(EDIT: This story was originally posted on June 14, 2012. I’ve added an epilogue one year later on June 14, 2013)
This Sunday is Father’s Day and will be the first Father’s Day since my father, Dennis passed away. The following is the story of the last time that I ever spoke to my Dad.
On December 9th, 2011, I got the phone call that I had always dreaded.
My father had a sudden heart attack and died. Yet somehow, on the worst day of my life, recent events had left me with sense of gratitude and a realization of just how lucky I had been.
When I was growing up, I didn’t always have the best relationship with my Father. He worked as a police officer in the NYPD for 27 years before eventually retiring as Lieutenant in 2001. I was a kid who probably talked way too much (some things never change) and my constant commentary on what was going on may have been grating after a while. My Dad worked exhaustive hours to support his family, but that’s the sort of thing that you don’t really think about until you yourself become an adult.
We didn’t see eye to eye for much of my childhood, but as I got older, my Father and I grew closer. He became more accessible and some might even say I matured. While we spent many hours talking over the past few years, much of it was about sports, specifically the latest happenings with our beloved New York Mets and New York Jets. While we frequently talked, we rarely really TALKED. My Dad wasn’t an emotional guy. He never liked getting presents from people and he really didn’t like talking about his feelings.
Back in December, I took part in a self-help seminar. I’ll spare you the details for fear that you’ll think this is some sort of marketing material. It’s not. In the seminar, I came to a conclusion that it was time to tell my Dad that I didn’t feel like I was able to fully express myself to him. On a Tuesday afternoon, I worked up the courage to tell my Dad how I felt.
I had scribbled some notes on a post-it pad because I was nervous about possibly forgetting some key point from my list. When my Dad answered the phone, he was pre-occupied with removing brussel sprouts from a brussel sprout tree that my Mom had brought home (I did not know that this was a thing). WFAN was blaring loudly in the background. He was distracted and this was not a good time. I went ahead anyway and told my Dad that I needed to talk to him. My Dad said “Rob, can’t this wait until you come home in a couple of weeks?” I said it could not.
I babbled on for a few minutes as I read from my pad, trying to describe why it was so difficult to do exactly what I was trying to do – let my Dad know how much I loved him. As I explained how I was having trouble expressing myself, he reminded me of how if there was ever a thing I did not have trouble with, it was expressing ANYTHING. My Dad said how my brother and I are just sensitive in a way that he never was. He said that his Father was never big on hugging and kissing his kids and that’s just the way he grew up.
Normally, this was where my father would try to end the conversation. Perhaps sensing that I wasn’t going to let the issue go, on this one particular day, he went there with me.
My Dad let me about how every night before he went to bed, he said a prayer for God to look over his children. I had no idea. I told my Dad about how I was sorry for misunderstandings that we had had when I was younger. I told him about one particular incident that I thought my Dad always held against me. He didn’t even remember what I was talking about.
My father’s father passed away very suddenly from a heart attack in 1993. My family was on a weekend vacation at a cabin in Pennsylvania when we got the news. My father never got a chance to say goodbye to his Dad. I told my Dad about how I was really committed to having the kind of relationship with him where nothing is left unsaid. I told him that one of my biggest fears was that something might happen to him and I too wouldn’t have a chance to say goodbye to him.
My Dad said to me “Rob, if anything ever happens to me, I want you to know that you were my first child and I still remember taking you by the track behind the house, wearing your Mets jacket. I want you to know that I’m proud of you and I love you and all of my children.” At this point, I went from pacing around the room to floating.
Soon after, I told my Dad how much I loved him and we wrapped up our call. I was so happy to have said everything that I wanted to express. That afternoon, I called my brother to tell him about my conversation. I called my mom too. I called my sister while I was driving and as I was leaving a message on her voicemail I crashed into another car (there was only minor damage). From that day on, everything was going to be different.
Three days later, I got a voicemail from a family friend urging me to call her back. This was not normal and I knew this was not going to be good news. I called back her phone and my mom answered. She said to me, “Do you remember that perfect conversation that you had with your Dad?” I told her that I did and she then told me that he was gone.
My Dad was not sick and we had no reason to think that he was in any sort of failing health. He had been fighting a battle with his weight for quite some time and it was obviously something always concerned me. However, there was no way that I could have known that THIS phone call was going to be the last time I would ever speak to my Dad. The fact that I had this particular conversation less than 72 hours before my Dad’s death is either the greatest coincidence of my life or simply the most irrefutable evidence of the power of fate that I’ve ever experienced.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad this month. On June 1st, Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in the 51 year history of the New York Mets. I always imagined calling my Dad after the final out of the first Mets no-hitter, instead I had to settle for looking at my Dad’s smiling picture through teary eyes. My brother told me the next day that the date of the no-hitter was 6/1. My Dad was 61.
Just six months after his death, I’ll certainly be missing my Dad this Father’s Day. I hope that our story will help you find that same courage that I mustered up that first Tuesday in December to have the uncomfortable conversation that you’ve been putting off. It probably feels like there will always be another day to do it but I can assure you that may not always be the case. Just remember that having the talk thats too hard to do will never be as painful as living with a regret about the things we left unsaid.
Epilogue: June 14, 2013
I posted this article one year ago today. Its now been 18 months since my Dad has been gone. I hadn’t re-read this post until just now and had forgotten so many of the minor details of what my Dad said to me. I’m so happy that I wrote this down before those little parts of the story had worn away from my memory.
This Father’s Day is especially bittersweet. I’ll definitely be missing my Dad this year but this will also be my first Father’s Day as an expectant father. My mom has told me so many times just how much my Father desperately wanted to be a Grandfather. Unfortunately, he passed away before he ever got the chance.
A pregnancy is wonderful, yet terrifying thing. Both Nicole and I have been a nervous wreck through this whole process. However, we’ve truly felt my Dad’s spirit with us throughout this whole experience. You see, our baby is due on September 28th, and out of all the days in the year that one happens to be my Dad’s birthday. Either this happens to be another one of those great coincidences or as I prefer to believe, that’s my Dad telling us to never forget that he’s got our backs.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!