jim Thurman. They spotted Jackson, wearing a fur coat, across the room looking at some jewelry. He was the toast of the town on that day. Thurman yelled out, "Hey Reg, good game last night. Who won?" Jackson, according to my dad, got a good laugh out of that, and my dad always laughed, deep and hard, whenever he told the story.

The language of baseball, the history and culture of baseball, is something that Dad and I used to communicate with each other, to remain connected. It was a safe topic when others seemed too uncomfortable or strained. It didn't matter that he hated the Yanks. I could ask him about Cookie "Wookie" Lavagetto, and Pete Reiser over and again, as I would tell him about parts of the game I was writing about. He was proud of the book I wrote on Curt Flood, and we agreed that Marvin Miller was, and is, criminally underappreciated these days. It didn't matter that we never shared great catches when I was a kid, baseball helped keep us together when we were adults. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Comments
2007-01-17 08:39:42
1.   Fuller R
My sincere condolences Alex. I know that your memories of "the old man" will give you strength and peace over the next days and weeks, and much joy for the rest of your days.

I admire any life well-lived, and I thank you for sharing your dad's story.

2007-01-17 08:40:03
2.   Chyll Will
He sounds like quite a guy, your Pop. His reminds me a little of my Uncle Woodrow, who was a Brooklyn fan even though he was raised in Harlem and the South Bronx. He always talked about the one kid in his gang in the Bronx who was the only Yankee fan in the bunch and always got picked on because of it. And like most Brooklyn fans, he naturally gravitated to the Mets, yet he still greatly appreciates the Yankees. So no, he wasn't a classic hater, but he did live outside the traditional boundaries of fandom in the city.

Other than that, keep your head up, Alex. I hope what I said before helps. It's a tough road you're travelling on now, but there are rest stops and junctions along the way, and you know we all got your back. Do your thing, and God Bless you all. >;)

2007-01-17 08:54:55
3.   Alex Belth
A friend of mine sent me this, which has been very helpful...

Five remembrances that Buddha taught us to meditate on each day.

1) I am of the nature to grow old; there is no way I can escape growing old.

2) I am of the nature to have ill health; there is no way I can escape having ill health.

3) I am of the nature to die. There is no way I can escape death.

4) Everything that I value and cherish today, I shall in the future have to be separated from.

5) My only true inheritance is the consequences of my actions; of body, speech, and mind. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

2007-01-17 09:11:54
4.   Mike in DC
Alex -

You have my deepest sympathies.

My Father had a stroke three years ago and now is suffering the early stages of Parkinson's. Thanks for you loving tribute to your Father, I hope, when that day comes (in the distant future) I can remember him with as much poise and love as you have. Thanks for sharing your personal pain - truly a beautiful thing.

All the best.

Mike

2007-01-17 09:30:42
5.   bp1
Alex - you truly have The Gift for words. Thanks for sharing it with us all.

I lost my dad back in '93. Even after all this time, there are still some tough moments. The sadness of loss and the pain of missing him will always be with me, but more and more I think of the good times and just smile. The weird thing is the number of things I'd like to ask him now that I never thought to ask him when we were together. I guess that's true of everyone.

I sometimes look at my kids and wonder what they will remember when I am gone. There's no user's guide to parenthood, so we do the best we can do. I know being a father has helped me understand my Dad a little more than I did when I was a struggling kid. I wonder if he would understand me a bit more now at this point in life. Who knows.

You've got a lot of friends here, Alex. Use us when you need us.

2007-01-17 09:35:07
6.   Rob S
Alex,
Please accept my sympathy. I lost my Dad suddenly when I was 17 and can remember vividly the loss after almost 40 years. May your Dad rest in peace.
2007-01-17 09:41:59
7.   Zack
Alex,
My deepest sympathies. Buddha is always a good path to follow to work through it all. I always found "Let it Be" has some real catharctic powers as well, for what its worth.

Hang in there,
Zack

2007-01-17 09:42:58
8.   dianagramr
Alex ... beautifully stated, as always.

Just as an FYI, according to Retrosheet/B-R.COM, Murcer's game winning homer against the Birds in the early eighties wasn't an extra-inning job, but DID happen in the bottom of the 9th
http://tinyurl.com/2tco2b

Other Yankees DID hit game-ending E-I homers against the Orioles in the early 80s, but Murcer wasn't one of them ... (Nettles, Dave Revering, Butch Wynegar)

(sorry, I'm a huge Murcer fan) ....

But back to more serious matters .... I feel awkward thinking of paying my condolences to someone I've never met in person, but I just might tonight.

Thanks for sharing ....

2007-01-17 09:54:34
9.   Dimelo
3 Thanks for sharing that, Alex. I printed that out and sent a copy to my mom and dad.
2007-01-17 10:27:59
10.   brockdc
Again, my condolences to you and yours, Alex. Two wonderful pieces you've shared with us over the past couple of very difficult days.

My fist pro baseball game ever was at The Stadium in '81: Yanks Vs. Orioles with my dad and sister. I don't speak with either much anymore, but that is a fond memory nonetheless.

On a sidenote, I can still recall fans in the rightfield seats throwing money (mostly coins and dollar bills) at Reggie while he was playing the field, and, in true Reggie fashion, him picking up the bills and pocketing them.

2007-01-17 11:16:48
11.   DarrenF
Alex, my sincere condolonces to your and your family. I recently purchased your Curt Flood book as a gift for my father. Thanks for the book and the recent posts. Hang in there.
2007-01-17 11:42:34
12.   adenzeno
My most sincere condolences on your loss- I am sure your father is proud of the man you have become. I truly enjoy your blog and other writings. Again, my condolences to you and your family.

Luis Venitucci

2007-01-17 11:58:39
13.   jayd
All this Buddhist stuff...

Read a little C.S. Lewis:

"For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with His disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You many want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the powers behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behavior, then he cannot be good (in the sense of indulgent, soft or sympathetic). On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. That is the terrible fix we are in.

If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and we are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the one thing we need most and the thing we most want to hide from…Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger -- according to the way you react to it…

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth -- only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair."

And that is what Buddhism deals with: despair.

Sounds to me that your Dad had made friends with that absolute goodness, probably through his Jewish roots. Keep it in the family, Alex.

2007-01-17 12:01:06
14.   nemecizer
4 Word up, Mikey.
2007-01-17 12:11:03
15.   Shaun P
Yesterday, after reading your piece on your dad, Alex, I called my dad and told him that I love him. I probably should do that more often. You have a gift when it comes to writing. Thank you for sharing it with us.

And just think - only 28 days until pitchers and catchers. Life goes on.

2007-01-17 12:39:02
16.   jkay
The ACLU had a spat with the Baseball Hall of Fame a few years back.......

http://tinyurl.com/2jnwoc

ACLU Urges Baseball Hall of Fame to Let the Show - and Democracy - Go On (4/18/2003)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW YORK - In a letter sent today to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the American Civil Liberties Union urged president Dale Petroskey to reconsider his decision to cancel a 15th anniversary celebration of the movie "Bull Durham" because stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon have spoken out against the war in Iraq.

2007-01-17 13:54:44
17.   Elliot
Hi Alex. I've been reading you and the entire Toaster for a few months but have rarely commented before. I just wanted to tell you that I admire your courage and sense of control in what must be very turbulent times. I'm young and thankfully have not lost many people that are close to me; I hope that when the time comes I can handle it as well as you seem to be. You have my condolences.
2007-01-17 14:50:05
18.   Schteeve
Well it seems official that there will be no Melky for Mikey (Gonzalez) deal. The Braves just traded LaRoche for him.

I hope my return to baseball isn't premature Alex. Hope you are hanging in there.

2007-01-17 17:13:36
19.   C2Coke
The post was very moving. Thanks again for sharing. I thinkg by being grateful to the life and love you had with your dad will help you through this. All the best.
2007-01-17 17:35:50
20.   joe in boston
Alex, I just got back from 4 days in Florida, helping out my parents. Dad just had a pacemaker installed (medical termonology, not mine...yeesh it even came with a warranty) and my mom had bronchitis. I am watching them age from afar (and the telephone) and am terrified of the day they pass on. I am with you bro' - and wish you better days ahead, and great thoughts and memories of your dad. Hang in there
2007-01-18 05:41:42
21.   AbbyNormal821
Alex - my hugest sympathies to you and your family.
You are truly a pillar of strength, tough as this may be for you. Beautiful words you have written about your dad - sounds like you're doing him proud. The way you honor him is inspriring!
BIG HUGS TO YOU & YOURS!!!
2007-01-18 05:55:45
22.   AbbyNormal821
One more thing to you Alex, as I read some of the posts from others on here who have been through this and one thing rings true -our parents are who they are and whether relations were good, bad, mixed, I see you and others here who can reflect on it all and still come out smiling. To you and to 4 5 & 6...keeping them alive in your memories is one of the greatests ways to honor them.
2007-01-18 07:23:25
23.   Ben
I just wanted to add my bit to the memory of our old man...

That game when Bobby Murcer hit the game winning homer, indeed it was the ninth inning. I'm pretty sure he was pinch-hitting and it was my first experience with the earth-shaking thunder of Yankee stadium. As Murcer strode to the plate, the crowd was booming "BOBBY! BOBBY! BOBBY!" and then he popped one over the right center field wall and the place went balistic and I remember looking at my dad like it was somehow his doing and he was smiling so big and nodding his head saying to us boys 'yup this is really as wonderful as you think' Not because he was a Yankee fan but because he was a dad and his kids were in the middle of it.

A friend of mine said to me when he learned about our dad dying, he said, 'This is going to be difficult. Because no matter how nutty or curious your dad could be sometimes, he was your dad and he was the man you loved most on this planet. And that fact is what makes it such a powerful experience.'

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