By Steve Cash / Detroit
Sunday is the day that some fathers finally get their due. I'm not bragging, but people have labeled me as a great dad for years. This is primarily for one reason: with my three children, I have never missed a sporting event, choir concert, school play, or parent-teacher conference. Evidently this qualifies me as the ideal father.
For years, I have basked in the glory of that wonderful title. It's about time I let the truth be known. Although I love my kids as much as my life, my attendance at all these events is not totally selfless. Truth be told, I've been living vicariously through my kids for years.
Sometimes that vicarious journey has caused embarrassing results. I offer you the following examples:
I was a good ballplayer back in the day and a great fielder with a fairly good arm. Starting second baseman on the ninth grade team at Clinton Junior High School . So naturally, I groomed my oldest son Danny to play the same position. He matched my fielding ability but was a much better hitter than I was. I had a blast coaching him and watching him slam long drives that I was not capable of at his age. But truth be told, in an attempt to relive my lost youth and win at all costs, my behavior was sometimes ridiculously overly competitive and disturbingly erratic.
When Danny was 14, I coached his Novi, Mich. travel team. On June 21, 1998 (yes, I remember the exact date), we were playing our arch rival, coached by my good friend Jeff Crawford. Although Crawford was my buddy and a soft-spoken gentleman, I had a burning desire to beat and humiliate him. His team had beaten mine five straight times, with several of the victories being embarrassingly one-sided.
This day was different. We had a nine-run lead with a 10th run being a mercy. With a man on third and two outs, my cleanup hitter came to the plate, beat out a grounder to first and the 10th run scored–I thought. I screamed in victory. Finally, I had beaten my friendly foe. The problem was that the ump called the batter out.
It was a bad call and I was angry, but with a 9-0 lead, I assumed we would win anyhow. I assumed wrong. Crawford’s team rallied and in a devastating 7th inning scored the winning run. I charged the ump who had cost us the game and delivered a vile tirade that would have embarrassed Andrew Dice Clay.
But in my fury, I had not taken into consideration that the ump was 14 years old. The league commissioner was attending the game and used his authority to suspend me for the next game. I was ordered not to be on the grounds for the next encounter. Little did they know, No one was going to stop me from coaching my son, suspension or no suspension.
The field for the next game was surrounded by woods. I parked my vehicle down the street and hid in the woods. I conveyed instructions to my assistant coach by cell phone. I had fooled everybody. That is until the Novi police saw me and wondered what I was doing standing in the woods watching young kids play baseball. They escorted me into the parking lot and I left in shame, but not before calling my assistant coach one more time to put on the steal sign for one of my players.
Long before voter fraud was an issue, I encountered this controversial concept. In 1999, my son Mikey ran for fifth grade class president at Parkview Elementary. He made posters and wrote a few speeches (which included the memorable slogan "Don’t take any trash–vote for Cash) to try and persuade his classmates to cast their votes for him. He was excited about the prospects of achieving such a lofty position.
On the day of the election, he promised he would call me with the results. Being the crazy competitive nut I am, I stayed home from work that day planning Mikey’s victory celebration. At 2:00 p.m., the phone rang. In a low dejected whisper, my son informed me that he had lost. He also mentioned that the winner was being carried through the halls on the shoulders of some of his supporters. Then with sadness in his voice he told me the most disturbing news of all. My son had lost by a single vote.
I was devastated. My competitive wheels started turning. I started to question the voting process. Maybe there was a miscount. Maybe it was fixed. Maybe the powers that be didn’t want someone of my son’s religion to reign as class president. In short, paranoia and illogical thoughts infiltrated my brain. No son of mine was going to lose by one vote without me getting all the facts.
Over my son’s objections, I called the principal and I voiced my concerns about the legitimacy of the fifth grade election. I verbalized my suspicions regarding possible improprieties in the voting process. He seemed surprised by my call but promised to look into the matter. Although he seemed sincere, I couldn’t help thinking he probably hung up and had a big laugh with his staff. Regardless, no one was going to stop me from fighting for a victory that may rightly have been my son's.
I called my son back, proud that I had courageously taken up his cause. He thanked me for my support, but after a slight pause, said “Dad, I have to tell you something. I did lose the election but I made up the part about losing by one vote. I just said that so you would be proud that I came close.“
I had gone to bat for my son on a lie. My competitiveness and desperate search for my lost youth had driven me to make irrational accusations and innuendos. I had intimated that the school board, one of our greatest local institutions, was involved in a possible elementary school rigged election. Although embarrassed and full of regret at my overreaction, 25 years later, I’m still considering demanding a recount.
2001 was a great year for Novi High School wrestling. Novi came in third in the state and my oldest son Danny was the starter at 135 lbs. As the 2002 wrestling season began, I was filled with excitement and anticipation. My middle son Bobby (a middle school wrestling phenom) was entering high school and trying out for the team. To a dad like me whose shallow existence was only made worthwhile by the athletic achievements of my offspring, the prospect of having two starters on a potential state championship team was exhilarating.
To make the team, Bobby had to "wrestle off," which means he had to beat another challenger in his weight class. His foe was a junior with experience so there was some question concerning my son's chances. Wrestle offs take place in the wrestling room and are supposed to be just for the coaches and athletes. I, of course, decided to buck that tradition. I got wind of the time and date of the match and snuck into the back of the room and watched from behind several of the other wrestlers.
Since I was not supposed to be there, my plan was to remain anonymous and sneak out after the event. When my son quickly pinned his opponent, my plan went awry. I screamed out loud in joy as my son's victory earned him a spot on the team. My inappropriate reaction alerted the coach to my presence in the room, and I was quietly escorted to the exit.
When the season finally commenced, I sat in the stands proud as a peacock. Sure, there were other parents who had sons on the team, but none of those peasants had two sterling athletes to root for. As the starting lineup was announced over the PA system, my pride and inflated ego could not be measured. Novi beat Livonia Franklin High School in the first meet and both my boys won. On the way home I recapped the victory in my head, and was filled with joy at the certainty of many glorious moments to follow.
Unfortunately, my elation proved to be premature. As we arrived home, my son Bobby took me aside and hit me with a stunning announcement: " Dad, I don't want to wrestle.” Bobby said he didn't want to disappoint me, but the crowd made him nervous, and the anxiety he felt was too much for him. He asked me to please understand his position and not to put any pressure on him to continue.
I was in a quandary. In an attempt to recapture my youth and feel like a winner, I desperately needed to vicariously live through my kids; on the other hand, I loved my kids and owed it to them to put away my feelings of inadequacy and look out for their best interest. I took all of this into consideration and did the only thing I could do to help my kid, but also to preserve my selfish desires. Being the person of character I am and ignoring my son's mental anguish, I attempted to bribe him.
I offered Bobby a post-dated check for $5,000, to be paid at the end of the season, if he would continue wrestling. Five thousand dollars is a heck of a lot of money for a 16-year-old kid, and despite his concerns, he thought long and hard before rejecting my offer. Undaunted and still thinking solely of myself, I upped the offer to $7,000. My conflicted and confused son paused for a moment but eventually doubled down on his decision and held firm. I was destined to watch only one son wrestle for Novi that year.
This story has become folklore in the Cash family, and we all share a big laugh whenever the story is repeated. Although I was disappointed, I do admire my son for sticking to his guns and being true to himself. As an aside, I did ask him years later if he regretted not accepting that large sum of money when it was offered. He replied that he never had one moment of regret, because based on my financial history, he was quite sure I would have stopped payment on the check at the conclusion of the season.
Steve Cash is originally from Oak Park, Mich. He is a longtime real estate agent who used to do stand-up comedy in L.A. His claim to fame was winning The Gong Show in 1977, and working at the Comedy Store with such greats as David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Michael Keaton. After watching those brilliant comics perform, Steve realized he’d better make a beeline back to Detroit and get back into real estate. Steve has had articles published in a number of publications and enjoys writing and trying to make people laugh.