ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

MY SELFISH FATHER'S DAY PRESENT

I'm tempted to blame George Alley for my selfish Father's Day present.

It was, after all, George's fault that I needed a first baseman's mitt.

We were both playing first base on the Little League team that season, only he was playing it better. There was a good reason for this: George was a better athlete. He was faster and stronger and he could hit the ball a mile. I, on the other hand, was playing first mostly because first basemen don't have to run much. I was taller than George, which gave me a slight advantage at stretching out for poorly thrown balls. But he negated that advantage with a huge mitt that seemed to suck up balls like a Spalding vacuum.

"If only I had a mitt like that," I used to tell myself, "I'd be just as good as George."

I begged Dad for a new mitt, but money was tight, and my mitt was fairly new. "Maybe if we practice more you can learn to use your mitt better," Dad suggested. So we spent a little more time tossing a ball back and forth. And that was OK, I guess, except Dad didn't have a mitt, and it was embarrassing to play with someone who was catching my best stuff bare-handed.

Then one day I was thumbing through the Sears catalogue and I saw something that made my heart race: a genuine, official, Fred Whitfield signature model first baseman's mitt, 100 percent nylon stitched, with split action webbing and E-Z-Flex design. Now, I had no idea what nylon stitching, split action webbing and E-Z-Flex design had to do with anything. Heck, I didn't even know who Fred Whitfield was. I just knew it was big and long and that I had to have it.

And so I set out to raise the $18 I would need to buy the mitt. I went around the neighborhood offering my lawn-mowing, cherry-picking, garden-weeding services (and if you knew how much I hated to do those things, you'd know how much I wanted the mitt). It took a month, but eventually I had $18 -- more money than I'd ever had in my entire life.

I asked Mom when she was going to Sears, and she told me that she was going that day to buy a Father's Day present for Dad -- and by the way, what was I going to get Dad for Father's Day?

Talk about your moral dilemmas! If I spent any money on a Father's Day present, I wouldn't have enough for the mitt. But if I bought the mitt, I wouldn't have any left over for Father's Day. It wasn't until we got to Sears, and I stood in the sports section fondling a genuine, official, Fred Whitfield signature model first baseman's mitt that the thought occurred to me: Dad didn't have a mitt. Surely he'd love to have one with nylon stitching, split action webbing and E- Z-Flex design. And he probably wouldn't mind if I used it occasionally.

So I bought the mitt and gave it to Dad for Father's Day. Mom thought it was a pretty cheap thing to do. And in retrospect, it probably was.

But Dad seemed genuinely, officially pleased. He knew how much I wanted the mitt, how hard I had worked to earn the money, and he seemed to innately understand my feeble attempt at sacrifice. From that day on we spent more time than ever playing catch, and he never pulled the mitt out of his closet that he didn't talk about what a great mitt it was and how much he enjoyed using it. And yes, he did let me use it for my Little League games. Unfortunately, it didn't help me become a better first baseman.

But somehow, it helped me become a better son.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World. " It is available on-line through Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com .