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John Nippolt
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A working class hero
         The ocean spread out before me as I drove down toward Kapaa town. It was one of those brilliant Hawaiian sun laden mornings and I thought I should go painting after I checked my mail. I parked my car and walked over to the post office. I spied the yellow Western Union message through my box window and I immediately knew this was not going to be a day for painting. I was going to get bad news. I was right; I learned that my father had just died over the weekend. He was at the piano, playing for his friends when he suffered a massive heart attack. He was 76 years old.
          I started my car and decided to head straight for the bank to get the money I would need for my plane ticket home. The car radio was on and John Lennon was singing “A working class hero is something to be.”
How ironic, I thought as the song took on the effect of a surreal eulogy for my father. To this day, that song has stayed with me as a reminder of my hardworking pop.
          My dad was a man of few words. “Actions count,” he told me, “Don’t rely on words to account for your actions.” He rarely raised his voice and his silences were much more meaningful to me.
          He built my confidence by offering me pointers during my youth and most of them were tips about doing things the right way. The subject could have been about building character, getting along with others, or about how to play a game with the right attitude.
          “Games are just games,” was one of his paramount warnings. “They can be important, and they can be serious, but in the end, they remain just games.”
          My dad played catch with me and taught me how to throw a ball straight to the target. (We were on our way to North Dakota when dad stopped the car by a stream to show me the right way to skip a stone across the water.)
          It was because of his efforts, I “made” my grade school’s little league baseball team and I was issued my first uniform. Dad was right there from the start, showing me the way to roll my leggings into the bottom of my pants so they would stay up. Most of the kids on my team didn’t know how to do this and it made me proud to be the one to show them how it was done.
          He had a bottle of neats-foot oil handy, ready to teach me how to rub it on my new Rawlings glove (he helped me pick that mitt out and taught me that Rawlings was a reputable baseball ‘brand name’) to “break it in” and maintain its longevity.
          As I got older I changed positions on the infield from third base to catcher. At that time, although there were many to choose from, my favorite baseball hero was the famous catcher for the New York Yankees, Yogi Berra.
          The year was 1956 and I didn’t know my parents had saved enough money to buy our own home. We were finally going to move out of the “Cabrillo housing project” where I was raised on the west side of Long Beach, California.
          I wasn’t going to get any toys that year, but my dad saw to it that it would be a Christmas I would never forget. I found out after the holidays that year that he had played semi-pro baseball and had friends who were both baseball scouts for the major league baseball teams and scouts for the National Football League.
          Through his connections, for that special Christmas, he managed to get me a real Yankee warm-up jacket, an autographed baseball, “To Johnnie, Best Wishes, Yogi Berra” and another autographed baseball from the World Series played earlier that year. It just so happened the ball was from the only no-hitter pitched in World Series history, signed by all the members of the winning Yankee team. (I have recently had the ball’s authenticity certified, even though I knew it was real). I no longer have the warm-up jacket, but yes, I still have those baseballs.
          These are only a couple of the many special things my dad did for me. I wanted to write about some of them to offer an opportunity for reflection about the love and hard work it takes to be a parent and appreciate the reasons why we need to pass on “life experience” to children. There is not a day that passes that I don’t think of my father and how important he was in shaping the person who I became.
          I arrived at his funeral services early in the evening before anyone else had come (or so I thought) and entered the church. I looked at his open casket from the rear of the church and walked down the center aisle like a moth drawn to a flame. I reached my hand out to touch him and a voice from behind surprised me. It was my mom. She said she had done the same thing just before I got there. “He’s really gone isn’t he?” At that moment I remembered dad telling me, “Sometimes we think we don’t like it here very much, son, but we still don’t want to leave.” I had to smile.
          As I left the church that night, a person I had never seen before stepped out of the darkness to pull me aside. He was older and he looked a bit worse for wear. “I just wanted to tell you this,” he said, “Your father was the best man I ever knew.”