Cup of Coffee: TIme


I’ve reached that age. 

“How’s your son?

“How’s your dad?” 

Those are the questions asked more often than any other as I get back on the racetrack beat this week. 

A reader once said to me, “You don’t know us, but we know you. We know your wives, your kids, your parents, your friends. You are part of our family even if we aren’t part of yours. That’s what your writing does.”

I had never thought about it before, but I guess that’s true. Especially on this back page over 24 years where I’ve pushed the boundaries of a personal column more than most editors would have allowed. It’s part of the deal and I guess that’s why those questions are the most asked. My son and my dad have strung the lights across these pages more than anyone else. Well, Tom and Joe, but you know how they are, they’re right here next to me. All good. All the time. Rocks. And Annie of course. She’s good, too. Another rock.

As for the other questions. 

“How’s your son?

“How’s your dad?”

The first one is easy. Fifteen. Mop of curly blond hair. Six feet tall. Maybe 6’ 1”. Today. He’ll be 6’ 2” tomorrow. Good student. Nice kid. People seem to like him. Just finished ninth grade at Highland in Warrenton, Va. Left-handed pitcher. Baseball playoffs started Monday night, he pitched two innings, went 3-for-3, four RBIs, they won 10-8. “I changed my batting stance, Dad.” They played again Thursday night. Ask, oh hell, show any passing interest and I’ll show you some videos. Yeah, Tom and Joe love Miles but they’re tiring of the play-by-play.

Miles still pitches in the backyard, and it scares me more each time as he winds up and fires a physics-defying changeup at my flimsy mitt. “I’m working on something…” That’s when I know I’ll be diving for cover. He laughs as I roll on the ground and the ball goes sailing to the barnyard wall. There are baseballs strewn around our yard like dandelions on a summer day.

He likes horses, rides for fun. Rides with the Middleburg Orange County Beagles, mostly to talk to girls and see the sky. That’s cool with me. No jockey here. He’ll read our stuff this week, watch Awakened and Gordon’s Jet Sunday and ask a question or two about the Belmont Stakes. 

Miles plays the piano and is learning the guitar. Loves listening to music – Springsteen, Dylan, Prine and, yeah, some rap in there, too. Sorry about that, you can only influence a kid so far. Spins vinyl like Casey Kasem.

I’ve been here three days and I miss him like it’s been three years.

As for Dad. That one’s not as easy.

He turned 89 in October. Fell down and broke some ribs, punctured a lung somewhere along the line but didn’t tell anyone. Went for an eye exam and wound up with an X-ray, a diagnosis and a hospital stay. Fell down a few more times this winter and spring. It makes him mad. Came down with RSV last week, spent a few days in Beebe Hospital in Lewes, Delaware. We watched Frankie double at Penn National and City Of Troy win the Derby. He liked those. We talked about old-school horses. Kelso, his favorite, Mod Man and Odd Man, too old jumpers with rhyming names and indelible marks. Rollicking Run and Riverdee, of course. 

The falls have made their marks, like they always have. The ones way back when, when he was galloping horses at Glasgow and Delaware Park, hunting with Vicmead Hunt and riding giveaway horses at long lost point-to-points. A do-it-yourself horse trainer. Amateur jump jockey learning on the fly. Four years in the Marines. An alcoholic and all that comes with it, he hasn’t had a drop since 1981 – his greatest win – but there’s a toll there, too. 

He was living basically on his own at Rehoboth Beach. In a beach house he and my mom built in the early 70s. Sheila moved in a few blocks away. Mom comes and goes as she’s still selling real estate in Newark, Del. She broke her ankle but is still going strong. You can’t beat her in Words with Friends or Spelling Bee. 

Dad always said he was going to retire to the beach and eventually did, but not until all the hard miles of a horseman had been registered. He was riding his bike around the neighborhood up until a year or so ago. Going to the YMCA five days a week. Feeding his pet fox, Katie. And then a fall, another fall, RSV and, oh yeah, Covid in there too. 

He missed Saratoga last summer. Missed Ryan’s wedding in September. He had his sights on Middleburg Spring Races in April and didn’t make that either. 

Yeah, he’s slowing down. Mentally and physically. My family is thankful and grateful we’ve had him in all his independent, stubborn, opinionated ways for all these years. And we’re hoping we’ll have him for plenty more. 

After a big race at Saratoga or a live streamed steeplechase, my phone has always rung. Dad critiques a ride, analyzes a trainer’s decision.

 It rang after The Grey Wizard got there in the last jump of the Belmont Gold Cup, the last race Thursday night. 

“How was the first day?” Dad asked. 

I told him about the impending rain, the crowd, the vibe. 

“It looked like good racing,” he said. “We had the winner of the last.”

I never doubted it. 

Read The Saratoga Special.