"It is not flesh and blood, but the heart that makes us fathers and sons."
- Johann Schiller
Though you would have a difficult time finding one, there is a little known album by Nat King Cole entitled "Goodnight, Little Leaguer."
If you ever catch a glimpse, my Dad's the Little Leaguer on the right with the thin smile and the red cap.
He grew up to be the man who took me on my first fishing trip, the man I had my first catch with, the man who told me how proud he was after my first karate tournament, the man who taught me how to get in front of a groundball during Little League and the man who was one of my two biggest fans when I put on a pair of shoulder pads.
Though he was at one time a standout athlete and I was far from it, the most he ever expected from me was to hustle in everything I did and keep my mouth shut when my coach was talking.
I sat next to him the first and only time I ever watched a ballgame at Yankee Stadium — the day his hero Mickey Mantle died. He took me to my first football game where I got to see my beloved Chicago Bears.
In more ways than I can count, my love for sports came to be because of my relationship with my Dad.
Of course my relationship with my Dad was far more than sports. And on Tuesday, the 23rd of November, sports didn't really mean a whole hell of a lot to me.
It didn't mean much at all as Monday Night Football silently played out in the background as I sat alone with him. His hair gone, his body and soul having long ago begun fading away, I told him everything would be OK. I told him I would take care of my little sister and my Mom, I told him he didn't have to worry any further or hold on any longer. I told him I loved him, I told him good bye, kissed his head and walked away.
Some six hours later — on the 23rd of November — my Dad, Skip Gordon, died. He was 59 and he was gone.
In the middle of a cool autumn night, cancer had finally taken him. It was the pinnacle, but certainly not the conclusion, of the worst days and weeks and months I could ever have imagined.
Admittedly, what you have read and what lies ahead, I have not written for you the reader. Instead, it is a selfish tale and one probably a bit too honest about the most trying period of my life and the man most responsible for me having found myself in one sports section or another for more than a decade.
A Dodger game was on in the background of a silent room the day we found out my Dad had cancer in his spine. And I was telling him about how Baillie Kirker was one of the greatest softball players I had ever seen as the NCAA Softball World Series played along on the screen the very next day — when we found out it began as lung cancer and had spread to his liver, spine and brain.
It was June and they told us he had six to 18 months — a less detailed prognosis I don't know if you can receive. He barely got six, as November came awfully quickly.
Through all the trials and tribulations of cancer — the radiation, the chemotherapy, the blood clots, the mood swings, the hair loss, the weight loss — it seemed that it wasn't all that long ago that he was as good as could be.
It was on a Tuesday that he was still bickering about his fantasy football team. But you could tell he was starting to get confused, he was starting to move a bit slower. And by Saturday, he rarely moved, he barely talked.
By Monday, he was in the hospital and by then, every day showed a different sign of decline.
There was the day he fell asleep standing in my arms. There were the days and long nights when we had to stay with him around the clock because he kept getting up out of bed — almost as if he was afraid to fall asleep one last time — and the nurses couldn't provide ample attention. There were the days when you realized the pain and the foregone conclusion weren't necessarily the worst parts, there was the indignity of it all. These are the aspects of cancer that nobody really ever seems to talk about — how it humbles you and how it humbles those who love you.
My Dad was a proud man and the hit that his pride was forced to take will be a memory that will haunt me until the day I die. It was due to this that, as his speech became less and less and his inability to do anything himself — eat, walk, go to the bathroom — became apparent, that I actually thought the unthinkable. I actually hoped my Dad would pass away. I didn't want him to be in pain any longer. I didn't want him to be embarrassed at how helpless he had become. I didn't want to keep holding him and lying to him as I told him everything was OK.
But the days kept passing. They seemed long and they seemed short. I guess that's what happens when time ceases to matter. You're simply not cognizant of it. There is no favorite TV show you have to be home to watch. There is no appointment that is important enough. Being on time somewhere really doesn't matter all that much — because as my Dad's time ran out, I never really looked at a clock all that much. The minutes and hours and days dragged on, and yet they seemed to fly by just the same, as the agony of being in the moment took forever, but the time itself seemed to be so precious.
Day after day at a hospital is an almost surreal feeling. Across from our window at Holy Cross, the Alemany football team practiced every day. For me, a paper still had to be put out every day.
The world around us went on without hesitation — just as it always will.
Any other problems seemed like major ones — social troubles, cars and trucks going to the shop, my Grandpa dealing with health issues of his own. Everything was magnified.
So much so that is was a high school football game that finally sent me over the edge.
Truth be told, I've built a good rapport with St. Francis High's football team — the coaches, many of the faculty on the sidelines and the players, of course, even as they pass by. Riding a three-game winning streak into the playoffs against No. 2 seed Dominguez, St. Francis had me venturing from the hospital to Compton of all places, hoping to find an upset. You're not supposed to be biased in the field of journalism, but I'd be a liar if I didn't say you pull for the team, the coaches and the kids you know. And on that day I was. And on that night, the Golden Knights seemed poised for an upset, but a last-minute scoring drive just wasn't to be and their season ended with a heartbreaker.
I walked away with preposterous thoughts going through my head. I wondered if this cloud had followed me. Maybe I was just bad luck, even for those I was covering.
Perhaps pathetically, I walked away from the field choking back tears and after I phoned in my story, I called my best friend and broke down. Just one thing, that's all I wanted to go right was one thing in one horrible week.
I learned long ago that life is so very different than sports in one very monumental way.
In sports, the ultimate quest is for that happy ending — whether it is the end of a game or a championship season. There is always that desire to reach the end zone, to touch home plate, to sit completely fulfilled and be able to walk away a winner.
But life keeps going. It keeps going until that inevitable unhappy ending.
During my Dad's last days, a hospital chaplain asked me my age. I replied 31 and she smiled and shook her head and replied," That's so young." I sarcastically replied, "Well, thank you." But I knew what she meant before she said, "It's just so young to lose your father."
And I think it is. I think 59 is far too young for my Dad to leave us all. But my little sister is only 23. And my friend the pro fighter was even younger when he lost his father. And the beautiful girl who works across the office from me was younger than I when she lost her mother not that long ago.
Death is that unhappy ending that we sadly cannot control. It will plague us all at one time or another.
As my Dad's time fell upon us, my mind wandered.
You think about a lot of things. You think about your family and your friends, you see what genuine good truly is and what the worst of the worst really can be. You think about being in love and being alone. You think about priorities, what really matters. You think about living life and, of course, death. You think about all the lessons and the memories and the good times and the bad times.
For much of my life, my Dad and I didn't exactly see eye to eye. He had a quick temper and a sharp tongue. Quite frankly, he was a hardass most of the time.
As I got older, he softened in many of his ways. He seemed more than anything just to want to be around those that he loved most.
Looking back, through both the ups and downs of our relationship as father and son, his lessons and his ways shaped me.
In his final days, he hardly resembled the man he had been for all of my life. That's why, ultimately, my Mom and I agreed that we wanted a closed casket at the funeral. I wanted people to remember him for how he really was.
He had a thick mustache, a trio of tattoos before tattoos were cool, rode a Harley until he sold it to buy my Mom a wedding ring, preferred a T-shirt, jeans and cowboy boots over a dress shirt, slacks and loafers. He would travel anywhere, no matter how cold or far for a good fishing trip. He had killed bears and rattlesnakes. He went all out in everything he did, once breaking his leg at a play at the plate during a beer league softball game in his 40s.
He's likely the reason I go out of my way to open a door for a lady and do my best not to cuss in front of one. He's the one who taught me you never start a fight, but you always finish it. He's the one that instilled within me my work ethic, my loyalty and my honesty.
During these doomed days, I found myself to be both a boy sad because his Dad was dying and a man trying to be strong through it all for those who I loved. More often than not, I fought back tears because I was sick of them. I wrinkled my face and held back and choked up — just the same as I'm doing as I write this. In the end, I've tried to be the man I am, the man my father raised me to be.
Like many kids, much of my father's childhood was passed on through me. If it were not for him, who knows if I'd have become a sports writer. Who knows if I would have ever played Little League or played football or even liked sports. Though I've often thought for myself and become as different from my father as similar, I realize more than ever that I am my father's son — and I'm proud of that.
Every life is different, I guess. But for most of us, our mothers will pass away, our fathers will do just the same. They will drift away just like our childhood days, but through us they will carry on. And our memories of them, though they will fade, will live for as long as we do.
Goodnight, Little Leaguer … and good bye. I love you.