You know me; I'm a words girl. The number of words in my monthly business column hovers around 950, while a typical client project may involve my crafting thousands of words. But this Father's Day, I am focusing on just 19 words — those left on my voicemail by my father on the evening of December 6, 2008. It was a college hoops night to remember, when Michigan upset undefeated Duke (ranked No. 4 in the nation). It was a big deal, especially since Michigan's program had been flailing and hadn't been to the Big Dance since 1998.
I saved the voicemail at the time because, as a diehard Wolverines fan, I delighted in hearing the phrase "Michigan just beat Duke" repeated at will. I couldn't watch that game for some reason and had to DVR it, so hearing my dad's message gave me reason to rejoice early. Also, my dad was so emphatic in his delivery of the message that it became one of my favorite slices of his personality. (His "All right?" at the end of the message was his cute way of negotiating the voicemail system.)
Technically, Duke was ranked No. 4 at the time and not No. 2, but for all I know, he may have been looking at a different poll. The fact of the matter is that the voicemail has become my sole audio recording of my dad's voice, one I enjoy to this day, in fond memory. I continued to save that message, for 21 days at a time, over and over. And even with two BlackBerry crashes since, the voicemail remained because, thankfully, voicemails are not part of the phone's hard drive; they are part of Verizon's voicemail system. I've since recorded it onto my computer as well as onto a backup phone.
You see, 14 months after he left me this voicemail, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He put up a good fight, with chemo and radiation treatments, and he even walked me down the aisle just four months after his diagnosis. I am so grateful that we had the wedding when we did, having planned it in just six weeks, rather than taking the usual year or so of planning that most couples allot. Had we done that, my father would not have had the grand time he did (thanks to a transfusion the day before), let alone be able to dance with me. Just 15 months after that glorious day, he passed away, making today the first Father's Day without him.
My father was not a man of many words. In fact, when he'd call or when I called him, I could safely bet that the conversation would last no longer than 1 minute, often less. They ranged from quick check-ins to letting me know about a restaurant he read about in Gourmet magazine to a recap of games from the night before. He was the one who got me into college football and college hoops, and he followed the teams I followed, though he had other favorites. Year after year, I'd consult him first on my March Madness bracket.
In fact, in experiencing all the first-year milestones since he passed last September, the sports-related milestones (during which I'd call him or, if I was home, we'd watch in the same room) stung the most: college football on Saturdays, especially the Notre Dame-Michigan game and OSU-Michigan to close out the regular season; the BCS Championship; the Super Bowl; the Big East tournament; the start of March Madness; MLB Opening Day; and the NBA Finals, to name the most significant so far.
Yes, sports were always our common connection. I was ultra-competitive growing up, the fifth of six children and the one put in charge of copying the family football pool using carbon paper. We'd spend Sundays watching every NFL game and gnashing our teeth over our losses. We'd even pick horses for a weekly "Let's Go to the Races" game held on the local TV station. In school, I played both basketball and softball, and even when I was on a losing team, I'd go all out. I know that made my dad proud. Himself a standout athlete in high school, he hit one of the longest home runs out of Erie's Ainsworth Field, and he tried out for the New York Yankees but was called back to Erie after his father suffered a heart attack. He gave up his dream of playing professional sports so that he could carry on the family food business, and he continued to own and operate Arnone & Sons Food Importers for 50 years. Most days, I have the utmost admiration for him for making that sacrifice, but sometimes I secretly wish he could've pursued his Major League dreams.
So today, for the first time in my life, I won't be giving my dad a Father's Day card or sending him a gift, and it feels weird. But I am so incredibly grateful that I had saved that voicemail on a whim years ago so that I can now hear his voice any time I want. That message, along with my wedding DVD, are what make him seem most alive to me, and the photos and memories throughout the years fill in the rest.
Much love to you, Dad. I miss you more than you know. And to anyone else who is spending this Father's Day with thoughts of loving memory, hang on to those — and take comfort in knowing that he knows how much you love him.
Go Blue (not Duke blue, but Maize-&-the-Blue blue),