This weekend marks my first Father’s Day without my dad. Of course there’s been sadness, laughter, and even rejoice. Grief has no time limits you know. Days leading up to Big Fred’s passing were surreal. I was blessed to be by his side when he took his final breath. The funeral mandated that I provide a stiff upper-lip while experiencing my first days as the family’s patriarch. This week I’ve been watching and truly listening to the words of my Pastor, Dr. Jeff Eaton, who presided over the service. I’m by no means a counselor or pastor, but for those of us who have lost our dads, you’re not alone. For those whose father is still around: take a moment to call, visit, or better yet, go visit. Tell stories, laugh, but mainly love.
Below are words I typed less than a month before Big Fred went Home. On this Father’s Day weekend leave no regrets of missed conversational opportunities for you never know when that talk will be your last.
Excerpt from Kentucky Sports Radio, March 2016:
Tuesday was special. Yesterday morning, I got to spend time with my dad. On the way to his house, I imagined my favorite childhood picture of the two of us. The background was Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. All pure hillbillies were Reds fans in those days. At the stadium, my old man was helping me learn to walk before watching batting practice. Another hillbilly trait is extreme early arrival for sporting events. Or at least that was what I was taught. I was a toddler.
Yesterday morning, we changed roles as history repeated itself. I helped my dad walk from the car to the doctor’s office. While waiting we discussed Buckhorn and Carr Creek. He told me all about playing both the semifinal and title game on Saturday. He was exhausted but never got tired. He went on to talk about how King Kelly Coleman scored 12 points from the time his team walked from Memorial Coliseum doors to their pregame locker room. He discussed guarding Jerry West in an all-star game. The “Logo” dropped 44 on my pops. He said that West showed him how the game was supposed to be played. He said that on the court, Jerry West was pure. At that time, my Emmitt Smith story was irrelevant.
After his doctor’s appointment, I walked him to the car and eventually back inside the house. As I left, I beat myself up all the way home. Why hadn’t we had these discussions before? Sure we’ve talked about it a thousand times, but not in that length or detail. Or maybe I just didn’t get it? March is a special time in the Bluegrass. March is my favorite month.
From the 56 Carr Creek state championship team, four players signed division one college scholarships. Two to Kentucky, one to Cincinnati and as he’s known these days, Big Fred signed with Virginia Tech. During his freshman year his dad, my grandfather became ill. He left Blacksburg to never return. My dad left basketball. Coal mining became his life. He never complained. Sixty years later, decades of mining coal have taken their toll on the skinny guard from Carr Creek. As a youngster I was known as Big Fred’s boy. As I grew, that changed to him being my dad. Somewhere in between, I was too cool for Carr Creek stories. Not today. I can’t get enough. I’m going back next Tuesday. March is special.
It’s been 60 years since the Creekers cut down the nets. Today, I will watch Buckhorn represent the 14th region and the mountains. Most likely, no Wildcat players or coaches have heard of Carr Creek. Fast forward six decades, a son will be helping a member of this year’s Buckhorn state tournament team into the house. Stories will be told. Father-son bonding will take place. March is my favorite month.
I don’t know how many more Marches I’ll have with my dad. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
This weekend I take solace in knowing my dad is not in a better place; he’s in the Best Place. Happy Father’s Day.