May you remember him fondly, and may the sorrow of his passing ease. Great post.
A Funeral and a Football Game
I got dressed early on Friday afternoon and sat down in my parents’ living room with a couple of hours to kill. My father had passed away earlier that week and I was nervously awaiting our departure for his wake. As I waited, I surfed the hype threads and tailgaiting threads on MGoBlog and realized that my game day experience was going to be unique. I wanted to share some thoughts with all of you about life, loss, and sports.
Last Monday my dad succumbed to a two and a half year battle with leukemia. He was 61. My sister and I were by his side as he drew his last breath. A year before he was diagnosed with cancer he had an attack of acute pancreatitis, spent 2 weeks in a coma, 4 months in the hospital, lost 1/3 of his pancreas, and lost his abdominal wall due to the multiple surgeries. I thought we had seen it all. Little did I know that his struggle was just starting. The next 2.5 years were filled with chemo treatments, transfusions, a bone marrow transplant, and too many procedures to count. During the last 8 months or so we had to bring my dad to the hospital on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule for blood and platelets transfusions. The hospital was an hour away in Boston and the transfusions would take all day. I never looked forward to bringing him in but I couldn’t complain in the face of the bravery and resolve that he displayed on a daily basis. My dad taught me many lessons in life. The final lesson was how to die with dignity.
My dad raised me as a Boston sports fan. I don’t have a definitive first memory of Fenway Park because I was too young and was going there too frequently. From the cold bleachers at Foxboro Stadium, to the obstructed views of the Garden, to the cigar smoke in Fenway, my childhood was largely spent watching and talking sports with my Dad. His favorite sport was baseball but when I started focusing exclusively on soccer he tried to immerse himself in the game. We took a couple of trips to visit family in England and saw two Arsenal games. I got a VHS highlight tape of the 1994 World Cup for Christmas and watched that thing too many damn times to count.
Whenever the conversation paused or we couldn’t figure out what to say next one of us would bring up sports. I watched countless games with him in the hospital and they provided a welcome distraction and a good excuse for me to visit constantly. I’d call him up to remind him that the Sox were on tonight and he’d better get his game face on. His new hospital didn’t carry the channel that our beloved Celtics were on so we dived headfirst into the Bruins during the winter. The tv’s were standard definition and impossibly small but I enjoyed every game that we saw. Well, except for 2009 against Ohio State. I think I might have scared one or two nurses that day.
I was fortunate enough to attend the same university as my dad and we commiserated with each other about the frustrations of following a middling mid-major basketball program. In the last ten years we saw them play in two conference finals for a ticket to the Big Dance but they couldn’t bring it home. I called him from the conference tournament last year. We finally had the #1 seed and home court advantage but got bounced in the semis. “We’ll get ‘em next year”, he’d always say.
My dad viewed my increasing obsession with Michigan with a sort of curious fascination. Being from the Northeast he wasn’t much of a college football fan. He cheered for Notre Dame because we are Irish Catholics and he also had a soft spot in his heart for the Wisconsin Badgers. He’d laugh as he listened to me rave about the Maize and Blue. When Denard was setting the world on fire last year I couldn’t wait to see him on Sunday and make him watch the latest jaw-dropping play. He told me, “It looks like Rich Rod has found his guy”. We wanted to get out to the Big House to see a game together but it wasn’t to be.
On Saturday we held his funeral. I tried to stay stoic for my mom, my sister, and my aunt. After the burial and the reception my mom and I went back to the gravesite for some closure. We talked about what he meant to us and I was finally able to cry. Then my friends picked me up and we went out to a sports bar in town and saw the most amazing football game of our lives. As Roundtree came down with the game winning TD I got up and screamed “that’s what I’m fucking talking about baby yeah!!!”. I know my dad was up there laughing and smiling at my reaction. I’ll never forget the range of emotions that I went through on that day.
Sports are such a big part of the bond between a family. Do me a favor and go watch a game with your old man or give him a call. A lot of you are fathers yourselves. Take time to share with your kids what Michigan means to you. It may be the most important thing that you ever share with them. I’ll close with a quote from one of my dad’s favorite bands, the Moody Blues:
Time, take this sadness from me
Time, bring my heart back safely
Hold on to warm September
Cause life can be like December Snow.
I lost my father when i was a Soph. in high school. He's half the reason why I'm a Michigan fan. He made me come in the livingroom once to watch a basketball game and thats when I fell in love with Webber and Michigan. At times I feel like my the biggest Michigan fan in the world and I owe it to my father. Sorry to hear about your loss and GO BLUE!!
Thanks for sharing.
My condolences to you and your family, and thanks for sharing.
I am sorry for your loss. Your Dad was a great guy.
I do remember my first trip to Tiger Stadium with my Dad. And - having relocated many years ago - I remember - and cherish - taking each of my daughters to their first Fenway games. And many trips since.
I also cherish taking each of them in recent years to the Big House for a game. Even if wasn't the Michigan football we had in my younger days, it was still football at the Big House.
Sports binds us across the generations like nothing else. My grandfather watched Ty Cobb play. My father George Kell. We all spent the Summer of '68 with Ernie Harwell.
My father is ill. I've been back and forth to Michigan to be with him. Every day/night it's the same ritual, "turn the game on". And we watch the game; some game, any game. Hockey. Basketball. Baseball. Football.
I have watched many games with my old man. And now I am the old man that watches the game with his kids. Wouldn't miss either.
Go Dads. Go Blue.
As time goes by, the details of those last painful days will be edged out by better, happier memories. These are the ones that will have staying power.
Last weekend, I was helping lead a men's retreat for our church. An unofficial part of that weekend was gathering around a TV and watching the second half of the Notre Dame game. It was special to say the least.
The next morning at breakfast, the talk turned to great Michigan moments of the past. As one of the "older guys," I was asked where I was for the Wangler-to-Carter miracle. My dad and I were glued to the Bob Ufer broadcast coming from one of those big stereo console units. When the great play occurred me and my normally stoic father were jumping up and down in the living room shouting with joy. We knocked everything off the knickknack shelf. We thought Mom was going to kill us both. Murder did indeed cross her mind, but she saw how happy we were, quietly picked everything up on the floor, and left the room, shaking her head back and forth and grinning.
So treasure every moment and trust that these are the things that will endure.
I went to the Western game with my 8 year old son and remember thinking, these are great days. Time flies fast and I know the dynamic will change in a few years. He was really worried about the weather and wanted just to stand close and be safe. Family is so important and we need to do everything we can to cherish those important moments in life.
Well said, my friend. Well said.
Thank you for sharing such a moving post on family, sports and the bond that is formed because of that.
thanks for the post.
certainly the loss of a parent is a strange and surreal experience (unfortunately speaking from experience here).
my best to you all -
Thanks for putting things in perspective for us, sorry for your loss.
and I lost my dad last year, next month is the 1 year anniversary. The only reason my dad like football and watched games with me was because he saw how much I loved it. I like to think of him laughing when I go crazy watching the games and I know he was laughing his ass off watching me have a heart attack on saturday.
Really sorry to hear about the loss of your dad.
Last weekend, my son, a recent graduate of Michigan and now in med school, and I met in Ann Arbor for the game weekend. We did lots of things together and he did his late night stuff with his Michigan buds, but we went to the game together. When the clock was finally at 0:00 and the place was going nuts, he looked at me and said how happy he was to have shared the game with me, and we hugged. It made a special night that much more special.
I have gone to many Michigan games with both my sons, both Michigan alums, and It never grows old. While your dad may be gone, the memories will be with you for a lifetime.
My 10 year old fifth grader is playing football, starting on the DL. Saturday morning, I got to watch his game, Saturday night we watched UM beat ND together, and Sunday after church, we caught part of the Bears game. I cherish the time I have with him, because the days are flying by, and he won't be a boy for long. We're looking forward to UM - Northwestern, another night game. While it won't be the same as UM - ND, it looks like they are already sold out, and we'll be creating yet more memories. I'm so glad you and your father were able to share your love of sports together.
I have a ten year old playing football as well. His team got crushed last night and a big part of it was he wasn't finishing his blocks. I feel much the same way you do about the time. Although we live in NC, we try to make it up once a year for a game. I'll be in Ann Arbor with him for the SDSU game. Something happened with him this past year. He was not excited about sports at all although we had been to several games. Now he is a freak. Saturday's game was a crazy rollercoaster and he's still talking about it.
To the op, thanks for the story. My father has never been a sports fan and I'm jealous in that regard. I learned my love of Michigan from my step-father.
Eat when you can, sleep when you can and don't fuck with the pancreas.
I'm sorry for your families loss and thanks for sharing. Reading your line "His favorite sport was baseball but when I started focusing exclusively on soccer he tried to immerse himself in the game. " said everything. Your father was obviously a great guy.
My dad was also a huge Notre Dame fan (my grandpa was an alum) and my first college football games as a young boy were at Notre Dame. When I went to U of M he became an instant Wolverine fan. He roots for ND every weekend of the year except one and U of M always.
I finally got season tickets last year and am taking him to his first game in the Big House for the Minnesota game. I am sure it will be a memory to cherish.
I lost my dad this past February, almost exactly an hour after the Super Bowl ended. He had endured an almost 15 year battle with a brain tumor which finally started to get the best of him in late 2010. I tired to stay stoic too, but when I saw him for the first time in the coffin, I couldn't stop the tears, especially since I hadn't seen him 3 months (living far away never helps either). I somehow pulled together for the wakes and the funeral, but I still think about him all the time.
Sports can help the grieving process a lot, especially when it brings up those memories you cherished with a loved one. I remember one year in high school, my dad surprised me Subway Series tickets. They were 7th row on the 3rd base line. I got to meet Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Ruben Sierra. Later that night, we shared a great steak dinner and got to meet Jim Kaat. I will never forget it.
I am sorry for your loss. My prayers go out to you and your family.
God Bless you and your family. I can tell your father raised a great man.
It was so sad and yet uplifting in many ways. Sports create a wonderful bond between friends and family and the death of a loved one brings back so many thoughts of the good times.
One of my good friends from UM Law School used to phone every year upon the first Wolverine touchdown. He lived in Park City while I ilved in SoCal. He passed away a couple of years ago at the age of about 63. I think of the guy every fall upon our first score.
My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family. Your father was such a young man.
Great story -- thanks for sharing. A little off topic but my dad and I are going up to where he grew up for Germanfest -- just him and I along with our friends, aunts, uncles and cousins. It's going to be a great time to share some beers with him and be surrounded by family. I'm definitely going to take it all in.
Very sorry for your loss, 61 is too young. But the day ended on a nice positive note.
I lost my father two years ago..When I was 10 I BEGGED him to take me to a Michigan Fooball game. We live 6 hours away and to be frank my Dad didnt have the money at that time but SOMEHOW he managed to get 4 tickets to the 1973 Michigan-Ohio St game that ended in a 10-10 tie. I got to take two of buddies..Needless to say I was a popular Kid that week as I decided which two lucky friends would join us..we drove 6 Hours in driving rain on a COLD Nov sat..When we arrived the rain stopped the game was played and I was Hooked on Michigan..My dad cheered for both M and MSU and up to that point I think he leaned MSU..From that point forward he and I bonded as father and son and he was all Michigan after that.
We spent many a Saturday watching Michigan Football growing up..When I grew up and Moved away we talked every saturday after every Michigan game on the Phone and kept up with each others lives. My Dad taught me many valuable lessons including working hard, being on time, famil,y faith, friends and Country.
I loved my Dad, Miss him terribly..I miss watching football with Him and my three sons.
After Satufdays game my Eldest..10 said Dad I bet Grandpa is celebrating Tonight!!
I replied..Are you a MICHIGAN Man? He said GO BLUE!!!! Mission accomplished!
Ill keep teaching him and the 2 younger ones as they get older what that Means
and for doing so with such respect and dignity. I haven't had the blessing of children in my life but am presently dealing with my dad having a blood illness (that resembles leukemia) for the last 9 years. He gets chemo 5 days out of every 28 and an average of 2 transfusions each month as well. I live in Chicago and my dad is in Ann Arbor so I don't see him as much as I'd like but drive in once a month to at least spend a night with him and my mom. I know how hard it is to watch what he goes through and can't even imagine what you and others here have experienced when losing a parent. My prayers are with you and your family, and with all who have lost a parent. May they rest in peace.
I am back in A2 this week for my father's upcoming memorial this Saturday. I feel you. I came in to spend a week ahead of that with the family - and also to attend the game, the first one that I had attended since the Phil Brabbs last second win over Washington in 2002. That was the first time I had made it to the stadium since I graduated in 1981. I guess I pick them well.
My father died of old age at 90, and I am fortunate, as is all of the family, that we have not had such an illness strike us over the years.
I appreciate your words and your sense of grace in dealing with the whole situation.
Thank you for sharing this, my parents went through some difficult times a couple years back that caused a pretty big strain on my dad and I's relationship. To make a long story short our love of Michigan has helped to mend that relationship from sharing our 1st ever set of season tickets last year, to taking in the ND game last weekend. As you said we always just "turn the game on"..