By Brian LaFave aka lafabj23

My father was old school, one of those grumpy, workaholic sons of the ‘60s. As a youngster he spent his time working on old junk cars and milking cows on the family farm. All he did was work, work and more work. He never had time to watch sports, let alone time for a hobby like collecting sports cards.

Three children later I was the awkward middle child of a man who worked two back-breaking jobs. While he was off working I spent my youth sitting in my bedroom with packs of football and baseball cards, pouring over the stats of each player and looking forward to the Saturday baseball game of the week or Sunday afternoon Packer games on the fuzzy TV in my room that picked up three channels, if there were no clouds.

As I got older and started cutting grass around the neighborhood for money, I started to pick up my father’s work ethic. However I “wasted” my money on sports cards as he liked to say. “Save your money for a car,” he’d preach, “cause I sure the heck can’t afford to buy you one.” It would have been good advice except I was only 12. A car was as far away as college was. I continued to cut grass and use the money on sports cards which worked out great because there was a little store up the road that sold Tootsie Rolls for a penny, Sunkist in a bottle for 75 cents and packs of baseball or football cards for only 50 cents. Oh the good old ‘80s!

In 1990 I spent most of the summer trying to complete the entire Pro Set Football set. With such a big checklist it took many 50 cent packs to get even close to collecting the entire set. Even though I pulled some neat cards, like one with Santa and another with SuperPro, the Pro Set super hero, I wasn’t satisfied. The card I wanted the most was the Joe Montana card they pictured on the front of the boxes of cards. It had Montana in an action pose.

I remember one day I was particularly agitated to get that dang Montana card. I was so eager that I begged my mom for two quarters. “Please,” I begged. “I think this is going to be the day I get that card. I just have that feeling.” I managed to negotiate a dollar from my mom in exchange for me washing the station wagon. I spent the next hour washing and scrubbing the car, meticulously pouring over every detail, even using my little brother’s toothbrush to scrub the spokes on the rims. When I finished I raced to the store and purchased two packs of cards, ripping them open before I even got out of the store. To my displeasure the Montana card never surfaced.

When I got home, mom asked if I got the card I wanted. “No,” I said. “I have the worst luck in the world.” But I didn’t just say that and rather gave her an unedited version of what I felt. My mom’s heart just about fell out of her body and the look she gave me was punishment enough. She put soap in my mouth and told me to go play outside until Dad got home. Oh no, Dad. His punishment was going to be 100 times worst. Sad and frustrated, I pouted in my tree house for the rest of the afternoon. When 4 PM came around and I heard my father’s truck pull into the driveway, I knew I’d have to change my attitude. The old man didn’t put up with pouting or cussing. Before I had a chance to get down I heard my father yelling for me. I cringed as his voice crackled through the yard. The hair on my arms stood up as I slowly made my way towards the house. He was waiting for me on the porch.

“Sit down,” he said in a deep, dark voice. I sat. What he didn’t do was yell at me for cussing nor for doing it in front of my mother. He also didn’t spank me, which was his go-to parenting maneuver. Instead he told me how life really is and how in life you sometimes get the Spencer Lewis card instead of the Joe Montana. Then he did something I’d never seen him do before. He took me to the store and bought me a pack of football cards with his hard earned money since I did such a good job on washing the car. And, no kidding, I pulled that dang Joe Montana card.

I have autographed cards of Joe Montana, Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto, yet my favorite card of all time, hands down, is that Joe Montana card. It’s worth less than the cardboard it’s printed on, yet that card symbolizes how much a son is like his father, even if on the surface they have nothing in common. The card sits in a plastic screw down in a padded wooden box I crafted in woodshop specifically for that card. Someday, when I have a son, I will pass that card down to him. It’ll still be worth nothing but it comes with a story and a lesson.