FATHER'S DAY 2011
This year was my eleventh fathers' day without my dad and my fourth fathers' day as a father in my own right.
Sarah and I were lucky enough to be blessed with amazing parents who supported us, encouraged us to work hard and to be creative, and, above all, who showed us and told us every day that we were loved. And we were both blessed with incredible fathers. I have all the love and respect in the world for my father-in-law. Without his wisdom, humor, empathy and support, I'm not sure I would have survived my dad's death. Thank you Scott, and happy fathers' day.
As for my dad, well, his temper will not soon be forgotten. And he could be one of the most stubborn people in the world (unlike me, of course), but there was not a moment in my life when I questioned how much he loved me. And even when I hated him for it, I always knew he was hard on me because he wanted the world to be mine. I can still remember the bear hugs every time I walked in the house. The look of pride and excitement in his eyes when he saw me act the lead in the school play in high school (a play he almost didn't see because he did not approve--another long story), and again when I graduated from college.
My father died on April 26, 2001. One month before my wedding to the day. He wasn't there to lean on after 9/11. He missed my graduations from grad school and law school. And, though I was devastated by his loss, I never really knew how much I missed him until the day my first son, Cooper, was born, October 20, 2007. The disturbing, bizarre moment I first looked into Cooper's eyes (a story for another day), I felt more humble, awe-struck, and alone than I have ever felt before. I wanted to run to my dad to celebrate, and to ask him what the hell I had gotten myself into. I still don't know. What I thought was a unique feeling was replicated perfectly (although without some of the strangeness) the first time I looked into Dexter's eyes the morning of October 22, 2009. I have wanted to pick up the phone countless times to tell my dad about the latest thing the boys have done, or to ask him how to juggle it all without losing my mind. I miss and still need the occasional kick in the ass from my dad.
Every day I think about my last few hours with my father. Many of you have heard this story. I used to tell it often because I had trouble believing it actually happened this way. But it did.
It was the end of my second semester of grad school. I got home from the bar late the night of April 25/early in the morning April 26. There was a handwritten note from my roommate, Colin, on the wall of the hallway leading to my bedroom. I can't remember what it said but it was brief. "Your father was in an accident." It might have instructed me to call my mom on my dad's work-issued cell phone. I remember wondering why no one called me on my cell phone. I called the house. No answer. I called the cell phone, it was off and went straight to voice mail. I probably left five messages that night. (For weeks I would call the number to hear my dad's voice asking me to leave a message). I called again and again throughout the early morning. After a few hours went by, before dawn, I finally decided to call my uncle. It was around four in the morning and I felt terrible because deep down I believed nothing was wrong and I was overreacting. I felt bad to wake my uncle and scare him with the late phone call. My dad was hit by a car. His leg was badly damaged. He was in the hospital and would need surgery, but he was doing alright. Christ Hospital on Cicero in Oak Lawn. My mom couldn't answer her phone because she was waiting at the hospital with him probably. I went to bed.
I got through to my mom early the next morning. It was a weekday, near the end of the semester. I had my mom put my dad on the phone. He sounded tired, but well. I remember feeling so relieved when I heard his voice, weary, but strong. I told him Sarah and I were on our way. Anna, my sister, was already on her way or was already there with a friend. He told me, no. He said I had to stay at school, I needed to go to class. I remember laughing and making a joke. I told him he could get out of bed and stop me if he wanted to, but we would see him later that morning. We drove the hour-and-a-half down from DeKalb a little later in my Chevy Cavalier.
I remember being shocked when we got to the hospital because he was still waiting for surgery. I'd assumed surgery had already been performed. He had been there more than 12 hours. His leg was badly damaged, but Christ is a trauma hospital, and more emergent cases kept coming in. My dad's cousin, Joe, had suffered a serious leg injury less than a year earlier (I think it was less than a year) and was working his way through an extensive rehabilitation. I remember joking with my dad that Joe had paved the way and would be able to help him. They could be rehab partners. After complaining that his damned kids didn't listen to him and should be at school, my father, slightly influenced by morphine--but only slightly because he never really hid his sentimental, emotional side--called me over and whispered in my ear. He said "This is what I worked for, my whole life... To have my family around me, to have you all here."
After sitting with him for what seemed like days, but I'm sure was only a few hours, they came to take him to surgery. We followed the gurney to the last set of doors before the operating room where we were told to wait. I went and gave him a kiss. He said he loved me. I told him "I love you." He and my mom kissed. Sarah, whom I was to marry a month later, hung back to stay out of the way of the family moment. My father looked over to her and said "Sarah, come here" and motioned her over to his side. "I love you, you're my daughter." And he gave her a kiss. They wheeled him through the doors. Those were the last words I heard my father say. His heart stopped during his surgery and never started again.
Now I have two beautiful, amazing sons. And I want the world to be theirs. And I make sure the last thing they hear me say to them every night is "I love you."
I love you, dad.