It's Awful Hard To Lose Your Dad

FAYETTEVILLE – An open letter to Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt, who lost his father, Houston Sr., on Wednesday:

Houston,

A few years back, my dad, Carroll, skinny and frail due to the pancreatic cancer and the treatments to slow it, handed me a photograph and managed a weak, but proud, smile.

"You know who that is?" Dad asked.

"Yeah, that's you," I said, sporting a wry smile.

Of course I knew what – actually, who – he meant. Beside my dad in the photo was posed one of the most recognizable sports figures in this state: Your dad.

It was during a reunion down in Fordyce, where they grew up. The were both grinning, although my dad looked pretty bad.

Yours was the picture of health.

Dad had long told me of their childhood together in the small town that fathered Alabama football legend Paul Bear Bryant.

Apparently, they played a lot of dog and cat back in those simple fist-fighting days, my dad being the cat, not because he backed down.

Because he always needed help getting back up when your big ol' dad got through with him.

Dad laughed lots when telling those stories, then followed them with reverential kudos to all your dad had grown to become.

It's been 29 months since Dad left us at barely 70 years of age.

I know he's in heaven, but I can't help missing the hell out of him.

You are just five days into the loss of your 74-year-old dad.

I know exactly what you're going through: Shock, despair, disbelief, utter sadness, inexplicable darkness.

It hurts like mad to look at photos as you attempt to erase the hospital-type last-days images from your mind.

You want to remember the tough guy, so tall in your mind you could not help but look up to him.

Right now, that image is blurred.

You've lost your best friend, your mentor, your hero. The one man on this earth you could go to for serious advice and unwavering support with rock-solid trust.

You go to bed thinking of him, tossing and turning at the thoughts and the loss.

Then you awaken reliving it all, not sure at first if it's just a nightmare before realizing that – Oh, dear God! – it is true.

You'll instinctively pick up the phone to dial his number, then drop your head, shake it and cry.

Though your life is full, you'll feel empty. Though folks will surround you with their presence and love like crazy for the next few weeks, you'll feel all alone.

At times, you'll need to be just that as you sort through this.

You'll lose it when you thumb through his old letters to you and while flipping through photo albums. You'll lose it worse as the vivid images of childhood adventures, college visits home, bear-hugging greetings and that indescribable look of pride he wore when looking your way come rushing back to you.

You'll wonder why he left so young. Seventy, or 74, may seem like a long time to others, but you cannot believe this has happened to him, and you, so soon.

You'll talk to him, thank him, tell him how much you miss him, ask him what to do next, but the lines of communication will seem gone for a while.

You'll see other sons with their dads who are older than yours. As I sometimes was while watching your gleaming-eyed dad await postgame hugs with you, you'll be jealous and saddened by the sight.

Slowly, the recovery – not healing – process will begin.

For the most part, you'll look past those last images of suffering health without having to squint so hard.

You'll remember your dad as the big, strong man he was.

You'll relish and guard every letter, tape and video evidence of his life-changing existence. You'll look and listen, over and over and over.

When you talk to him, you'll begin to hear responses. Not in the physical sense, of course. But you know what he'd say.

He'll be back in your life, just give it time.

Your mother will need you now more than ever. You think your loss is the worst of all-time, but hers hit even harder. You'll grow closer than you imagine.

You also will bond even more with your siblings. You are the men of the house now, the ones to carry on the tradition.

You still will miss him. God, will you miss him.

But you can look forward to regaining lots.

Trust me, Houston, as time goes on, you'll smile lots more at the memories.

Just like our dads did on that night down in Fordyce.

And as they are doing right now.






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