A Requiem for My Father (366)

Kelly and I are traveling to be with my family to mourn my father’s death. Six years ago this month, I wrote the eCrozier below as he began his decline. It seems right to share a version of it as a requiem for his life:

The old coach is in the late fourth quarter of his final game. The ability he once had to manage the clock, make substitutions, and call the right play is gone. He’s slipping away. The once robust, barrel-chested man who seemingly could do anything he set his mind to, is now bent over, holding on to a walker, shuffling uneasily from bed to chair to restroom. My father is the old coach. Visiting him recently brought back so many powerful memories of my childhood: Teaching me how to swim by throwing me into the deep end, jumping in with me, and then without holding me, telling me I could do it myself, encouraging me all the way to the pool’s edge; showing me the right and safe way to change a car’s flat tire; explaining in painstaking detail the gentlemanly way to behave when a man carries a young lady out on a date; and so much more. My earliest memories of my father are sitting on his knee in our living room helping him (or so I thought) evaluate next week’s football opponents as the projector played game film. He’d say something like: “See how their safety cheats up to the line of scrimmage on first down? By the second quarter we’ll fool him with a play action pass.” At the time I had no idea what he was talking about, but by junior high I was helping him grade his players on film each week.

This week I loaded the old coach in his van and drove him to the cemetery where he and my mother will be buried. He wasn’t exactly sure where we were. We couldn’t find their graves, but we did find where his grandparents, my great grandparents, Edward and Clara, are buried. We then drove on to the little house where he was born in 1929. I wanted to see it again. In 1963 while staying with my grandparents for the day my grandfather introduced me to the Ku Klux Klan with a picture book full of burning crosses. When my father came to pick me up at the end of the day and saw what I had in my hands, he threw the book in the trash, had some harsh words with my grandfather, and we drove off. It would be years before I’d see my grandfather again. On the way home from seeing his old house, he needed to use the restroom, so I stopped at a restaurant and guided him toward the restroom. There I had to help him do everything, even soaping his hands and then drying them off, just as he’d done for me well over a half century before. On the way out, people stared seemingly with pity at this shuffling old man bent over his walker slowly moving between the tables. I wanted to shout at them: “Don’t pity the old coach. Stand up, for a good man is passing by.”

A few years ago, when my father was elected to the Ohio Football Coaches Hall of Fame, one of his former players, who was the first black quarterback to lead one of his teams during the tumultuous 1960’s, wrote to me about his “commitment to what was right, instead of what was popular and convenient.” All the players who ever played for him received that life lesson from my father. And, so did I.



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