It was twelve years ago today that my dad left this earth. Where he went, if anywhere, well I haven’t figured that whole thing out yet. I do know that the night before he passed away I prayed for the first time in my life. I remember going to bed late, like 3:30 in the morning, looking up at the ceiling, and saying “Just please let him fall asleep and not wake up.” He was so worried about the the possibility of the tumors in his lungs bleeding and suffocating him. The next morning I woke up at 11am. I went out and talked to the hospice nurse for a second, and she said he had been sleeping well, which was a change from the norm. She left a couple minutes later, and simultaneously my uncle Gary came over. He and I sat on the couch quietly chatting for a couple of minutes. At one point I looked over at my dad, saw his stomach move gently up, and then down, and then stay down. I sat there fixated on him, even though I was trying to listen to what my uncle was talking about. His stomach made one more small up, but then it settled back down. It never went up again. After a few seconds, I finally told my uncle “he’s not breathing.” We went over to him, and it was clear he was already gone. His passing, after more than a year of pain, treatment, misery, and agony, was the most peaceful transition we all could have hoped for. The next few minutes were pretty awful. I didn’t cry. I was numb. But I had to call my mom and tell her that my dad, her husband of 20 years who fathered both of her children, whom she hadn’t spoke too in two years, had passed away. I had to meet my sister, who walked up the driveway just a few minutes later out front. My uncle had to call my grandma to inform her that her youngest son had just died. I’m not an overly spiritual or religious person, but I believe in every fiber of me that it’s not a coincidence that he died ten minutes after I woke up and five minutes after my uncle got there. I think he wanted to be with us when he passed. Call me crazy, but I believe it.
My dad was 47 years old when he passed away. Far too young in my book. Skin Cancer, cancer of any kind, is a mother fucker.
My dad is a really tough dude to describe on paper. He was this strange mix of bitter, hilarious, grouchy, charming and mean. He played baseball all growing up, and was the top pitcher in Washington state his senior year in high school. I used to love to comb through his scrap books and read all the newspaper stories. I wanted to be a baseball player like my dad. He and his friend Ken Phelps both took scholarships to Washington State University and they were off. My dad had immediate success at the college level, and his freshman year, on March 23, 1973, threw a no hitter against the Eastern Washington U. Eagles. His name is still on plaque at the WSU field for that no hitter as well as being on the Coug’s all 70’s team. He hurt his arm during his junior year and by the time his senior year came about, he had lost all the zip on his fastball. He told me often about his last outing, pitching against Arizona State, and giving up 12 runs in 2/3 of an inning. He said he kept looking over at his coach, Bobo Brayton, pleading to take him out, and Bobo shaking his head saying no!! LOL
He met my mom in college, on accident. She had called to talk to his roommate, who I believe was the third baseman, and instead got my dad. Apparently he sweet talked her into a date, which knowing my dad for the 21 years I did, I can’t picture at all. They married in 1977, and my mom said that her favorite quality of my dad was that he didn’t bullshit anybody. That was an understatement. I sometimes felt my dad’s inner monologue just went straight out his mouth. He was a tough guy and usually brutally so. And often mean. He was tough on us kids. I think in his mind, that kind of ‘motivation’ would work, which it did for some things. I got bad grades in 8th grade and he sat me down and gave me the “do you want to be a truck driver the rest of your fucking life” speech. Since I saw him come home from his job everyday miserable and pissed off and head straight to the bottle or the poker room, I figured “no I don’t want to be a truck driver.” LOL I got a 3.3 GPA the next semester and never got bad grades again. I was scared to death of my dad, and if getting good grades avoided getting yelled at, then i’d bust my ass in the library.
I always felt that when his baseball dream died, a big part of him died as well. I don’t think he ever got over that. He carried around some kind of inner pain and turmoil that I never understood. Until I found it in myself after he died. I miss him very much. Our relationship was something I always struggled with, and probably always will. He was complicated. But he interspersed those bad things with moments of greatness. He could crack me up and charm the pants off people when he wanted to. There’s a video that my aunt Barbara made after his passing (it’s posted below), and one of the last pictures is him throwing his baseball hat in his uniform. He was the most passionate coach I’ve ever seen on a baseball diamond. He was so far ahead of the other coaches it was pathetic. He could get more out of a team by sheer will than anyone. He started a select 18 year old Sr. Babe Ruth team with my uncle in 1997, and by 1999 they were in the Babe Ruth World Series, where they finished 2nd. In three years he started from scratch and had the second best team in the country. And his motto for every team, was “Play harder, longer.” Those three words I’ll carry with me until my stomach finally stops going up.