Dad's decision: Opener a valid reason for early dismissal

This morning, plenty of parents faced a dilemma as they sent their kids off to school: How to word the letter to administrators requesting an early dismissal.

Officially, there are a plethora of reasons why a kid in or around Baltimore would need to leave school a little early today. Doctor's appointments usually don't arouse much suspicion. Ditto for a dental exam. Maybe a funeral. Whatever the reason, sometime around noon or a little after, little Johnny or Jane will be packing up books and heading to the school exit without trying to look too suspicious.

Who are parents fooling? When the Orioles open at home, Camden Yards is packed with kids. Heck, they're ringing the player parking lot hours before the game, then jostling for position along the seating areas adjacent to the home dugout, looking for autographs from their favorites in orange and black. Kids and baseball just go together.

But the dance - crafting a perfect excuse for ditching school a few hours early, if they show up at all (and that takes an equally creative day-after excused absence letter) and not arousing too much suspicion - is as perennial as the hope that accompanies the start of each new season.

Well, in most families. Mine, thankfully, was not one of them.

My father didn't buy into the need for such chicanery. He'd write me a note - after all, one was required - and tell school officials the actual reason why I didn't need to crunch numbers, worry about assigned reading or learn about the governmental alignment from some faraway land whose flag looked interesting when I researched it in the World Book Encyclopedia.

"Please excuse Pete at 11 a.m. because I'm taking him to the Orioles game today. Sincerely, Hans P. Kerzel."

Short. Sweet. Simple. Truthful. Could have used the same note from year to year, if it didn't require a date.

No white lies to cover. No need to dress up in a suit for a nonexistent funeral and then do a quick change in the car en route to Memorial Stadium. No worries whatsoever.

My friends were amazed that the honesty-based approach worked so well, though they didn't embrace it. They toted notes to school, purporting make-believe medical exams and the like, and worried that some educationally-minded suit would call them on their sham. No, it never happened; but they worried anyway. All the way to the front door of Catonsville's finest halls of learning, all the way to 33rd Street, all the way to their ballpark seats, where they they imagined administrators patrolling the upper deck, hauling truant students back to school.

My dad's belief was a simple one: A father and his son should be able to enjoy the experience of opening day unfettered, free of anxiety. In my household, opening day was a holiday - OK, one where you got an early exit from classes - and was treated like such. Tickets to the game were like presents, we dined on pancakes and bacon each morning before a home opener and the memories endured through the years. Tell all those ducking-out-early businessmen quaffing beers in the plaza outside PIckles Pub and Sliders off Russell Street that they need to account for their whereabouts. Like they care. I mean, it's opening day, right?

I haven't been in a classroom as a functioning student since 1982 (and college professors don't really care if you miss class for an important event like opening day). Dad passed away in 1985, way too early, and never got to see a son's dream of being a sportswriter covering the Orioles fulfilled. Some nights when I leave the Web studio at the B&O Warehouse, I wish I could tell him what it's like. But I think he knows.

So forget about carefully worded letters and calls to bosses replete with coughing and sneezing. No one's buying it. Anyone who perpetuates this unnecessary ruse is merely teaching their kids or telling their superiors that lying is OK, which isn't true.

That's what dad taught me, and it's a lesson that's endured.

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