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Fred Levesh, perhaps unknowingly, helped bring out the best in me

The enduring question of why, when and how people come in and out of our lives is left for greater minds. But it's the people who have taught us, inspired us and brought out the best in us who never really leave at all, even if — physically, anyway — they do.

There are two people in this world who have made me a better dad. One of them: Fred Levesh. And even though Fred and I had lost touch in recent years, his wisdom and impact remain with me forever.

Fred was 76 when he died last week from health complications. We were supposed to reconnect one day at St. Raphael's Hospital in New Haven to talk about the great old days — and to essentially say goodbye — when his health intervened. We never got the chance.

Fred lived in Guilford, where I had my first job out of college, working for the late, great Hal Levy at the Shoreline Times. Fred, a huge sports fan, and I became fast friends. I actually got to coach Fred's son, Tod, for a hot minute on a travel baseball team. Tod was a pitcher. I'd call pitches. Tod was a chronic strike thrower. We won a lot. I thought this coaching thing was easy.

Baseball was a vehicle for me to learn — and later admire — Fred's parenting skills. The quintessential dad. He never pushed Tod into anything he didn't want to do. He never delivered the dreaded fatherly postgame critique. He watched games apart from the rest of the parents, never a participant in the sniveling. He sought the advice of people who knew more than he did. He never had all the answers, just really good questions.

He discovered the secret to good sports parenting: make sure your kids have what they need and understand the lessons learned along the way always come through the prism of having fun first.

I found myself in a conversation about my son (he's 8) maybe a month ago. We talked about whether I'll ever become a sports parent or if my son will have other interests. Not sure at this point. But this much I know: I've learned what to do as a parent by watching what NOT to do on fields and in gyms around here for the last 27 years. I've heard it all and seen it all.

But this was when Fred popped back into my thoughts, even before I heard of his health issues. Fred showed me how to be a good dad for all the aforementioned reasons and never knew he was doing it. Amazing, sometimes, how lessons endure, even when we're seemingly unaware.

Fred and I were better known for staying out too late. He loved stopping for coffee wherever we went, even in the middle of summer. Fred was enamored with my job — going to games for a living — and reminded me once that I needed to complain more or the rest of the world would think that all I do is have fun.

Fred ran a printing company — MLK Business Forms — always quite cognizant of hiring and empowering African American employees. He taught me a lot about humanity, too, especially this: Not everybody in this world looks, acts or thinks as we do. And that's a good thing. There's a lot to learn.

My two parenting mentors have taught me two disparate things. Fred showed me how to be a good dad by modeling the patience and prudence necessary to let our kids be who they are. My other mentor helped zap me of my propensity to yell. It's the Italian thing. I've learned that yelling solves nothing and scares kids into not sharing. I haven't yelled in two years now. Feels good to have actual interactions and conversations.

Some people in our lives are just meant to bring out the best in us. Those are the relationships you treasure. I'm saddened that Fred never knew his impact on me. But we sure did have some laughs. There's always that.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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