A lesson from time with Dad

By Michael Ballam

For Mormon Times

Published: Monday, June 13 2011 4:00 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "Life Lessons from Fathers of Faith"

My father was the perfect athlete. The shape or size of the ball was unimportant; he did better with it than anyone else. As the North Cache High School basketball team forward, he was a key player in winning the 1946 state championship. It was a remarkable night in the history of high school athletics as the little "David" school from Richmond, Utah, toppled the "Goliath" of Grantsville High. To hear my father describe the game would take as long as it did to play it. He cherished all the plays, the players, the audience members … everything.

I am sure that when his eldest son was born he hoped for another all-American athlete. I was that son — and, unfortunately, I was not born with the burning desire or the physical prowess to excel that he had. During my youth, my dad tried his best to interest me in various forms of athletic achievement. We played "catch" a great deal. He kept admonishing me to "keep my eye on the ball." It wasn't until after I married and got my first pair of eyeglasses, that I realized it was actually possible to SEE the ball.

Dad never mentioned his disappointment about my not following in his "sports-shoe" footsteps, but I worried. Children tend to do that when they know how important something is to their parents. My dad paid for my dance lessons, piano lessons, trumpet lessons, oboe lessons and on and on. He never begrudged it, but I still felt I must be a disappointment.

As president of the Utah Pharmaceutical Association and a member of the National Association of Retail Druggists (NARD), my father was appointed to the U.S. President's Council on Drug Abuse. Their convention was to be held in the windy city of Chicago in the summer of 1969, and my father was invited to be a panelist. The chairman of the panel was to be NARD President Willard Simmons — my dad's idol. Because he frequently appeared on the cover of many of the professional magazines to which my father subscribed, even I was familiar with his imposing and distinguished face. Willard Simmons was to the pharmaceutical industry what Babe Ruth was to baseball and Michael Jordan was to basketball.

My mother was not able to attend the convention with my father, and my dad asked me to go with him. I was stunned and a little bit apprehensive. I had never spent that kind of one-on-one time with my father. I was born at a time when my father was starting out his business — a time during which it was crucial for him to invest long hours in his pharmacy. I understood all that, and the time I did have with my father was quality time. But now I would have him all to myself for days, and he would have ME all to himself.

As we flew on a United Airlines flight to Chicago, he explained that he would be very busy during the day at the convention but he said we could do anything I wanted to do in the evenings. "Anything?" I asked. He agreed. Looking from my current perspective, I realize that had I been the least bit sensitive to my dad's interests, I should have suggested we go to Wrigley Field to see a baseball game at least once. I'm ashamed to say I didn't.

All I could think of were the theatrical possibilities in the Windy City. I asked if we could go to a musical; my dad agreed. I asked if we could go to a play; again, the answer was yes. Then I asked about a symphony concert; he said, "OK." Finally I asked about an opera. After a pause, he asked, "A what?" But he gave me permission to make the choices, and, best of all, he gave me his wallet so I could get the tickets. We had good seats! Greater love hath no man than to lay down his wallet to a teenager!

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