Joba trying to be the father his dad was
Obstacles never an excuse, pitcher passing on lessons learned
DETROIT -- Harlan Chamberlain has spent almost his entire life dealing with the effects of polio, forcing him to use crutches or a scooter to move around and learn how to do most tasks one-handed. That did not prevent him from instilling a sense of discipline in a son who had a gifted right arm.
Joba Chamberlain gets it now, why his father once was waiting for him at school when he tried to sneak into a class, why he wanted to know where Joba was going and who he'd be with when he went out. He's still young at age 28, but with an 8-year-old son to help raise, he finds himself sounding more and more like his dad all the time.
He also finds himself being the bond to keep the family ties together. When he signed with the Tigers last December, it wasn't just about the right situation for a bounceback season, which has quietly vaulted him among the better setup men in the American League this season. It was about getting close to home and getting a chance to see his dad at games as much as he can.
He is clearly his father's son, while trying to give his own son the kind of time and commitment he received growing up.
"You don't really realize it or understand it until you become a father yourself," Joba Chamberlain said. "I didn't really like all the things that he did when I was that age. Looking back, he was always just looking out for the best and making sure that I did everything that I could to be the person that he wanted me to be."
Long before Joba Chamberlain became a rookie phenom in New York, he was a fun-loving kid being raised in a single-parent home in Nebraska. His parents were both around, but divorced. He and his older sister lived with their father, whose tough upbringing dealing with his condition was matched only by his tough career.
"My father worked in a prison for 27 years," Joba Chamberlain said, "so he was around [violence] all the time. That alone intimidated me. I was scared of my father, to be honest with you. First of all, I didn't want to disappoint him. Second of all, he worked in a prison. I mean, he's seen it all. He never brought it home."
He didn't have to yell and scream to intimidate, Joba said. He didn't have to instantly react to everything he did. He didn't even have to chase him down, because he couldn't. What scared Joba Chamberlain was his father's ability to find out everything and remember everytning.
"I skipped school one day in high school. I was playing video games," Joba Chamberlain said. "I was supposed to be in class and I was walking in to school, to act like I was coming out of class. And he was parked there. And I was like, 'Oh boy, this sucks.'"
He didn't yell and scream. He didn't have to.
"He was just like, 'Hey, let it be a lesson learned,'" Joba said.
He didn't get off that easy.
"I think I had detention, because he knew all of the principals," he said. "That was never good."
The other incident he remembers is the one time he ran away from home.
"The scary part was I knew I could run and get away from dad, because he couldn't catch me," Joba said. "But that made it even worse. I did it once, and I never did it again. I ran away from home and ran down the street, and my dad went inside."
Harlan Chamberlain waited out his son, who eventually had to come home.
"My dad never forgets anything," Joba said with a smile. "When guys would pick on him, he would go, 'If you're going to beat me up, go ahead. I'm not going to stop you. But I'm not going to forget. It might not be tomorrow. It might not be next week. It might not even be next month. But there'll come a point when you will get yours.' And he's a strong man."
Eventually, Joba Chamberlain got it, and he learned to tell his father where he would be at all times. And as he grew up, he realized what it meant to have his father so deeply involved in his life.
Despite the effects of his physical condition and the long hours of his job, Harlan Chamberlain always had time to play catch with his son, even taught him a little about pitching. He taught his son the things he needed to know in life as best he could. And he taught his son to not live with excuses.
"He drives, he walks. He just does it with crutches and a scooter," Joba said. "It's just different. That's just the way he did it. I learned to do a lot of things with one hand, because that was the only way he knew how to teach me: Tie a tie one-handed, break an egg one-handed. I still can't do a button one-handed. It still takes me forever. Your parents teach you ways that they know. For my father, that was the only way he knew."
He also taught his son not to get a big head. He missed maybe three of Joba's games growing up, by Joba's count. When Joba became a pitching star at Nebraska, he still knew where he came from, because he was living in town at home with his dad. For Joba, it was a way to make his scholarship money go further. For Harlan, it was a way to keep an eye on him.
"If I missed class, he knew I missed class," Joba said, "because he was right there."
He was also there for the tough times, which is another lesson he'll never forget. It was actually the time he figured out why all the love was important.
"The time when it actually clicked, I was a sophomore in college and I just had surgery on my knee," Joba recalled. "And in the middle of the night, my ice was supposed to be switched. So I was lying on the couch, and it's about five in the morning. I wake up, and my dad's got my ice bucket in his teeth, walking in on his crutches, and I was like, 'What are you doing?' He was like, 'Your ice needs to be switched.' I was like, 'It can wait. I can go do it.' And my dad was like, 'No, it needed to be done.'
"And that was kind of the point for me when it clicked: What do I need to complain about, if my hamstring hurts or my arm hurts or whatever? My dad's never asked why. He's never complained one day, other than being sore or something like that. But never, why was this the card I was dealt? I've never, ever seen him complain, moan, groan about it. That's just the way it is. That's all he's known. That's what he's lived with. It's made him who he is today."
It's also helped make Joba Chamberlain who he is. He's trying to do the same for his son.