My father is a great father. I wrote a whole book about him. He was there for me every day of my life, supported me through difficult times, paid for my schooling, encouraged an unconventional career despite ample evidence that he shouldn't, and was a consistent, reliable presence, even when I sometimes wanted him to go away. I'd have been broken without him.
He retired a couple of years ago, but he worked his entire life as a troubleshooter for Central Illinois Public Service Company, the electric company. Basically, he was the guy in charge of making sure your power didn't go out and, when it did, the guy who went out and fixed it. When I was a kid and my mom couldn't get off work in time to pick me up from school, I'd walk over and wait for him in the substation where he had a makeshift office; typically he was out in his truck, but there was a spare desk for his thermos, a place to stick pictures of the kids under the glass before hitting the road.
The substation was staffed with blue-collar union guys like him, which meant there were cigarette butts everywhere and urine all over the bathroom floor and lots of calendars on the wall with women in bikinis posing with power tools. They still make these.
Dad usually told me to go wait out in the car.
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Adam LaRoche is expected to speak Friday about his sudden retirement from the Chicago White Sox and the kerfuffle that has arisen since. (It's quite a kerfuffle: It led the "Today" show Friday morning, along with an eagle egg in the National Zoo that everyone's waiting to hatch.) By now, you've heard all the angles on this. White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams told LaRoche that his 14-year-old son Drake, who had his own locker, would no longer be allowed to be with the team 100 percent of the time. White Sox players, led by Chris Sale, reportedly threatened a boycott of Friday's game against the Cubs, and Williams is under fire from all directions, particularly from his players, who claim he didn't understand clubhouse dynamics and should just stay out all together. LaRoche is being painted as a martyr, someone whose mean baseball team wouldn't let him hang out with his son. Rather than be a part of the cold-hearted, we-hate-fathers world of professional baseball, thus, LaRoche walked away, from $13 million and the game he loves.
It is to LaRoche's credit that he so values being a father that he wants to be a steady presence to his son. Lord knows, there are millions of fathers, inside baseball and outside, who have failed on that same basic human commitment. And he and his White Sox teammates have succeeded in casting this as simply a father trying to be a good dad, and those mean old suits trying to stop him.
But it is not so simple. LaRoche isn't just letting his son hang out with him when he's in the clubhouse, taking advantage of the opportunity being a baseball player's son allows him. He is, for all intents and purposes, raising his son in a clubhouse.
Don't take my word for it. Listen to LaRoche, in a 2013 Washington Post story.
"We're not big on school," LaRoche said. "I told my wife, 'He's going to learn a lot more useful information in the clubhouse than he will in the classroom, as far as life lessons.'"
Let's unpack that quote. LaRoche isn't saying that his son can learn everything he would learn from school while being on the road with his dad. He's saying what he learns in the clubhouse is better than what he would learn in school. He's saying the clubhouse is school.
This is not something LaRoche takes lightly; he and his wife have taken great pains to make sure this is the arrangement. Drake LaRoche attends school in Kansas in the winter and then "took his schoolwork on the road with him once baseball season started." As long as he passed an occasional standardized test -- aided by occasional tutoring -- the school, bizarrely, allowed this to continue. Note that this is not homeschooling; it's select schooling. It's a school going along with a student missing months of class at a time. Did Drake handle this OK? Well: "It's a little harder not being with all the teachers, but I can get by."
Notably, Drake did have moments when he would leave his father's side, but they weren't for school events. They were for Drake's Little League games.
And where is Drake spending all this time, getting this education? He's getting it in a Major League Baseball clubhouse.
Now. Maybe the Chicago White Sox clubhouse -- and the Washington Nationals' before that -- is unlike every other clubhouse and locker room that has ever existed. Maybe they're all studying the periodic table and the Avogadro constant in there. Maybe they're analyzing Proust in between innings. Maybe they've got Model United Nations set up in the massage room.
But if it's like every other clubhouse that has ever existed, it's a sweaty, hot box of young cocksure men doing what young cocksure men have done when in close proximity to each for months at a time for centuries: You burp, you fart, you tell dirty jokes, you say things you don't actually believe to fit in with the group, you grow hideous facial hair, you talk about women in ways that are often not appropriate for a teenager, you burp and fart some more. You're 25 young men hanging out together, all the time, with no overarching adult authority.
I say this with some affection, by the way, not just scorn. I wasn't an exceptional athlete, suffice it to say, but I loved hanging out with my teammates in locker rooms when I played high school baseball and football. There's a camaraderie and connection you get with teammates that every athlete understands, far more than an amateur like myself ever could, and that bond is one that lasts a lifetime. Often it manifests itself in Cro-Magnon talk, but usually (usually), it's just talk, guys being guys. Men act a certain way when they are in close quarters to men, and they act differently outside of it. It doesn't make everything that can be said in there acceptable, but it does make it understandable. And -- most important -- it's understood to be something that stays in the clubhouse. You don't act outside the clubhouse the way you do in the clubhouse. You're not an animal. It's another reason athletes are always saying the clubhouse is so sacrosanct: It's their private place. They can be assheads there because they can't be assheads anywhere else.
And Adam LaRoche decided this is where his son should be raised. He said, in 2013, his son would learn more in this place than he would in school. Drake didn't leave this place for school; he left it for other games. This is where his father wanted him to be. You know: LaRoche was just "not big" on school.
Also, LaRoche has a younger daughter, named Montana. She gets to go to school. There must be more for her to learn there than there is for Drake.
Look, maybe you're angry with Williams for trying to set clubhouse policy from the executive skybox. Maybe you think that many of those players secretly didn't want a 14-year-old around their private place all the time. Maybe you think the team is going back on its word. Maybe you think LaRoche is showing strong principles by walking away from $13 million so he can spend time with his son. These are all reasonable stances.
But LaRoche isn't just saying he wants to spend time with his son. He's saying a baseball clubhouse is a better place for his son than school. And I'm sorry: That's one of the most absurd things I've ever heard. I suspect, even in baseball clubhouses, I am not alone in thinking that way. If my dad tried to raise me in an electrical substation, he'd have been arrested, and rightfully so. The question is not, "Why isn't Adam LaRoche allowed to have his son live in a Major League clubhouse?" The question is, "How in the world did it take his team this long to make him stop?"