My dad loved baseball.
I grew up listening to stories about Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.
He never saw any of them play but he knew their stats and lives as though he had been to every game.
He taught me how to play baseball, but it wasn’t easy, for either of us.
I was awkward and lacked eye hand coordination.
Fly balls were the worst.
I could not shag a fly ball to save my life.
On a hot sunny Saturday morning my dad hit ball after ball and finally I yelled “I’m tired of running after the ball!”
He dropped one end of the bat to the ground, leaned on the handle and yelled, “Then catch one!”
He made it sound so simple and of course it was the truth.
By high school I was a strong Centerfielder and traveling with an All-Star softball team.
Years later, I told my dad I was dropping out of Northwestern University short of earning my master’s degree in history.
“You’re so close. Can’t you just take a test to finish up?”
It wasn’t that simple and the truth was I was much farther away from finishing my degree than I let anyone know.
One month into the program I knew I had made the wrong choice and it was making me sick. Physically and emotionally.
Dad came to visit one weekend when I was I battling the flu.
He brought a jug of orange juice and Chips Ahoy cookies, a favorite combination from my childhood.
He slept in an arm-chair so he could stay with me while I got better.
He felt helpless watching me but I never told him that I felt much worse than a 102 degree fever.
At 21 years old I was lost and afraid to tell anyone I was depressed.
By the third quarter of my program I only left my studio apartment for class and a slice of pizza from Giggio’s around the corner.
In the spring, a friend from high school was killed in a bar fight.
He was a funny, beautiful and big-hearted kid.
At his wake everyone talked about his life and how he always lived each day to it’s fullest.
All of a sudden life felt too short.
I went home that night knowing exactly what I wanted to do, or at least what I didn’t want to do.
For years I’ve told people, including my parents, that I left Northwestern to be a stand up comic.
In reality, I left to be myself.
Comedy is a happy by-product of that pursuit.
Corny, of course, but I was somewhere I didn’t belong, trying to be someone I didn’t want to be.
Mom rarely questioned my unique journey.
Dad occasionally pleaded with me to go back to Northwestern, but for the most part he endured the early rocky days of my career by asking me how the audiences were treating me.
When I performed at Zanies they sat through painfully flat shows as I worked to develop material and experience. Once in awhile they saw me shine, and exit the stage to thundering applause.
In November of 2000 I sat down with my parents and told them I would be moving to Los Angeles.
My husband’s company had a job he could do out there and I had a manager itching to send me out for sitcom pilot season.
After I gave them the news dad and I sat on the back porch enjoying a clear fall evening.
He took a long drag on his cigarette and asked, “Is there anything I can do to change your mind about leaving Chicago?”
He wasn’t one to show his weakness but everyone who knew us knew I was his baby.
He didn’t want me to go and deep down I didn’t want to either.
I also felt like it was a now or never moment.
“No,” I told him. “It’s show business. If I want the whole thing, I gotta’ be out there.”
He shrugged and took another drag on his cigarette. “Wish I could convince you otherwise.”
A few weeks later he did just that.
On Saturday December 9th, 2000 I had just finished my run as the opening act for Henry Cho at the Zanies Comedy Club in Nashville. I was floating that night as I wrapped up a week of strong shows.
Then the club manager gave me a message that my husband was trying to reach me.
I still don’t know why, but I knew exactly what he was going to say.
Dad was in the hospital.
On Wednesday December 13th, 2000, a pulmonologist pulled down his surgical mask, looked me in the eye, and told me dad had stage four small cell lung cancer. He did not expect him to live more than six months.
I was devastated but not surprised.
Dad started smoking when he was twelve years old and 55 years later he was up to three packs of non-filtered Camels.
My entire life, I knew it was just a matter of when, not if.
We packed a lot of living into the ensuing months.
My mom bought a two-unit apartment building so my husband and I could move in with them.
Dad was happy to have me home with them again.
Between chemo and radiation treatments we drove to Cooperstown.
Dad touched the plaques immortalizing his heroes.
At home we watched the movies of his childhood and ate all of his favorite foods.
We adopted a dog and dad proudly walked him around the neighborhood introducing sweet Monty to everyone he encountered.
He told me he was worried about me and my life as a comic.
“Seems like a tough way to make a living kid.”
Then one night I was a guest on Milt Rosenberg’s radio show on 720 WGN.
The professor wanted to talk about comedy and Steve Cochran recommended me for the show. It was my first appearance on the city’s greatest radio station.
When I got home that night dad was sitting on the front porch waiting for me.
“Hey kid. I listened to you on WGN. You sounded good. That’s the station where guys like Wally Phillips and Roy Leonard worked. You know what? I think you’re gonna’ be alright.”
Dad never saw me headline comedy clubs, or perform to sold-out theaters.
I never got to tell him what it was like to be on movie and television sets doing something I had only dreamt about.
I didn’t get to come home and tell him that WGN Radio, his favorite radio station, hired me to be a full-time host earlier this year.
But my dad is still with me.
He is in every show I do, on stage or radio.
He’s there when I watch my sons playing in the sun.
There have been so many things I wanted to share with him but, there’s one thing I wanted to tell him the most.
I’m alright daddy, thanks to you.