A Little Brother Who's Matured Into a Major-League Father

A point of personal privilege, if you will, on this Father's Day.

Don't worry, it's not about me. I'm not a contributor to fatherhood, although I'm fond of saying I'd have been one of the all-time greats if but given the chance. I'm also fond of saying I could have been a major-league shortstop.

Hard as it is to picture myself as a dad, it's almost as hard picturing my little brother--that whelp who used to stand at a bare-dirt home plate right outside our brick four-plex apartment building and line my pitches off the walls. Once, through the bathroom window.

John was 9 or so, and I was in college. It was my duty to teach the kid to hit, just as it had been Dad's duty to teach me. Often, I'd quit first, stalking inside and muttering to Mom and Dad that he just wasn't cutting the mustard. He'd tail in moments later, wondering why his big brother was so hard to please.

Darn if the kid hasn't grown into a 42-year-old man. Darn if he didn't get married and have a son who's now 11. I saw my nephew a week ago; he looks like a prospect.

But allow me to brag a bit about little brother.

He was a lawyer by trade and ran the gamut in his early professional years in Denver: big firms, small firms, attorney general's office, district attorney's office. Along the way, he did everything from workers' compensation to juvenile law to criminal prosecution.

Some years into it, the rumblings began, and he talked about wanting to do something else with his life.

Dad had been a coach and school superintendent for most of his adult life, and John had a lot of those genes. Three years ago, he hauled the family back to hometown Omaha, where he and his wife, Lorri, made plans to create the Omaha Street School, patterned after a school in Denver where John had volunteered.

Christian-based, OSS provides high school instruction for kids who have dropped out or were asked to leave their previous schools. The euphemism is that they're "at-risk" teens; the reality is that they're youngsters who live life on the bubble and sometimes are only a shout away from chucking it all.

In January 1999, the Omaha Street School, with John as director, took in its first students--all four of them. Since then, about 60 have come and gone through the doors, helped by teachers who work on the cheap and by donors, both individual and corporate. This past semester, 22 students were enrolled.

If there's a thread binding the students, it's that they come from broken homes. Few have any kind of relationship with their fathers. Some never see them, and perhaps never will.

Today is a day that may torment them. Or, mean nothing to them.

I know that hits John right in the gut, because he had a pip of a father--both flawed and fabulous. Without saying so--or maybe not even knowing it--John wants to be these kids' father.

Last month, the school had its first commencement. Three girls got diplomas, including one who'd been there from Day 1.

At graduation, John gave a talk and invoked Dad's memory. He referred to him as "an encourager" and then praised the students for their courage in staying the course. "That is something no one can take from you, and you should be extremely proud of yourselves for getting to this point," he said.

I talked to Lorri last week about missing fathers. "It's just part of their lives," she said of the school's students. "It's amazing how some of them still want that father love. What amazes me is a lot of these 16-, 17-year-old boys have never had a dad to play with. They want John outside to tackle, to tag, to play with. These very-grown-up-in-the-world's-eyes boys want somebody to play with."

Well, I can say with conviction that young Mr. Parsons is just the guy. In one corner of my mind, the boy is still 9 and pawing the dirt outside our old apartment and telling me to throw one over the plate.

I suppose it sounds weird today to say to that 9-year-old:

Hey, kid, happy Father's Day.

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Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com.

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