BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In many of my "Lunch with Cliff" encounters, people are pretty straightforward when it comes to telling me what's on their mind. They're happy about this, mad about that, having fun with their friends, championing a cause.
But once in a while, I have a conversation over lunch that plunges deep into emotional territory we all have traveled but rarely bring up to the surface and put into words. This week was one of those lunches. Ronn Schneeman initially told me he uses his lunch hour "to get out, read the paper, see something different and recharge my batteries." His batteries run down if he just sits all day at his desk writing contract proposals for General Revenue Corp., a college loan collection agency in Sycamore Township.
But sitting at a corner booth in the Mason Skyline over a chili and cheese-coneys edition of "Lunch with Cliff," Ronn talked most -- and quite passionately -- about how much he loves being a father to his two teen-age sons.
He told me how his relationship with his sons differed from the one he had with his father. When he was a kid, Ronn lived at home with his mom and dad. Ronn is divorced. His sons live with their mom in Pleasant Ridge. He sees them once a week.
Ronn talked openly of his love for 18-year-old James and 15-year-old Phillip. And how he savors their hugs and gives them in return.
"Excuse me," he said with a slight hint of embarrassment. "But I probably sound like a typical gushing father."
Perhaps. But then proud, loving fathers and mothers have a right to gush.
"I'm lucky," Ronn added. "I've got really good kids. Every parent has fears of what's going to happen to your teen-ager. But my kids really are good. And I enjoy being with them."
Over the Father's Day weekend, with Phillip away at camp, James visited Ronn.
Father and son watched a World Cup soccer game together. Ronn went to see James play hockey and compete in a swim meet.
"We didn't do anything special," Ronn said. "He didn't give me a card or a gift."
But, at the close of the weekend, Ronn got something better. A hug from his son. And James got one back.
Telling this story sent Ronn's mind back in time. He remembered Father's Days when he was James' age. Cards were given. But not hugs. "Dad had his own way of expressing his affection," Ronn said. "He just went out day after day and worked in the factory, making sure we had plenty to eat, decent clothes to wear and the chance to go to school."
Ronn glanced out the window. He looked at the cars in the restaurant's parking lot.
But in his mind, he said, he could see his late father. There he was, hard at work, bent over a great, gray, hulking lathe tucked into the corner of a crusty, old machine shop. Metal chips flew from the lathe and landed in little heaps by his shoes.
"It seemed like he was always working," Ronn said. When his father wasn't putting in long shifts at the machine shop, he was fixing things at home in his basement workshop.
Ronn's dad didn't have much time to watch his son play games. So, Ronn makes sure he makes the time, even though he lives 70 miles from James and Phillip in Washington Court House, Ohio. The sight of Ronn just sitting there in the stands tells his boys what they're doing is special and that they are important.
"Maybe they didn't give me a card or buy me anything for Father's Day," Ronn said. "But they do seem to be grateful about what I'm trying to do for them.
"They show that by giving hugs. They show that by trying to pay attention when I give them those boring fatherly talks.
"They show that just by being good kids."
Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.