I’ve been ambivalent about or even depressed about Father’s Day most of my life.

I remember, walking down the three flights of stairs from my apartment to our building lobby, imagining starting my biography with, “My father died when I was 12 years old.”

My mother had just told me that my father had died of a heart attack. That was on Feb. 15, 1960.

I know very little about my father. It’s not that he and I didn’t have a close relationship.

He instilled in me an appreciation of history.

He took me to Gettysburg, Valley Forge and Washington’s headquarters. We went on road trips together, as part of his work bidding on cars for dealerships, to Albany, Schenectady, Niagara Falls, Canada, and Detroit. We went to car dealerships all over Manhattan and The Bronx. He took me with him into the voting booth, and I watched him pull the lever for the entire Democratic ticket.

In the last few years of his life, my father became very ill. I had no idea what he was suffering from. He was cranky, yelled a lot and became abusive to me and my mother.

One evening he fell asleep in the chair while I was watching an Al Jolson movie on television. My mother and I couldn’t wake him up. We tried shaking him. I blew a bugle in his ear. Nothing worked. My mother called an ambulance. He was taken away to a place called Grasslands, a psychiatric hospital in Westchester County. He returned home on Friday afternoon.

On Monday, when I came home from school I found my mother, my uncle George and several of my mother’s friends. I didn’t understand what they were doing home so early in the afternoon.

I went into the bedroom to look for a shirt, and my mother told me that my father had died of a heart attack. It wasn’t a heart attack. I eventually found out that he’d jumped off the roof of our building and fallen six stories to the ground.

I never asked my mother why she lied to me. I rarely brought up my father in conversations with her for 38 years before she died.

Over the years, I have tried to find out as much as I could about my father. I remember finding his driver’s license in a bureau with the date 1886. He was old enough to be my grandfather.

I learned I was a child by his second marriage, something I did not find out till I was 16. His first child was a girl named Miriam. I’ve never met her.

I know he was a baseball player. According to the Jan. 22, 1916, Allentown (Pennsylvania) Democrat, as a pitcher for a minor league team in an exhibition game in Northampton, Massachusetts, he “twirled against Walter Johnson. Baker’s team winning 1 to 0, he himself getting three hits off the mighty Walter, a double sending in the winning run.”

The Oct. 22, 1914, the New York Times reported, “The New York Yankees took the first step to get ready for next season when they signed Milton H. Baker, a New York pitcher who was with the Philadelphia Nationals for a time last season.” A few years later he sued the Yankees for breach of contract.

He was active in Democratic politics.

I found a letter to him from Democratic National Committee Chairman Homer Cummings thanking him for his service “on the stump” for the party in 1916.

Another find was a leaflet from the 1933 mayoral campaign in New York City. My father backed incumbent Mayor David O’Brien. O’Brien lost to Fiorello LaGuardia that year.

All sort of jobs followed, running a movie theater, working for the USO during World War II and finally working for car dealerships bidding on cars right off the factory.

I have very few pieces of his life. Everyone who knew him has since passed away.

I have tried to figure out for years what could have driven him to take his own life at age 70, the same age that I am now.

Was it depression? Was it the realization that he never fulfilled his ambitions? Was it that, as close as he got, fame eluded him?

Suicide is in the news. It’s Father’s Day. I haven’t moved on. I don’t expect to.

 

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