Thanks Dad (Now & Not Yet)
[February 7, 2013]
For most of my life, my dad and I had a next-to-no relationship at all, and I had completely given up on the possibility until — one day — he called me and said, “Let’s start over.”
Don’t get me wrong, my dad always took care of me. He got me a car when I turned sixteen. Even let me pick it out: a teal Geo Metro Convertible.
When I was a kid, he would come to my soccer and tennis matches, and he supported me through every crazy idea and adventure I had.
Once, I remember him coming home from San Diego with a gift for me — a pair of shoes from a new, up-and-coming company…Vans.
I remember going to Niners games at Candlestick growing up. He loved the 49ers so I, of course, began to root for the Raiders.
As I grew older, so did the distance between us. I knew he cared about me, and I even liked him, but we never seemed to talk — let alone connect — on much of anything.
When I was fourteen, my uncle — an uber-successful investor — sent his brother enough money to purchase a restaurant business. Dad opted for candy and soda machines instead. I remember all of his machines, stacked in our garage. The first place that wanted them was a local strip club in Sacramento — The Embers. Problem was, they wanted the prices doubled from fifty cents up to a dollar, and my dad had no idea how to do it.
I learned instead. I changed every single dial on every single one of those old machines.
We delivered them together one afternoon, and I experienced my first strip club at fourteen years old. Well, sort of. We went before opening hours. The dials in the machines lasted about a month before they’d break, so my dad made a habit of picking me up from school and driving me back to fix them all over again. We thought it was funny and my friends thought it was cool. I never told them the only thing I ever saw was a man with a gun at the door.
When I went to college, I left Sacramento. I would visit, though. I’d still go back to help Dad fix his machines. But I hated it. I absolutely hated fixing snack machines, but I did it because I loved him, and I knew that he had no one else who could help him do it.
Beyond my visits, though, we never interacted. My dad never called me. We didn’t talk on the phone one time between the day I left for college until I was thirty-one years old. I would talk to my mom, and she became our middleman, passing messages back and forth between us.
One day, the phone rang and it was my dad. I immediately assumed someone died. I was waiting for the news, praying it wasn’t my grandma, who — out of everyone in my family — I had the best relationship with.
My dad spoke, “I had a hip replacement and have been on my back for a week. I’ve had a lot of time to think. Can we let bygones be bygones and start over?”
Before asking him what in the hell “bygones” were, I just said yes. He wanted to start over. What did that mean? Only six months prior, I told Jeanette that I wished I could travel with my dad, or enjoy time with him now that had sold the vending machine business and retired, but by that point, I had given up.
We spent a few minutes on the phone, and when I told Jeanette, she asked what I was planning to do.
I said, “I have to speak in Colorado soon… I am going to invite my dad to come.”
He said yes.
I was nervous. What would we do? What would we talk about? How uncomfortable might it be to share a hotel room together?
What would he think of me?
The trip was amazing. We spent five days in Colorful Colorado together. We went to the mountains, the movies, and Red Lobster. Several times, he simply sat quietly and listened to me speak. I found out that my dad grew up in Ohio. I don’t know how I lived an entire life without knowing that, up until that point, I never did know much about him. I guess it explains why he liked the Cincinnati Reds. He told me about his dad passing away when he was a young man. I enjoyed his company. I felt as though we were starting down a road that I never even risked imagining we’d walk together.
I take for granted the travel that my job affords me. Most people I know don’t frequent airports as often as I do. They don’t get to explore the world beyond their own. In all his life, my dad had never been to Colorado.
I started inviting him along with me more often.
Our next trip was to Akron, Ohio. I had a speaking gig, and afterward, we visited the Football Hall of Fame. When he told me that he grew up in Ohio, I had the idea that I should take him back to his hometown. We drove toward Cincinnati, and I pulled up curbside to the house he grew up in before his family moved to the Bay Area when he was a preteen.
The house his dad built.
We knocked on the front door and explained who we were, merely asking the current homeowners if they’d allow us to walk through my father’s memories.
Initially, the man who answered the door said no. But you know me…“no” doesn’t suffice and he finally allowed us in. He even found my grandfather’s blueprints, and my dad stood staring down at them in the living room of the house he grew up in — the house he used to call home — and shed a tear.
It was the first and only time I saw my father cry. He didn’t shed many like I do today, but I saw it happen.
I can’t count the memories we’ve made together since the day my phone rang 13 years ago, and I heard the voice of the man who made me on the other end, seeking reconciliation.
Lakers Vs. Celtics NBA Championship game… on Father’s Day.
Agassi Vs. John Mcenroe tennis match.
Nolan’s soccer game.
Elise’s soccer game.
The Grand Canyon by helicopter.
Sacramento Kings games.
The Super Bowl.
And the last game we saw live in January 2012, the NFC playoff 49ers Vs. Packers game for our last game at Candlestick Park.
The events were fun, but they were never the point. We were reconciled.
We were friends.
My dad never owned a computer (let alone scoured the internet), and rarely used a cell phone. After each trip we took together, he would mail me a letter — handwritten in cursive on yellow or white lined paper.
I wish I would have saved all those letters now.
These years have been unbelievable.
My dad died this morning.
The last time he was able to walk was on our Super Bowl trip. His brother gifted us the tickets. We sat in the second row on the Giants’ sideline and took in an amazing game together. I wrote to my uncle to thank him, and to suggest that he and my dad should reconnect. I told him that my dad’s health seemed to be in decline, and that life is short, and that — especially after the years we’d been given the gift of experiencing — family problems were worth working through.
I never thought my dad’s health would turn as quick as it did. We’ve had a couple of severe scares between then and now.
My dad was never what I’d call a “healthy” man. He used to own a Sizzler, so I think the decline must have begun with that one-sided toast they used to serve. (Maybe they still serve it? I do my best to avoid Sizzler.)
He worked for Burger King after that. Then Long John Silvers. Then Showbiz Pizza. Later, he started a company of his own… the vending machine business. His favorite digestibles — for as long as I can remember — were Coke Classic and ice cream.
He never cared about what anyone had to say about it. He had diabetes for thirty years. He had two stents and a pacemaker in his heart. He had Myasthenia Gravis — an autoimmune disease that weakens the muscles that make breathing possible. He had several blood clots.
Last Saturday, my family and I drove to Sacramento to watch this year’s Super Bowl with him. This was the game we wished we could’ve seen in person, a year prior, but either way, the 49ers were in, and we settled for the television. My son, Nolan, was in a Super Bowl commercial that day, as well, so we cheered for him between cheering for the Niners.
My dad was living in his own apartment. By then, my folks had split up and — unable to care for himself any longer — he had hired a twenty-four-hour caretaker. That Sunday, she told me that he was bleeding internally and needed to go to the doctor. But my dad was stubborn. He thought he knew his body. He thought he’d live to be 87 years old. For some reason, that was the specific number he had in his head.
I knew he wouldn’t go to the hospital willingly, but thought that if we could make it through the game, I could convince him.
He wasn’t himself that day. He could still yell at the TV when the Niners failed to punch the ball through the end zone, but he wasn’t himself. As soon as the game ended, I called 911 and fought with my dad until he was too weak to argue any longer, and took him into the ER.
He underwent a blood transfusion, and the doctors needed an extra day to discover where the bleeding was coming from. His body couldn’t handle the scope, and one day turned into two. The following night, despite their best efforts to find a reason for the hemorrhaging, he suffered a heart attack.
Those days are a kind of a blur to me now. I drove my family back home to LA on Monday morning, while my dad was still in the hospital. That night, I flew back to Sacramento. On Tuesday, I flew to San Diego for a speaking engagement, then back again Wednesday morning.
Yeah. I’m confused just writing it out.
My dad was unconscious by the time I made it back that midweek. He couldn’t open his eyes and couldn’t hear me. I must have said “Dad, it’s Craig” thirty times into his ear. No response.
I knew right then that he was gone.
I was mad at myself for getting on that flight to San Diego.
I had lunch with my mom. She said that after he had a heart attack, she and my sister were there. She said that my dad was scared and in pain — two words that I would have never used to describe him in all of his life — but that they were there, holding his hands.
She said, “That night, I saw the man I married 44 years ago.”
My sister also commented on my dad’s behavior. Neither of them has had a good relationship with him for years — nothing like the one we’d been able to create — and I had been praying for them as he neared his final days.
When my mom called me the night his heart finally broke, I was in a hotel room with my two best friends, but I was furious that I wasn’t in the hospital room with my dad, and my mom and sister. It was the worst night of my life. In hindsight, I don’t know that I would have had anything to give to him, but it sounds like he had something left to give to them.
Maybe those last hours weren’t about me. I had the last six years of my dad’s life with him, and they were a dream come true. Maybe those final hours were about my mom and sister. I’m thankful that they were able to spend them together with him.
Time is short.
Life is short.
If your relationships are broken — especially those in your family, especially those in your home — go. Do everything that you can to fix them. Don’t wait for the other person to call you.
People say that God works in mysterious ways. Trite as that saying has become, it’s true. Before my speaking engagement that fateful Tuesday night, I shared a meal with a friend I never thought I’d speak to again.
I called him to reconcile — just like my dad called me — and we agreed to start over.
In the end, Jesus is still making all things new. This is what the cross is all about. God is continuing to give us new mercies each and every morning, inviting us to join him in the work of restoration.
Don’t wait another day. No one knows if tomorrow will come, and now is the only promise you have.
Shortly after my dad and I decided to start over, my wife decided to reach out to her father. Her mom moved away with her and her two brothers when she was one year old, and Jeanette hadn’t heard from him since. She paid $49 for an internet search and found his address. She wrote him a letter and — months later — he responded. It didn’t turn into the kind of relationship that I was able to experience, but her father met our kids, and the risk she took has lent itself toward healing for both of them.
My dad reached out to me.
My wife reached out to her father.
It has to start somewhere.
Broken families and relationships and all of the hurt and pain and days and weeks and months and years attached to them will only spread out into decades and lifetimes until someone says enough is enough.
Pick up the phone.
Make the call.