My Dad & Why You Should Talk To Strangers

On April 15, 2016, Boston lost one of its most unwaveringly loyal sports fans when my Dad, Paul Joseph Carey, 83, passed away to be with the God he loved. The guy who referred to himself as “Can’t Miss” Carey when he shot hoops with his grandkids was a proud man — proud to be an Irish Catholic, proud to be from Mission Hill in Roxbury, proud to be a parishioner of Mission Church since he was baptized, proud of his children and proud of his grandchildren. And without a doubt, my Dad was most proud to have Bebe O’Donnell as his loving partner for the last 40+ years. Long before there was “Brad & Angelina,” there was “Grampy & Bebe.”

If I had a dollar every time I heard the words “I love your Dad,” I could feed the world. As a kid, I was often confused by the statement because like most kids I thought my parents were odd. As I got older, it became clear to me that my Dad was someone special. He absolutely and genuinely loved meeting new people and learning about their lives. The running joke in the family was that before my Dad ever said hello to anyone he didn’t know, including strangers, he would ask, “Where are you from?” That question always lead to a long, deeply engaged conversation that unearthed much insight and created endless laughter. It also usually lead to a new reference name for the person. This happened right up until his passing where the nurses at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center experienced it first hand. Nurse Samantha became “Mary Ann’s” after my Dad heard she went to Boston College and liked the iconic bar, and Nurse Jen became “Stoughton” after he learned that’s where she grew up. Paul Carey was an absolute character who left an indelible mark on the heart of every person he had a conversation with, and that list has thousands of names on it.

My Dad was happiest when enjoying life’s simplest moments. He felt palpable joy from the time he spent with his family, particularly his grandchildren. Grampy was a constant source of laughter to them. He liked to watch a “ballgame” while having a “tonic.” He was the consummate Boston sports fan and I have vivid memories of listening to the Sox, Celts, Pats, and B’s games on the radio with him back in the 1970s. One of the happiest days of my life was knowing my Dad was able to see the Red Sox finally win the World Series in 2004. Dad was a hell of an athlete back in the day. Whether it was playing on Westwood’s High Street Market softball team or swearing his way through a tennis match, he was as competitive as they come. After battling health issues while in his sixties, my Dad walked the Boston Marathon course because it was something he always wanted to do. Without the benefit of fans cheering him on or handing him Gatorade and GU, my Dad completed the 26.2 mile course with the same resiliency and passion he brought to his everyday life. Above all else, my Dad was a good friend to the people in his life, some of whom he has known since he was a kid growing up on Mission Hill. If a friend or family member needed him, my Dad showed up and supported him or her in whatever way needed.

My Dad was a devout Christian and his faith was at the center of everything he did. Although I’m agnostic, I have deep respect for the relationship he had with God. His commitment to God had been a constant source of strength for him. He prayed daily and his heart was always filled with gratitude for the life and family God gave him. That gratitude always moved him to tears when he spoke about his family to the point where he would have to stop speaking. I have even witnessed the power of his and others’ prayers act as a catalyst for a miracle in saving the life of someone I love. While I will miss him tremendously, I feel extraordinary comfort in knowing my Dad is with God. I’m happy that his life will be celebrated at Mission Church — the place where he was baptized, served as an alter boy, and attended mass throughout his 83 years.

In honor of my Dad, I ask you consider striking up a conversation with a stranger to learn a little about his or her life. Like my Dad, l believe gaps can be bridged, smiles can be ignited, and love can be spread simply by meeting someone new and learning about their life.

I love you Dad.

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