When I mourn, I write.
My father dreamed of one day playing professional baseball – he almost did for the Cincinnati Reds, but they told him he was too short. That was over fifty years ago.
My father also dreamed of one day having a family, and children to carry-on his legacy. Of the two dreams, the latter happened, and is still happening. Though he never got a shot at the majors, he proudly sported his love for the game each and every time the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros came on television, or when his own children took to the court or turf. Some dreams manifest differently and in ways we barely notice. Yet still we dream.
My father would always attend my volleyball, basketball, and track practices much to my dismay as a teenager without a clue. During 8th grade, my teammates and I would always know when practice begun because we could smell the smoke coming from my dad’s tobacco pipe as he entered the stadium to watch us run our warm-up laps.
But dad wasn’t just a spectator; he was involved—All. Of. The. Time. Many knew him as the “honorary coach,” serving as an official line judge during volleyball games and also serving as the official score keeper during basketball games and track meets. Even when I was a 5th-grader playing AAU basketball, my dad jumped at the opportunity to coach my team when our head coach was out sick. Incidentally, that was the only time I ever scored 34-points in a single game.
At times I’d get so annoyed at my dad simply because he was always there—no matter what. I used to hope that one day he’d just forget and miss one of my practices so I could feel like one of the ‘normal’ kids whose parents never attended. And it wasn’t just with organized sports; my dad was there when I first learned how to ski—and when I almost fell off of a cliff. He was there, along with my beautiful mother, when I first learned how to ride a bike. My entrance to sports and play came through my family, particularly the old gray-haired guy whose last name I proudly share.
The last time my dad watched me play ball was this past February while competing during the Texas Woman’s University intramural basketball tournament. Despite his weak condition, he wanted to be there to watch his twenty-seven-year-old-washed-up daughter play ball with young twenty-somethings. “It’ll be just like old times,” he said, as if he really needed to convince me. After playing two full twenty-minute halves and while gasping for air, my dad said to me “You still got it kid-o.”
Despite being terribly out of shape, I did well and held my own playing against folks ten years younger than me. I was glad dad could watch me play during my post-glory days. Leaving the game, I opened the gymnasium door for him much like he used to do for me when I had gym bags hanging from both shoulders, and tennis shoes dangling from each hand. I pushed him along through the parking lot in his wheelchair, and instead of dad driving me home from the game; I drove him home. That was the last time dad saw me play.
Moving forward, I can better appreciate my father’s unshakable presence in my life, as an athlete, as a young woman, and as his daughter. He was there because he knew—we all knew—that these moments wouldn’t last forever.
This past Wednesday, December 17th 2008 at 9:40 p.m. (PST) my dad, in cahoots with God, decided it was time to transition. Undoubtedly he’ll be met with great fan-fair on the Other Side as family and friends will welcome him with open arms. While back here, I mourn the death of the greatest man I’ve ever known. He’s great in my eyes not simply because he’s my father, or even because he almost became a Cincinnati Red. He’s great because he always believed in the possibilities of people, especially when they—when I—didn’t believe in themselves. He touched the hearts of many he encountered. Everyone who knew him can recall a moment they shared with my dad that will forever remain because he was always there.
I was there this past Wednesday when my father took his final breath. Just thinking about that moment while writing the words weighs on my heart. I breathed with him up until the last breath. We looked at each other for one final moment before the veil descended over his eyes. When it was over I cried, I screamed, I fell to my knees. I was hurt beyond repair. Yet despite the agony of losing my father, at that moment we were still together. Though my dad is no longer here to watch his daughter shoot (intramural) hoops or run (trot) a 100-meter-dash; I know he’s still around, still there watching from the stands, still talking out loud, still laughing, and yeah, probably still cursing.
My father’s dreams and legacy are being fulfilled at the price of his death in this life, a small price to pay when knowing that he will forever remain in the hearts of many, especially mine.
I love you daddy. You can rest in peace now. James Joseph Conley April 6, 1930 – December 17, 2008.
[Before my father's health took a serious turn for the worst, he always wanted to know how my writing was coming along and what I was writing "on the computer" – a.k.a. the Internet. When I first joined YouthNoise my dad was always anxious to read my blogs. This blog, of course, is dedicated to him.]
**Photos courtesy of The Conley Family – be cool and don’t redistribute these photos for consumption and/or inappropriate use.