At some point during every Baltimore Orioles game, I think of my Dad. He doesn’t follow the team as religiously as he used to, but that’s okay. I obviously pen this column, so I pick up the slack! However I’m always reminded of the grand Saturday afternoon when he took me to my first game at Memorial Stadium.
It was the greenest grass I’d ever seen, the best hot dogs I’d ever tasted, and the coldest Coca-Cola on earth. I thought about that day a lot 15 years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer. There was little doubt that he’d beat it given the type of cancer that it was and how early we caught it, but it was still scary. However that was a breeze compared to this past year.
Just before Christmas my Dad got a COVID test, as he had been feeling ill. He tested positive. To anyone reading this who didn’t have COVID or know someone who had it, I can’t put into words what goes through your head when you get that news about your parent. On top of that, I see my Dad just about everyday; so I was exposed to it also.
I’m happy to report that if I actually had the virus, it was asymptomatic and I never knew the difference. But while you hear about people who had the virus and were able to treat themselves at home without incident, you also hope that it doesn’t end up being your loved one who’s grasping for breath in a hospital. Away from family and loved ones.
Needless to say it was a unique Christmas. We had our respective Christmas Dinners for one or two over FaceTime, and my parents were happy to know that I did my best to make all of the traditional foods that our family would have for Christmas (Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, and ravioli on Christmas Day). But my Dad’s condition deteriorated as the week went on. (Ironically my mother tested negative. Certainly strange given that they live together, but for that we were thankful.)
He was admitted to the hospital on Monday, December 28th. Again, I can’t properly put into words what goes through your mind when news like that comes. The first thing I did was to alert my two Uncles – my Dad’s brothers. In a moment like that, you look for something comforting. Both of them said the exact same thing: “everything’s going to be okay.”
The message in and of itself was comforting for sure. But in various situations in my life I had also heard those same words in that same tone of voice from my Dad. In that moment, hearing that message coming from his brothers, it was like hearing it in my father’s voice.
He was in and out of intensive care for awhile. He never lost consciousness, but could only talk on the phone or on FaceTime for maybe a minute at a time before he’d lose his wind. The whole experience was morbidly awful. This virus is no joke.
It got incredibly real when they asked my mother what her wishes would be if a ventilator became necessary. We had a family conference, and we all agreed that if it came to that, they had our blessing. Around that same time I touched base with a priest to at least go over options for what’s now called Anointing of the Sick. I never wrote my Old Man off, but honestly there were about two or three days where I didn’t think things were going to end well.
But as quickly as he deteriorated, suddenly he began improving. He was sent out of intensive care, and a few days later (January 9th) he was released. I don’t know what anyone reading this believes religiously or spiritually, but I’m a fairly religious person. And I saw it as a miracle.
His “rehab” continues to this day. I’m not sure he’ll ever be the same. For the most part he can do most of the things he was doing before he got sick (he’s a fairly active 68-year old). But he gets tired easily, and still doesn’t have the stamina he had previously. But if this is how the rest of his life unfolds, I’m very thankful. Because he’s alive; and there was a moment where that wasn’t always going to be the case.
As was the case when he had cancer, I thought a lot about that first day at Memorial Stadium so many years ago. I thought about how it would be walking into Camden Yards to write about the team that he originally loved and passed onto me, knowing he was no longer of this world. And it ate me alive. Mercifully, it wasn’t his time.
So as the title indicates, Father’s Day takes on a different meaning for me this year. And the fact is that I know a lot of people weren’t as lucky. I know that there are people at every game who are missing someone lost in this pandemic. Maybe missing them through the Orioles, or maybe using the Orioles as a temporary diversion. That could have been me.
Maybe my Dad will watch the game today. Maybe he won’t. But whatever he does, he’s alive. And that wasn’t always guaranteed. And make no mistake, all of us are very thankful. Thanks for sticking with us, Dad. Happy Father’s Day!