200621-sportslocal-popszj

This is one of the last photos we took together as a family at my college graduation in December 2015.

Give your dad a hug this Father’s Day. Wake up early and cook him breakfast; take him for a bike ride, go fishing or play nine holes. At the very least, give him a call and tell him that you love him. Just don’t take it for granted.

Because for some of us, we’d give anything to have that opportunity this Sunday.

The last time I saw my dad — physically, beard to scruff — was over four years ago. I had just graduated from the University of Hawaii and my family (parents, sister and brother-in-law) flew out to celebrate with me and my now-wife Jenaia, who still had another semester.

We all skipped over to Maui for the Christmas holiday and spent the week lounging on the beach, surfing, playing card games and watching old movies. It was a great family vacation.

But on Christmas Day, I remember my dad complaining about some stomach pain that he had been having for some time. We all wrote it off as acid-reflux, or at worst, an ulcer. I didn’t even think twice about it.

Turns out, that aching pain in his abdomen was caused by a malignant tumor that was beginning to metastasize. Whenever he eventually found out what it was, I wasn’t made aware of it until the middle of summer. In June, I called him to wish him a happy Father’s Day and we got into an argument when I told him I was not moving back to Colorado come August, but instead relocating somewhere in Washington.

We made up the next day, but I couldn’t figure out why he got so angry. I had lived in Hawaii for five years at that point. Washington was a closer spot to Colorado and much cheaper/easier for visitation back-and-forth. I just didn’t understand.

That next week, I did.

In our regular Sunday-evening phone call, he slipped in that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He didn’t have much longer to live — though I never heard as much from him or anyone else in my family. He played it off saying it was nothing to worry about.

So, I didn’t. I tried to push it aside and think positive. My dad was untouchable; he was shatterproof. He couldn’t die, not the man who had been an undersized linebacker on one of the most dominant state championship teams in Colorado state history, played football at the University of Colorado and earned a Purple Heart fighting in Vietnam.

Not the man who then toured across the country with his 100-pound Doberman Pinscher (Sgt. Shultz) in his candy-red 1964 Camaro, following the Beach Boys. Not the man who couldn't care less what others thought of him and spoke his mind freely whenever and wherever. 

That guy was a rockstar; he was unassailable.

In retrospect, after scanning through his autopsy, I realized he knew the whole time that his chances weren’t very good. But being as hard-headed as he was, I really do believe he thought he could beat it.

A little after midnight (Hawaii time) on July 30, I got a call from my sister. My father had passed.

I hung up, threw on a pair of shoes, grabbed my headphones and ran to the beach. My mind raced as I dashed through the pitch-black neighborhood in Ewa Beach; my head pressed forward with the soothing sounds of Jack Johnson playing in my ear. When I got to the beach, I turned off my phone, shut out reality, stared across the Pacific Ocean and bawled.

My dad and I had our moments of strife when I was a teenager, but we had become extremely close while I was in college. We talked several times a week and I often fielded his advice. He pushed me into the sports arena when I was a kid, sparking a lifelong obsession, and encouraged me to work for the school newspaper. He kept me grounded and taught me that nothing in life is fair or comes easy. 

“Believe in yourself son, because you know I do,” he used to tell me.

One of his final words of advice were to pursue a career as a sports writer. I was weighing my options at the time, which with a degree in political science are endless, but he told me to press forward instead of settling for some random office job. He said he’d be disappointed if I was not working in a newsroom by September and I promised him I would chase that dream.

Just two months after he died, I became the lone journalist at the Chelan Mirror, eventually transitioning to The World 13 months later. Even though I won’t be able to wish my dad a happy Father’s Day this Sunday, as I write this now — tears streaming down my cheek — I know that he’s looking down as a proud father; I held up my end of the bargain.

To all those who serve that role as a father figure, Sunday is your day. Enjoy it.