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My mom often says that my dad is the “second-nerviest person alive” behind only his sister, my aunt Beth Ann.
If you want to know what I mean by nervy, here’s a revealing story: Broke as hell, my dad went to Lake Placid for the 1980 Olympics. No, he wasn’t there to see Karin Enke-Kania of East Germany speed-skate. He was in the Adirondacks to watch our country’s cute little upstarts play hockey against the best international competition.
Unfortunately, Olympic hockey is a marquee event, and tickets weren’t cheap. That was especially true when the U.S. team reached the semifinals against the mighty Soviets. So my dad was hosed, right? He probably just watched the game in a bar on Main Street? Not so fast. Like he had done so many times before, he activated his well-honed nerviness and seized control of the situation. As I understand the story, he was in a bar before the game. Tickets were nowhere to be found, but there was a television crew there having a drink.
At some point, one of the members of that crew left his “ABC”-emblazoned jacket on a barstool. My dad claims that the guy had left the bar and forgotten his coat. My skeptical side tells me that the guy probably just went to the bathroom. Either way, my dad grabbed the jacket, flashed his ID at the press entrance of the hockey arena, and he and his friends attended the freakin’ Miracle on Ice as faux media members. On the nervy scale, that’s right up there with the Soviet coach’s infamous decision to remove star goalie Vladislav Tretiak from the game.
Most of the time that Dad throws caution to the wind, he’s doing it to ensure that someone else is having a great time.
In honor of my dad, here’s a short list of some of the other nervy things he’s done throughout the years:
1. I grew up on a small lake about an hour north of New York City. One summer, Dad had the bright idea to make a little beach in our backyard. The problem: A truckload of sand couldn’t reach the shore without crushing the septic tank in our backyard. Nervy Frank Tolan to the rescue! Every time we went to visit my grandparents in Rockaway Beach, Queens that summer, my dad filled several garbage bags with ocean sand and transported them back to the suburbs. I’ll never forget my parents fighting when one of the bags ripped, making the trunk of our car look like the set of The Mummy. As with the Miracle On Ice story, the line between nerviness and legality was blurry. Would the EPA have approved of my dad appropriating literally tons of sand for his private landscaping project? Probably not. But, hey, we kids eventually got a beach out of it.
2. For many years, Dad brought ladders and planks of wood to Central Park West for the Thanksgiving Day Parade and Fifth Avenue for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I had one of the best seats in the city on many occasions. I think this is a more common tradition than stealing sand from a city beach, but it nonetheless reaffirms my dad’s nerviness.
3. Speaking of parades, Dad would sometimes smooth-talk police officers into allowing us to park on off-limits blocks. My mom would get embarrassed when Dad would claim that his own father “just retired from the 3-4 [precinct].” In fact, my grandfather had not worked as a cop since the 1970s. (WARNING: Nerviness sometimes requires you to sacrifice clarity in your language.)
4. During the 1996 World Series, my dad wanted to take my brother Sean and me to Game 2, but he could manage to scalp only 2 tickets. So he carried my brother into Yankee Stadium, telling the usher that he’d let the kid sit on his lap. What’s the big deal? you might ask. Dads carry their kids into ballgames all the time. Sean was 8 years old at the time.
My dad claims that the guy had left the bar and forgotten his coat. My skeptical side tells me that the guy probably just went to the bathroom.
5. Two years earlier, Dad had taken my brother and me to the Ireland-Norway World Cup match at Giants Stadium. As we sat in traffic on the Garden State Parkway, Dad honked at other drivers, asking them to roll down their windows to see if they had “any extras.” Eventually, Dad succeeded. (Successful nerviness requires the persistence of a kid who really wants something). A friendly Norwegian fellow agreed to sell us 2 tickets, a fortuitous turn of events before such a huge sporting event.
The only problem? Dad didn’t have enough cash. No sweat, though. “Will you take a check?” Dad asked him. (American pain-in-the-ass, thought the Norwegian.) The guy agreed to accept the check, even going so far as to say he wouldn’t cash it if Norway won the game. Alas, the game ended in a scoreless draw, and the check got cashed. I’m just surprised my nervy father didn’t cancel the check that evening, hoodwinking the unsuspecting foreigner. I guess there is a line somewhere.
6. Oh, my dad also carried Sean into that Ireland-Norway match. He was only 6 at that time, though, so it was all good.
7. Dad always wears long socks when he sees a concert at the Beacon Theater. Beers are really expensive there, so he sneaks in 2 cans of Coors Light for my mom and 3 for himself. In his socks… (Where’s the sixth can? That’s one of life’s great mysteries.)
The point is, based on all these acts of intestinal fortitude and his general lack of shame, my dad could be the subject of a well-known AC-DC song. But as you can see, most of Dad’s nervy antics were done selflessly, making life nicer for my siblings and me. (Even if they usually drove Mom crazy.) Most of the time that Dad throws caution to the wind, he’s doing it to ensure that someone else is having a great time. I’m grateful that that someone has so often been me.
Francis Tolan is a teacher, father, fan who writes about sports and lots of other nonsense at howblank.blogspot.com.