When my dad died, a chain of dominos started to fall.
At age 14
When I would hear my dad’s truck pull into the driveway, I would scurry to the door and wait for it to open. Before he could take off his jacket, I would start rattling off what had happened that day. “A four-car pile-up on the Beltway.” Or, “A new Board of Education member.” Or, “A shooting at a school in Colorado.” He probably already knew the news — he had been driving home from Washington, D.C. for an hour — but he played along.
Part of me is glad he wasn’t around on September the 11th.
At age 15
Just before my dad died, President Bush was inaugurated. I desperately wanted to go to D.C. for the day. Dad…did not. But he took me anyway, and we stood in a ticketed section on the lawn, and we looked forward to the next four years.
Two months earlier, a heart attack had profoundly changed my dad’s life. He was lucky to have survived it. After he was released from the hospital, he stayed at home for a while, and contemplated whether he could return to his job. He fixed appliances and owned his own one-man company, Appliance Works. He contemplated whether he could return to his fast-food diet, and to his drinking, and to his smoking. I don’t know if he could. But he did.
Two months earlier, a heart attack should have profoundly changed my dad’s life.
(But how can I possibly second-guess him? I learned in terrifying detail about his clogged arteries and his weakened heart. And then I waited nine years before changing my habits.)
On Jan. 27, dad slipped into cardiac arrest, this time while coaching the basketball team of one of my younger brothers. This time he lapsed into a coma. His heart was just too weak. He died on Feb. 10, 2001.
In the casket I placed a flashlight that we were given at the inauguration.
I was always closer to my mother than my father. After he died, we only grew closer. Thank God for her. Years after dad died, mom told me that he had been reluctant to trek down to D.C. for the inauguration. But he still did. What they both taught was sacrifice.
At age 25
When dad died, I was a loner. I built Web sites and imaginary television newscasts and Lego models of ships and sets. I rarely played sports. I was that guy.
His death was the first domino. And they are still falling. I can draw a straight line from Feb. 10, 2001 to today.
Guidance counselors at school took an interest in my well-being. They shipped me off to two leadership conferences, one in the spring and one in the summer. And from there I started getting active at school. I joined the school’s Student Government, the county-wide Student Government and a myriad of other clubs. I took over the student newspaper and effectively ran the in-school television station. I overhauled the school Web site and testified to the Board of Education and organized fund-raisers and relied on the principal for dating advice.
It stands to reason that he and the teachers and some of the students were aware that I was the kid whose dad had died — and that they looked out for me.
The rest is rather easy to trace. College, and the college newspaper, and the TV news blog, and the TV news job at The Times, and the appearances on real newscasts rather than the imagined ones in the basement. The dominos keep falling.
He gave me life through his life.
He also gave me life through his death.
"Fortunately your dad was with you long enough to teach you how to build an awesome sand castle, how to use basic tools, how to play ha-sutaki, how to be a good sport, that men do in fact do laundry and clean, how to work hard to support your family, but most of all how to be a good man. He wasn’t perfect, but none of us are, and most important of all he was a great father!!!"
— My mom’s e-mail to me and my two brothers this afternoon, on the ten-year anniversary of my dad’s death.
Ha-sutaki was a blend of wrestling and karate. He let us win.