Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Thu, 3 Jul 2003 08:02:31 -0400

Fathers' Days

Running Commentary 473 -- July 5th, 2003

(rerun from July 1997 RW)

On the occasion of his retirement announcement, ex-astronaut and current Senator John Glenn quipped, "There is no cure for the common birthday."

My latest one surely wasn't common. I turned 54 in June, and this was the highest count my father ever reached.

Looking over my left shoulder as I write are two photos. One shows Dad, at the age I am now, sitting with his three brothers at the Drake Relays in Des Moines. He died -- much too young but not before passing his passion for the sport on to me -- within a year after this shot was taken.

The other photo now watching over me in the office shows George Sheehan. He greets runners at a Tyler, Texas, race finish line in the last year of his life. George, my running-writing confidant for his last 25 years, was almost a second father to me.

He was the real father of George Sheehan III. Last year we took the stage in Edmonton, Alberta, to talk about Dr. George's legacy.

He handed it down most directly and strikingly to his eldest son (one of the 12 Sheehan children). The dad was smaller and more wiry, but young George -- his longtime business manager -- carries on the sound of his father's voice, the Irish gift for storytelling and the ease onstage.

Young George, at 52, is about the age that his dad was when he started writing for Runner's World in 1970. I see unmistakable reflections of him then in his son now.

And I see more and more of my own father in my aging self. He was taller and darker, but the family resemblance deepens with each new line in my forehead, gully in the cheeks and sag under the chin.

After the Sheehan show in Edmonton I traveled to Flint, Michigan, for my once-a-year stint as a TV commentator. This forced me to watch myself during the editing of this program.

The effect was startling. Here on the screen, on what would have been Dad's 80th birthday weekend, I saw his mannerisms in my own: the tight smile and nervous flutter of the hands while conversing with strangers, the slight stutter and wince when searching for the right words under pressure.

Of course, it was Dad who put me on the course that led to Edmonton and Flint. From him I inherited running and writing.

He was a athlete while young and a fan of track for life. He wrote for newspapers and magazines in the first of his several careers.

He taught me that this is an exciting sport and a noble profession. I've been lucky enough to combine the two for most of my lifetime. I fell for his twin loves early and have never doubted that they are right for me.

He didn't just point the way and turn me loose. I see more clearly with each new birthday that he's still here with me. He has shared this wonderful journey every step and word of the way -- not just by looking down from a nearby photo or from afar, but by looking out from inside.

UPDATE. Now 60, I'm six years older than my father ever got to be. I've lived the years that he missed, in ways that he would have loved. He reminds me not to take any of this for granted.


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