Anything But a Super Sunday

Note: My Dad died seven years ago today. This is for him. And for me.

The Rams were playing the Titans in the NFL championship game. But for me, Sunday, January 30, 2000, was anything but super.

That’s the day my Dad died.

(It was hard to type that — even now.)

I’ll never forget the last time I saw him. It was Sunday, January 23. My wife and I were living in Vermont at the time — nearly five hours away.

When it was clear things weren’t going to turnaround, I started coming home every weekend to see my Dad. We had a routine of sorts. We’d sit in the TV room and watch whatever college basketball game was on.

At the end of the game, I’d get up to leave. He’d get up, too, although it wasn’t easy for him. And it definitely wasn’t easy for me to see him this way. That didn’t matter when he shook my hand, though. As firm and as strong as ever, regardless of what was happening to the rest of his body.

I told him I would see him next week.

“Stay home,” he told me. “I know you have plans for the game. I’ll see you the following week.”

Oh how I wish that were true.

Instead, I suffered from the cruelest of ironies. The one weekend I didn’t come home (at least initially), is the weekend, well, you know.

We did have plans to watch the game with friends. And then the phone rang Sunday morning. It was my brother, Tom. In short, Tom told me things had gotten worse for my Dad. Everyone was at the house. I should come home.

This was about noon. The call itself wasn’t a surprise. The timing was. That’s why it took a few hours for my wife and I to get all we needed together before heading home. I had to make work arrangements, as did she. We had to pack for a prolonged visit. Finally, we were on the road. I think it was about 3 p.m.

Looking back, that’s what I most wish I could change about that day. Either that my family would have called me earlier. Or that we could have gotten out of the house and on the road quicker.


Because I wasn’t there when he died.

My wife and I would stop every hour or so and give updates on how close we were and get updates from my family.

I’ll never forget the phone call I made from a phone booth outside a Mobile Station in Greenfield, MA.

“Making good time,” I told my brother, Tim, who answered the phone. “Probably another hour and a half.”

“Michael,” he said. “Dad died a little while ago.”

I just stood there. I don’t remember what I said. But I remember what Tim said:

“The nurse said it was getting close. We were all there. We all took turns saying goodbye.”

I must have shown some sign of emotion, because the next thing I remember was my wife giving me a big hug outside the phone booth.

She drove the rest of the way, and I cried for about the next 15 to 20 minutes. While i know what Tim meant, he was wrong. We weren’t all there. We didn’t all take turns saying goodbye.

I wasn’t there. I didn’t get to say goodbye until two days later when I finally saw him at the funeral home.

I’ll probably never get over that part. That I wasn’t there. That I didn’t come home that weekend. I think about that. A lot.

I also think about what my Dad has missed. My son will never know his Papa O. He includes him in his prayers, and we light a candle every week at church for him, because he knows “Papa O is in heaven.”

But, he’ll never see the Papa O look my Dad used to give one of my nieces and my three nephews. He’ll never see my dad umpire a baseball game, or perform a card trick for him. And he’ll never have the chance to hear my dad tell him a story or help him learn a new word.

The two biggest things that my Dad missed? Seeing my sister and me as parents. I think about him holding my sister’s daughter and telling her how lucky she is to have Lynn as a Mom. And I think about him talking to my son, trying to be serious as he listens to him, but seeing him barely able to hold back a smile.

One of the more selfish things I think about is something that didn’t happen — but that I wish did. As I said, my Dad died on Sunday. His hospice nurse later told us that my Dad’s plan for Monday was to write letters to each of us kids. He never got the chance. And there are times when I wonder if he did, what mine would say.

Would he tell me that he was sorry he called me out on three straight strikes when he umpired one of my first Little League games, or would he tell me that he knew one day I would make a good Dad?

Either one would be more than OK.

I can’t help it. These are the things I think about. My Dad died seven years ago. And I wasn’t there.

Miss you, Dad.

6 Comments on “Anything But a Super Sunday”

  1. jc says:

    Your dad would have written how proud he is of you and the life that you have and the family you would soon have.

    He would wish you all the great things that he had having you as his son and the rest of his children and wife as his family.

    He would have written I love you.

    He would have written I know you and Renee will be great parents.

    Your dad appreciated you being there all those weekends to watch some sports on tv and keep him company. Keep in mind that sometimes it’s not what you say, but your presence of being there that is calming and loving. You showed up Mike. That’s more than a lot of people can say.

    Is good bye important? Yes it is because it gives each of us closure. With every weekend you went to visit your dad, you got to re-experience being in his presence like when you were a kid. You got to say hello and good bye. And now, he hears you and sees you, Renee, and “the boy” all the time.

    Think about all that you would have missed out on if you hadn’t gone to visit him all those weekends in a row?

    I feel like you’re the Matt Damon role at the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan….standing above the grave at Arlington of the man (tom hanks) who saved his life, but lost his own in the process. I think he said to his wife, “tell me my life mattered. tell me i’m a good man.” She re-assured him that he was all that and more.

    Maybe you could have a party honoring your dad where you all gather in one home and reminisce about all the funny stories regarding your dad, record it somehow, and put together a book for all the grandkids so that they know who Papa O is and why he’s so important to you and the rest of your family.

    What are you doing this year to honor your father on the day he went to be with God. You honor him every week with a candle, but maybe a visit to his grave and talking about some things that made you laugh will make you feel better. Maybe he’ll tell you who’s going to win the super bowl this year and you can put a pretty big wager on it.

    I hate to say or quote anything from a tv show, however, I think it’s very appropriate and true in this instance.

    I’m referring to an episode of the “X” Files where Scully, thru some crazy twist of fate, would have been able to talk with her dad who was channeling thru an inmate in jail. Long story short is that the inmate tried to use her to get him off his life sentence in exchange for hearing his last words….

    she resolved at the end of the show that she did not need to talk with the inmate who was channeling her father because she already knew the answer….the answer she said, was,”he would have told me he’s proud of me.”
    – I’m paraphrasing, but that’s it.

    So….i re-read this and it’s difficult for me to make sure I got all my thoughts together for you….succinctly. Ask God – yes GOD – for a sign from your father. One time, while driving down here – about 4 yrs ago, I was thinking of my aunt mary quite a bit who passed away in 1998. A car had a license plate read ANT MARY on it. VA is known for having tons of vanity plates….I took that as my sign. Take the signs that you get this week from your dad, because, I would expect that he’ll leave you multiple signs so you’ll eventually “see” 1 of them.

  2. ME says:

    Thanks for sharing Mike. I’m sorry that you had to go through that in order to share it. I hope you thought about your Dad in positive ways today. I’m quite certain he was & still is proud of you and appreciates all that you did with and for him.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Touching and moving memory that brought back my own experiences of missing my father’s passing. Bittersweet.

    It says a lot about your Dad that he could call out his own son on three straight. Good character- and it obviously passed through to you. I think he would be very proud of you.

    My first ever Blog comment-p.

  4. John Ish says:

    I have a Papa O story to share. It was my first time to Pawkatuck and while Jackie always loved me more than Mike, Papa O was a mystery. We were at my first roto draft and with it’s pomp and circumstance and the big board and Papa O charting every move. Everything was error free until I go and draft Mark Eichorn and Papa O is listening to me spell it and I spell I-E-C-H-O-R-N. It was a blemish and I felt terrible. It soon became the first of a few blemishes so I felt a bit better. I do not know why that stuck with me after almost 20 years.

  5. carrie121870 says:

    No matter where you were, you were with him and he with you. Think about that moment or the moments in the car before that… you’ll find a split second, a silence, he was there with you.

    We can’t ever figure out why? but maybe just maybe we can learn to live, to love, to feel more and not let time slip away. We can’t take it back, there are no do-overs…

    We learn from them, we love more passionately because of them, and we move forward with them by our sides watching over us.

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