A father is an eternal flame. Even when he's gone, he's not really gone. You can summon him in your head. You can recall the voice, or the way he slurped his morning coffee. You can recall the laugh.
In my case, I learned what was hysterical from listening to my dad laugh. I learned that someone getting his comeuppance was the funniest thing of all — the buffoon with the half-baked scheme, Jackie Gleason selling cemetery plots from his driver's seat on the bus.
My father's mind had two modes: cynicism and a twinkly eyed belief that everything would turn out OK if you laughed hard enough.
Yep, dads are eternal, though I wish mine were physically here now for this Cubs World Series. He would've been almost 90. Tickets are a fortune. So what? I'd have cashed out the 401(k), hocked the Camaro, sold half my blood.
"Two, please," I'd have told the scalper. "Close enough to where we can smell the shortstop's desperation."
At 90, he might've needed me to carry him as he once carried me. Big deal.
Worshipping the Cubs is not so much a family tradition as a pagan form of self-torture. It's a haunted team playing a spooky game. No wonder baseball always ends around Halloween.
Our family ties run even deeper than most. My grandparents lived a block from Wrigley, in a dumpy duplex the family still owns and probably will forever.
It was a different 'hood back then, not the fashionable, fratty hangout it has become. When we'd visit for Thanksgiving, it was like landing on a cold, dark star. All the adults would talk about at dinner were the break-ins and the muggings up and down Addison Street.
In that part of the city, it never snowed; it just seemed to slush.
As a kid with no money, my dad used to sneak into Wrigley for games.
"See that gate there?" he told me once. "We used to go over that gate."
The gate was 40 feet off the ground, and made of jail iron (presumably to keep fans in). You'd have better luck hopping the wall at the White House. But that's where he and the other urchins of the neighborhood sneaked into Wrigley Field.
And they got exactly what they paid for.
"How beautiful is youth, how bright it gleams," wrote Longfellow, yet the Cubs as a franchise have long insisted on a lineup of flakes, losers and has-beens.
Hallmark could have a special line of condolence cards. The Cubs once threw a player out of the dugout for showing up drunk six days in 10 games.
Presumably, five days had been OK.
So many times, they were buffoons with half-baked schemes. One pitcher, Bill Faul, talked to his throwing arm during games. Another, pitcher Moe Drabowsky, was jokingly whisked to first base in a wheelchair after being hit by a pitch.
During the 1945 World Series, when Dad was 19, a tavern owner put a curse on the team after it prevented his date, a billy goat, from entering Wrigley Field.
Till now, the curse worked.
There is a part of me — and anyone else raised on Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko — that wonders whether the culture of the Cubs can survive this level of success.
See, any moron can root for a winner. It takes a preacher's heart to root for a perennial also-ran. The Cubs test your faith in romance, justice and happy outcomes. They test your faith in a benevolent God.
To root for the Cubs is to believe that, despite all the muck life throws your way, you can never give up. "Winners never quit and quitters never win … blah, blah, blah."
Yeah? Prove it. Because Cubs fans never quit, yet in our lifetimes they've never won it all. Where's the platitude for that?
"I'm worried," a buddy from Chicago said the other day. "I don't know what happens if we win it all."
I don't know either. All I know is that this is a special moment. In the years ahead, we will see many elections, many milestones, and a tragedy every few hours or so.
But we'll never seen anything as mythic and overdue as these Chicago Cubs are right now. They are the Great American Metaphor for faith, optimism and perseverance. And their spirit is our spirit.
Hey Dad, buy you another beer?