Storytellers: Father’s Day edition

This weekend will be filled with people telling stories about their fathers. That kind of thing always brings a smile to my face. And on Monday, I was smiling a lot.

This past week the Raise Foundation was hosting the Blue Ribbon Celebrity Golf tournament in Irvine. When I found out that Kermit Alexander was one of the celebrities helping raise money to prevent child abuse, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to hang out with a man that has become one of my favorite people.

A little background: Kermit Alexander is a former two-sport star at UCLA, playing football and track, where he won a national title in the long jump. He went on to play in the NFL with the 49ers and his hometown L.A. Rams. Kermit has been through a great deal in life from the glory of being a professional athlete to the great loss of having members of his family killed in a gang shooting, to finding peace again in the faces of the children of Haiti. (All of that is chronicled in a story I wrote (read here) about his book “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” )

The man has seen a lot in his 75 years, and one thing is for sure, he knows how to tell a story. So getting to spend a few hours with him out on a golf course was too good to pass up.

Once at the course I found out who was playing in our group. The scorecard said, “Darren Drysdale.” That last name strikes a chord for any baseball fan, especially one that grew up around the Dodgers.

Darren is the son of Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale and UCLA basketball great Ann Meyers Drysdale (who was also at the tournament).

Much of the round was spent with Kermit telling stories. Some I had heard him tell before, like the day he took out Bears Hall of Fame running back Gayle Sayers, and almost got into a fight with George Halas.

He also talked about taking his teammates and friends out to this golf course (Strawberry Farms) because he knew the tight fairways would get the better of them as they played for money.

But what struck me the most was how he regaled Darren with stories of his parents. Darren was only 3-years old when his father passed away, so I would imagine most of what he knows about his dad has been relayed to him from other people.

But this was different, it wasn’t stories of how his father, a strong-jawed, 6-foot-6 pitcher, would intimidate hitters on the field, these stories were about what a gentle giant he was off the field, and how much he loved Ann. All of which brought out smiles from Darren.

Later I found myself sitting next to Ann at the post-round dinner. I told her about the stories Kermit was telling. She smiled and said, “It’s good for kids to hear stories about their parents from other people. It gives them a better perspective about who there parents are.”

And that kind of became a theme for the day. After another round of old NFL stories, Kermit started to talk about his father, Kermit Sr.

Once at an event, a four-star general greeted Kermit with the usual, “I know who you are.” Kermit got that a lot as a professional athlete, but he was surprised when the general went on to talk about Kermit Sr.’s exploits during World War II.

Kermit went on to tell anyone that would listen about how his dad was a Montford Point Marine, the first African-American military group “allowed” to see action in the field. Turns out Kermit Sr. was a “tunnel rat” during the war in the Pacific. The Japanese soldiers would create small tunnels when they would get dug in for battle. The tunnel rats were responsible for following the tunnels and killing off the enemy. The group would become infamous among the enemy lines. As Kermit loves to tell it, the Japanese soldiers referred to them as “demons” because the men with dark skin (which they had never seen before) struck with such ferocity that the soldiers would run the other way.

As Kermit told these stories about his father, the smile on his face began to grow. He was more excited talking about his late father than he was talking about his own exploits on the football field.

As we were playing golf I was able to slide in some stories about my late father as well. And what started out as a round of golf, turned into a storytelling session. On the verge of Father’s Day, three men of varied ages (26, 42, 75) and backgrounds joyfully exchanged tales of their fathers.

It wasn’t a perfect day (our team finished in the bottom half in the tournament), but it was close.

On this Father’s Day, give the old man a hug, and if he no longer with us, sit back a tell a fun story about him to anyone who will listen.