I was coaching at my old high school in 2009 and in the middle of the season I suddenly lost my dad. My dad was a 30 year retired police officer who also served over 30 years volunteering at the local high school as president, vice president and secretary of the boosters club. My mom and dad along with several great parents had helped raise millions of dollars and build most of the very nice athletic facilities the school has today. They loved to go to football games home or away. For over thirty years on Friday night if they were not rotating in the concession stand they sat in the same seats at home games every Friday night.
My dad sat on the top row, on the brick at the corner. I can see him now sitting there watching me, my brothers, cousins, and nephews playing football on Fridays.
Dad and mom were road warriors and followed the football team wherever they played. They went to every game home or away for a minimum of 30 seasons. Even when their health started to fail them, they continued to go to games. Dad has become legally blind and could barely see anything much farther than six feet away. He mostly relied on voice to identify who he was talking with. Dad would sit in the car and watch the games with his binoculars and enjoy it the best he could with what little vision he had.
Someone in the family would drive them to away games and mom would drive to home games. My wife Cindy was a road warrior and drove them a bunch and she has so many special memories from all those away trips to watch me coach and the team play football. The opposing school would always graciously make arrangements for mom’s car to be pulled into the stadium so he could have the best possible view of the games from the car seat. Dad had gotten to the point where he could barely walk, working so hard all his life supporting and taking care of his family had finally caught up to his knees, ankles and feet.
I am not sure he could see very much, but he was determined to not miss a game. With this background you can imagine what he meant not only to me, but to the local community and county as a whole. He was a very respected man, great father and leader of people. I often say “If I end up half the man and father my dad was, I will do well in life”. At the time of his death, I was coaching at the high school I graduated from as an assistant when dad passed away. He was a mover and a shaker and even with his struggles to walk he was determined to live his life to the fullest and he always wanted to try and walk out to the mailbox to grab the mail.
He knew it was a struggle, but did it anyways because he didn’t want my mom to have to do it herself. He took a bad fall Oneday trying to go to the mailbox and busted up his ribs. My dad was bigger than life literally at 6’4 and 350 pounds he was a man’s man. As he stepped out into the yard he slipped and fell, busting his ribs up and it caused some internal bleeding and breathing issues that the doctors were struggling to find and fix. Due to his size, they had trouble seeing his internal organs to access the damage and correct it. He was in tremendous pain so my mom called me and I called the ambulance to have him taken to the local hospital for treatment.
His injuries were really bad and before the hospital could figure out what was going on, he died due to the internal injuries a few days later while getting some x-rays. Losing anyone close is devastating, but to lose your hero was literally a gut punch for me and my family. I was in shutdown mode emotionally and was helping my mom with all the funeral arrangements, flowers, and service arrangements. Obviously, I couldn’t find the time to go to football practice that week and we had a huge game that Friday night with playoffs on the line. We buried my dad and I was just staying away from life, thinking, grieving and recovering mentally, physically and spiritually from the loss of my dad, mentor, father and hero.
My mom told me all week that daddy would want me to be at the ball game and I needed to go. But I felt like I couldn’t do it. I feared looking up and not seeing him sitting there beside mom watching me coach and the boys play. It was enough to shut me down, the fear of facing reality that he was gone and I would never be able to hear his voice again giving me the best advice. Mom kept on me all week and I had told the head coach on the day I buried my dad, a Thursday that I would not be attending the game Friday night.. The funeral had over 400 people come through the line and instead of ending up at 8pm, it was almost 11pm before we got done and home.
That speaks volumes for who my dad was and the impact he had on people’s lives. The team and coaches showed in force to support me and I will never forget that, it was very supportive and special that they thought that much of my dad and family to do that. That is what being a part of something special is and what makes it a memory I will never forget. Game day came and about 5:00pm a dear friend of mine called and said, “hey, get dressed we are going to the ball game”. I told him I couldn’t and he said I am on the way, so get dressed buddy. I reluctantly dressed knowing that I was about to face reality and try to coach without my dad watching for the first time in years. A few minutes later he picked me up and we took a quiet long 45 minute drive to the school.
As we arrived I could feel the emotions swelling up inside me and did not want to face reality that my dad was not going to be at the game for the first time in my life. I had buried him the day before and knew he was gone, but to accept that was a different story. We pulled in the parking lot and the Athletic Director was standing at the football field gate. He opened the gate and motioned us through. My friend and head coach had made arrangements to get me to the game and knew that for me to move on and begin the process of healing, I had to go coach that night. As I got out of the car and walked towards the field, the team came over and we all hugged and they walked me onto the field.
As I write this I am tearing up as this was a memory I had put away and not thought much about since 2009. I realize now that it was a gesture of love and compassion from my team and part of the healing process we go through when we lose our hero, parent or dear loved one. I could feel him with me and we went to work and the boys played hard and I coached as hard as I could. I knew my dad would want me to be on the field, coaching and getting results. Not sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. I am forever thankful to my friend, head coach and players for the awesome contribution they made in my life the week I lost my dad.
Life Lesson- Even in death, our loved ones are right there with us protecting and helping out. My dad and friends helped me to overcome fear of the unknown. Dealing with the loss of a loved one is a terrible thing and we must rely on God’s word to get through it. Being part of something bigger than you like a team is instrumental in that process. I give thanks to God for all his mercy, grace and strength he sends us. Ask him to take our fears away and know that in his word our loved ones are safe and with us. Dad was a strong spirit in life and now in his heavenly form.