I was born under the sign of Gemini on June 10th, 1974 at 5:21 PM. Tomorrow will mark the start of my 39th year on this planet.
If you’ve never had the good (or unfortunate) occasion to cross paths with a Gemini, we’re the schitzo’s of the zodiac. The twins represent a duality of personality, the light and dark. When we’re smiling and happy, the world is drawn to us, and when we’re down, the world would be best served to steer clear.
If you’ve read the factoids on my website, you’ll recall that, in what can only be described as a bizarre cosmic lottery, my father and grandfather share a birthday – June 9th. Had I been born a day earlier, we would have made the Guinness book of World Records for three generations born on the same day. But, as fate does, she had plans that took both of them and left me behind. Today would have marked my Dad’s 65th birthday. August 30th will mark the eleventh anniversary of his death. Today also marks the eleventh anniversary of what has become my least favorite day of the year.
Philip Charles Moorman was born on June 9th, 1948 to William and Norma Moorman. He would eventually be the eldest of eleven children, making me the eldest of over thirty grandchildren. The friendships forged during childhood would stay with him throughout his life. At eighteen, he got a job with IPC Publishing (which would become Penton Publishing). He was a sports junkie and wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer for a spell, always dreaming of the day he could make it a living. That dream was never realized, but I like to think other dreams replaced it.
At some point during his early twenties, he and one of his best friends, Dan, started dating sisters, Cathy and Mary Ann. Dan married Cathy first and my Mom and Dad followed suit shortly thereafter. He was twenty-six when I came along. My mom, twenty-three. The marriage of my parents would last seven short years. Dan and Cathy just celebrated their fortieth anniversary.
Mom and Dad bought a house in North Olmsted, Ohio prior to splitting. It’s where I grew up and, North Olmsted, when I was young, was largely Irish Catholic, which meant that my sister and I were in the minority of kid’s part of a “broken home” as they liked to call it. We were both so young that neither of us have great recall of those early years. We just knew that our parents didn’t live together anymore.
Father and son relationships are hard enough without the added element of divorce. Cursed with the impulsiveness only a gambler possesses, my old man was unreliable at best throughout my childhood. It seemed like our relationship was always strained and my Grandma would often just whisper the title of a song by his favorite musician, Harry Chapin – “Cats in the Cradle.” She’d tell him that if he weren’t careful, that song would represent our relationship and damned if she wasn’t right.
It wasn’t until I graduated high school that I formed a good relationship with my Dad. I told him I was a man. I no longer needed him to be my “Dad” in the parental sense of the word, so I was free to accept him for the person he was and not the label of the father I so easily and often accused him of failing to be. It wouldn’t be until a year or so after his death that I’d realize what an impact he’d had on my life during those years, the years in which I’d accused him of failing me – failing us. I was a kid. I was angry because I wanted him to be different. I wanted things to be different. Now, eleven years after his death, I look back and laugh more than I thought I would or could. I think about the effort he did make and his well-intentioned ideas and I know now that given the chance, I wouldn’t change anything. Like a lot of kids, I can still attribute some of my best childhood memories to my father and even more as an adult.
It was during a heated match of Hungry, Hungry Hippos that he pulled me aside and taught me how to tie my shoes. It was his hand that let go of the bike, the one without the training wheels. It was he, the die-hard Browns fan, who, in spite of his best effort, had a son who loved the Steelers. So when he took me to my first live football game at the tender age of seven (a Browns/Steelers game in old Municipal Stadium), and the drunken Cleveland locals started cursing at me, the little kid in the Steelers coat, how proud was I when he went off on them for being as he called it, “a pack of assholes.” It was also that very game that I had my first sip of beer and peed in a trough.
He caught me my first foul ball, introduced me to Bobby Bonds, let me spend a good deal of my childhood playing video games in a bar up well past bedtime, and taught me how to love music like “The Eagles, Elvis, Harry Chapin, and Neil Diamond.” He never pushed me too hard to fulfill the dreams he didn’t. It was his unique tutelage that taught me how to bet on horses and not be afraid to take risks in life. The thought of his kids being afraid to try something cut to his core, so he’d push us off the dock, force me to keep up with my swimming lessons, and when neither my sister or I wanted to ride the big coaster, it were these words he shared, “You know the ride at Kiddie Park that you guys love, the Little Dipper? Well this ride is called The Big Dipper. It’s exactly like Kiddie Park.” It wasn’t, of course, and we hated him as we chugged up the first hill and begged him to ride it again when we pulled in to stop. He was a bowler, so I bowled. He was a golfer, so I golfed. He was a gambler, so I didn’t gamble.
As an adult, I learned to appreciate his sense of humor and sarcasm. He’d crack joke after joke, usually offending several people in the process, but he had the unique ability to whip out zingers when you’d least expect it. I remember one Tuesday morning sitting in his office; I was busting his chops and he was hung over from bowling the night before. He said, “You know what I think? I think you need a penile enlargement. Because you’re a little prick!” Then there was the time we went out for our annual “Rite of Spring,” which consisted of an afternoon spent at Thistledown, the local track, followed by drinks at The Lakewood Village Tavern. His words to me as we walked in:
“If the bartender asks, you’re not my son. I don’t want her thinking I’m that old.”
There was also the night we all went out to a Cavs game and headed out after. I had to be up at six to set up for a meeting (I worked for him at this time) and implored at one AM when we’d be leaving. He said, “after this drink.” An hour and three more CC & Ginger’s later, I insisted. Completely disgusted, he barks to the barmaid,
“Sorry, Lisa, we have to go. My son needs his fucking beauty sleep.”
Philly was the one who made sure we got tickets to the Eagles “Hell Freezes Over” tour and that my brother, sister and I were loaded up with copies of newspapers and memorabilia from the Indian’s 1995 and 1997 World Series appearances. He also made sure we were at the games. As an Indian’s season ticket holder, we saw plenty. He was the guy who was genuinely crabby the Birthday he renewed his driver's license and the DMV would no longer allow him to call his hair "black."
We shared moments every father and son should share. We also shared moments no father and son should have to share. When he told us that he’d been unexpectedly diagnosed with stage four-lung cancer at age fifty-three, I was the one who drove with him to my grandma’s house so that he could tell her. During that ride, he said he’d fight with all that he had, but, bottle of whisky in hand, he acknowledged that the odds weren’t good. Like the long shot horses he so loved to bet, his chances were slim. We were quiet for a few minutes on the highway when he calmly asked, “you know what I’m going to miss the most?” I just glanced over not really knowing what to say. “Never getting the chance to meet my grandkids,” he replied, taking another pull of the Canadian Club whisky, tears streaming down his cheeks.
His last words to me the night he died were, “I love you, son.” I squeezed his frail skeleton of a hand and told him I knew and that I loved him too. I told him I was sorry for having been so hard on him over the years and he just grinned and drifted off. I’d get the call a few hours later letting me know he’d passed.
We didn’t leave anything on the table. I was given the gift and opportunity to say goodbye. I was given twenty-seven years with him. I learned lessons I hadn’t ever thought needed learning. I miss him every day and wish he were still here. I wish he could see and know his grandkids. But lady fate had different plans for us. As I reference in my “Why in The Sky” article, I’m left with his legacy, his gift to me. It’s this legacy of laughter, folly, the art of taking risks, and following your dreams that I’ll share with my daughter as she embarks upon her journey and I continue along mine.
Happy Birthday, Big Guy. Hopefully you’re golfing with your buddies, enjoying a few cold ones, and you remembered to invite Harry Chapin.
Cheers to you,
If you’re reading this wondering if I was able to keep it together while writing it, I did pretty good! A couple long pauses, some watery eyes (for those who know me, you know that in itself is something), and two Summer Shandys.
Philly as a young man and me as a baby
How I remember him