I’ve always liked this time of year better than any other. The days grow longer, the evenings are cool, fireflies appear, the smell of honeysuckle grabs your attention every once in a while from out of nowhere, and, as a child, the end of the school year is finally here. The freedom and happiness of summer is just around the corner. Baseball season is in full swing ( at least it used to be around these parts ).
June is, and always has been, a very busy and celebratory time around my house. Father’s Day, my parents’ wedding anniversary, and today, June 7th, my father Bob’s birthday. He would have been 76.
My father died suddenly this past February 6th, during the first of those back-to-back blizzards we all endured here in Baltimore. Even now, four months later, I’m still struggling to adjust to a strange new reality.
My father is, and will always remain, the most influential person in my life. He taught me so much about the right way to live: Ethics, morals, fundamentals, good sportsmanship and respect for others. Part of those lessons he learned from his parents; others he acquired through his experiences. It was the way he taught me that I’ll most remember. Because he lived it daily. He could certainly talk about it to me, teach me in that manner, but he meant it because he truly exemplified it daily. I saw it constantly, and it left a lifelong impression.
Dad was a terrific athlete in his youth. He played football, basketball and lacrosse. He lettered at Loyola High School in all three sports and earned a scholarship to the University of Maryland beginning in the fall of 1953. He learned invaluable lessons there under the legendary Jim Tatum, and participated in two Orange Bowls, in which the Terps lost both times to Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners. He was a member of the only undefeated National Championship lacrosse team in school history in 1955. He graduated in 1958 with a degree in Civil Engineering and was a loyal lifelong supporter of all things UM related throughout his life.
All I learned about sports I learned through him. He would throw me passes in the front yard in the evenings, teaching me the subtleties of route running ( even though he played offensive line ). He would shoot games of 21 in the driveway with me under the spotlight at night before going to bed. He emphasized the importance of bending the knees and proper follow through on my freethrows. He had a killer hook shot which I never could stop when we played one-on-one. And I could never quite duplicate that shot, no matter how much I practiced it. He would play catch with me, whether it was with a baseball glove or a lacrosse stick. And those lacrosse sticks he had kept from his Terps days were classic, the old wooden ones with no pockets and the stiff leather stringing. It really was like trying to catch with a big trampoline at the end of a skinny wooden pole. I still marvel at how on earth anyone could play that game before the equipment was modernized.
Then there were the games we attended together. Maryland basketball, beginning with the great Lucas – Elmore – McMillen teams of the early 1970′s. Maryland football under Jerry Claiborne. I saw Randy White numerous times at Byrd Stadium and can remember Dad practically bursting with excitement at watching him play. As an offensive lineman, I think Dad appreciated more than others just how dominant the “Manster” was as a collegian. There were plenty of Baltimore Orioles games, of course. My earliest memory was a day game in the 1970 World Series against Cincinnatti. My favorite was Game 2 of the 1983 World Series when Mike Boddicker dominated the Philadelphia Phillies to even the series and swing the momentum back to Baltimore. And of course there were the Baltimore Colts. I was with Dad at Johnny U’s final game. He actually had tears welling up when Eddie Hinton took a little swing pass and turned it into #19′s final touchdown pass on his final attempt as a Baltimore Colt. But I most recall the bus rides from Johnny U’s Golden Arm restaurant to 33rd Street, and the post-game buffets, win or lose, which were always visited by members of the team. And we were together in September of 1996 at Memorial Stadium when the NFL finally returned to Baltimore. I still have chills thinking about the Baltimore Colts Marching Band playing the Colts fight song before that game. Of course, I didn’t think about it at the time, but I knew that moment was one I would always cherish because I shared it with Dad.
As much as he supported our local teams, Dad supported his three sons in all their endeavors even more. My older brother John is an immensely talented musician, actor and sound and lighting technician. Dad was always there to enjoy John’s hard work, and he delighted in the fact that one of his boys actually had artistic talent. He came to as many of my games, no matter the sport or the season, as he possibly could. I received some beautiful notes from former high school teammates when he died, in which these lifelong friends recalled Dad’s presence and support. He traveled extensively with my mother to follow my younger brother Luke’s summer baseball teams. And he always seemed to be there for my three sons’ games, soccer, basketball, baseball, even swim meets. His love for all of us was evident by his support and physical presence.
My father was humble and dignified; he’d probably be a bit embarrassed by this, although he’d also be proud. As I wrote earlier, he lived it. He truly “walked the walk”, and he did so with grace and style. I honestly believe he was part of one of the last great generations of our nation, people who learned the value of sacrifice, hard work and loyalty. And people who gave back when they could, because they knew it was the right thing to do and because they had the ability to do so. Bob Suchy was the kindest, most generous man I have ever had the honor to know.
My little brother Luke was married this past Saturday in Boulder, Colorado, to one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. We are, as a family, truly thrilled and honored for both Luke and his new bride, Kim. It was a beautiful weekend, with the weather magnificent, the Flatiron Mountains in all their late Spring glory, and so many dear family and friends gathered to celebrate this wonderful occasion. Above everything, however, was the memory and presence of Dad. I know it because I felt it and heard it and saw it throughout the weekend. His influence, his life, his personality, everything that made him who he was, and by extension, who we have all become, was there. None of it could ever have happened without him and the life he led and the love he gave.
I think of him every day, of course. And I realize I’m not the only person to have lost a parent ( or both ). But as I live through all these changes and challenges, I find myself noting certain milestones. And this first June 7th without him is alternately painful and uplifting. Honestly, I’m not sure whether I should smile or cry.
Maybe I should do both.
So thank you, Dad, for all you are, for all that you taught, for all of you that remains and lives on through Mom, your sons, your grandsons and your friends. Forever more, June 7th is Father’s Day.