Dad passed away almost 10 years ago, but I still think about him often. This Father’s Day, I want to share some of the memories I cherish most.
When I was growing up, I loved playing any sport, and my Dad loved to be involved. He was always trying to help me improve, and he coached my youth football team. Once in the football huddle, he announced we were to run a double reverse. In the simplest terms, that means the ball gets handed off by the quarterback to the first running back, then the ball is handed off again to second running back going in the opposite direction. This is attempted to totally confuse the defense as to who has the ball and which way should they pursue the ball carrier.
Unfortunately, Dad had a habit of getting a little too loud in our huddle. The other team heard the play and was preparing to shut it down. The quarterback realized this and did the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in football. He acted like he was handing the ball to me but kept it on his hip. I pretended I had the ball and mimed passing it off to the second running back. As the other team prepared to tackle him, the quarterback ran down the sidelines and scored a touchdown. Everyone thought my dad did that on purpose, but in reality, his overexcitement presented an opportunity for the quarterback to do something brilliant.
When we weren’t playing sports, Dad expected all of us to help around the house, and he always had a project going. As soon as my brothers and sisters got started, he would always have to go to the store to “get some nails” — and then be gone for hours. It was a running joke that it was his way of getting out of work, but when he was there, I was trained in the use of a multitude of tools. The result was that I became proficient with a chainsaw by age 10. I wouldn’t have let my own kids climb trees and cut down branches like I did, but I learned hard work, and I still love woodworking and outdoor projects to this day.
Dad also imparted a great love of music. He used to sing in a professional group before getting married and having kids, but he never stopped singing at any family gatherings. He decided he wanted to give back to the community and ultimately spent 30 years visiting nursing homes to sing on the weekends.
It was incredible to see how the residents would respond. Many of them needed to use walkers or canes, but when Dad started singing classic songs they knew from their youth, they’d get up and start dancing. The effect was so noticeable that he decided it was worth scientific study. In his 70s, my Dad got a Ph.D. in musical therapy for seniors. It was a good lesson in passion. He taught me how to find something I love, stick with it, then use my skill to benefit other people.
Now, I did not get my dad’s gift of song. I remember trying to sing to my daughter when she was about 2 years old, and she would respond, “Daddy, no sing!” But he did pass along a love of the great American songbook. I love the standards from the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. (If you’re curious, I suggest streaming Steve Tyrell’s album “A New Standard.”)
Sadly, my Dad died from metastatic cancer about ten years ago. On the last night that I was with him, I brought my phone and some speakers, and I played all of his favorite songs. I listened with him until about 1 or 2 in the morning. He passed away later that morning. It was a terrible loss, but I feel fortunate we could experience that final moment of connection.
One of the things I’m most grateful for is how much Dad supported my growth in sports. He was at almost all of my sporting events, home and away. In fact, the other kids would sometimes ask if he had a job! Having him there was always something special. After I completed a good play in football or won a big race in track, I still remember whipping my head around to see my dad’s reaction. With a grin on my face, I’d be thinking, “Did you catch that?” and I would light up when I saw that he did.
My wife and I both wanted to replicate that experience for our children. Over the years, seeing their heads turn to look at me or my wife after doing something they were proud of has always filled us with emotion. Dad taught me that it’s a blessing to be there for your kids — and that the effects on them will last a lifetime. Thanks, Dad!