In a recent “New York Times” article, Leonard Mlodinow told the charming story of a father, his son, and a ballgame at old Yankee Stadium. It took place on a July day in 1945, as soldiers were returning from World War II.
Some of the former men-in-arms coming home to the United States were men who had been professional baseball players. Although it is hard for us to imagine now, star athletes left their careers to be citizen-soldiers in those awful days. Such famous ballplayers as Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, and Phil Rizzuto answered their country’s call. And there was no more famous baseball player who donned the uniform than Joe DiMaggio.
On this particular day, “Joe D” — who had his record 56-game hitting streak in 1941 — was trying to be simply a fan at the game with his four-year-old son, Joe Jr., before rejoining his old team and playing for the pleasure of the crowds again. But someone seated nearby in the mezzanine recognized him.
Within a matter of minutes, the buzz had spread through the stands. Then a chant began. “Joe, Joe, Joe DiMaggio!” they repeated. In his typical style, a moved DiMaggio nodded to his admirers and looked down to see if his son had noticed the spontaneous acknowledgment that had more attention now than the game being played on the field.
Sure enough, the four-year-old Joe Jr. had noticed. “See, Daddy,” said the little DiMaggio, “everybody knows me!”
I call the story charming because it illustrates the way small children read the world. They are ego-centric and believe everything revolves around them. Who can fault them? They are children, immature, and understandably self-absorbed.
The same trait in adults, though, is anything but “charming.” Part of the business of growing up is to understand “It’s not about me” and to “Get over yourself!” The sad fact is that more and more of us seem to struggle these days with growing up and relinquishing the idea that it really is all about me.
It isn’t just the superstar athlete or entertainer with a fawning entourage. It’s a student who will not be disciplined or the employee who will not be accountable. It is the mate who will not be faithful and the self-indulgent individual who cannot deny the urge to drink or spend. For such people, nobody else really matters.
Childishness may be both tolerable and charming in four-year-olds, but it is utterly irresponsible for the rest of us. ————by Rubel Shelly