Happy Father's Day, Dads!

Happy Father’s Day, all you dads who watch ESPN in the middle of the night while feeding your infant, who change diapers between innings without complaining, and who pace the floor with a colicky baby with the U.S. Open on television.

Happy Father’s Day to those of you who buy a Red Sox teething ring for your kid, who think the ideal picture book is “Patriots Super Bowl Highlights”, and whose favorite bedtime story is “Havlicek Stole The Ball”.

Happy Father’s Day to you who buy a youth baseball glove before your daughter can crawl, who smile when your son bites a tennis ball, and who love the giggles from your toddler when he scatters the Sunday Sports Section all over the floor.

Happy Father’s Day to dads who play catch in the back yard, shoot foam balls through a hoop on the back of the bedroom door and boot soccer balls around the family room.

Happy Father’s Day to brave dads who take their toddler to swim class on Sunday mornings, jump in the pool with the kids and don’t wonder how many of the little tykes have peed in the water. 

Happy Father’s Day to dads who take their kids fishing, teach them how to cast and remain calm when the line gets all tangled up; to city dads who make an effort to take their sons for a walk in the woods;  to skiing dads who slide down the beginners slope, backwards and bent over, while holding your child’s ski tips together to form a wedge.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you who encourage your kids to play many sports just to have fun, who accept that your daughter probably will not be the next Serena Williams or your son the next LeBron James.

Happy Father’s Day to competitive dads who let their daughters win in driveway basketball, who understand that a pat on the back sometimes can be more valuable than a kick in the butt, who accept that tears are okay after a tough loss or a bad mistake.

Happy Father’s Day to dads whose kids dance or practice martial arts or do gymnastics, activities demanding the same dedication as football, basketball and baseball.

Happy Father’s Day to dads who volunteer to coach kids other than heir own, who sit in the stands and shout words of praise to both teams, who resist the urge to criticize umpires and referees.

Happy Father’s Day to dads who praise effort over results, sportsmanship over stardom, modesty over conceit.

Happy Father’s Day to baseball dads who take their kids and their friends to minor-league baseball parks in Pawtucket, Hartford, Lowell, Manchester or Portland or to summer college baseball games in Chatham, Harwich, Yarmouth and Falmouth on Cape Cod or at Cardines Field in Newport; to soccer dads who take their youngsters to Revolution games at Gillette Stadium; to basketball dads who take their daughters to see the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA.

Happy Father’s Day to dads who let their older kids stay up late to watch the Final Four or the World Series.  

My father, Charlie Szostak, possessed many of those attributes. A high-school star in Methuen, Mass., in the early 1930s and a standout in local semi-pro football and baseball leagues, he taught me to throw a baseball, swing a bat, and make an over-the-shoulder catch; to roast potatoes in a small fire on the bank of the Spicket River while we fished for perch and pickerel; to “duck-up” while learning to swim at The Cove, a small post-war beach-club sort of facility on Forest Lake in Methuen. 

My dad also reduced me to tears with his post-game critiques when I played for the Red Sox in the Methuen Little League. And he couldn’t stop himself from shouting instructions from the grandstand to my teammates when I played for the Bucos in the old Methuen Police League. My dad was far from perfect. But, more often than not, he was there for me. Little League. Police League. Central Catholic High School. Colby College. Wherever I played baseball from 1959 to 1971, he was there.

Later, a few years after I had started my career as a sports writer, I would visit, and we would go into the field next door – dubbed Clifford’s after the ice cream shop across the street – and play catch. Baseball or football, depending on the season. He was in his 60s then, and joked that he could still throw harder than his son.

I think of my father every spring. His birthday is June 18, this year the day after Father’s Day. He died in 2012, four days before he would have turned 96. We held his funeral service on his birthday. 

Happy Father’s Day, then, to the memory of dads no longer with us. Years after they left, we still feel their presence.