It had to be around midnight. A cool, Pennsylvania breeze blew across that empty parking lot in late October. We’d just lost our sixth game of the year, eliminating our high school football team from the playoffs once again. I was the senior captain of a winless team that lost our quarterback, running back, and three key starters on defense to injury. Needless to say, it took me a while to change out of my pads on this night. I was the last person out of the heavy double doors of the field house, expecting nothing but silence and sorrow on the other side.
That’s when I saw it. Parked next to my beat up Pontiac was that white Ford F-150 I’d taken hundreds of rides in as a kid. Only two cars were left, and one was my Dad. At my lowest point, there he was waiting for me with a cheeseburger and a smile. It was like he knew exactly what I needed.
It always felt like that though, right? No matter if you were a softball player who struck out three times, a soccer player who missed a wide open net, or a basketball player reeling after going 2-for-8 from the free throw line, Dad was always there at the end with positive words, a few lessons, and a big ass hug to help ease the pain.
I remember batting practice, just the two of us, at Rich Krane Field on Sunday nights. I remember having no idea how to long snap a football until he spent hours watching YouTube videos and showed me how it’s done. (Thanks to Dad, I became my team’s long snapper for the next six years.)
Even before I started playing sports, Dad was the definition of fun. Whether it was breaking down the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon, showing me how to change the spark plugs on my dirt bike, or fishing at the pond half a mile behind our house, there was nothing that Dad couldn’t do. I didn’t realize it until much later, but Dad wasn’t just teaching me the things I still love today. Dad was teaching me HOW to have fun and enjoy life, like I’m sure your father did to.
But now, Dad’s gone. A heart attack in 2012 (his second in 10 years) took him in his sleep. He was 50 years old.
I’ve never been a person who mourns when you lose a loved one, though. Sure, I’ll always miss those late night conversations about life, those reassurances that despite the Montour linebacker overrunning every play, Dad saw from the stands how I was able to redirect and pick up a key block on the backside. Our dads never took their eyes off us, did they?
Dad wasn’t just teaching me how to play. He taught me how to learn. He taught me how to watch. He taught me how to appreciate every aspect of sports, and more importantly of life, and to never let the negative outweigh the positive. He taught me everything I know, even though I didn’t realize it until much later in life. That old man was one step ahead of me until the very end.
He gave me his name. He gave me his spirit. He gave me so much more than I could ever fit into this 600-word article.
So to my Dad, and to yours, thank you. Not just for our love of sports, but for everything else.
Happy Father’s Day.