Towards the end of Daddy's illness I began to come to the realization that he would not be able to walk his youngest child down the aisle on her big day. It was a sobering thought that I don't think any of us were really ready to grasp, but like everything else we had to.
With Regan's last week as a Robertson approaching as well as Father's day, several memories of my Daddy have come flooding back. Throw in the fact the Bulldogs are back in Omaha and it is a certainty that he and I would have spent a lot of time on the phone with each other these past few weeks.
As I think about all of the Diamond Dawg Dads in Omaha this weekend watching their sons play, on Father's day no less, I must admit I am a little jealous. My Dad was unable to see me play ball much at all when I was growing up. It was something that bothered me, but it was something I never asked him about. He lived a couple of hours away and it was a tough thing to do. As a busy man with a mortgage and a family of my own, I understand more than ever now.
Shortly after my first son, Oni, was born Daddy and I joked about us taking matters into on our hands and that maybe Oni could lead the Bulldogs to a Sugar Bowl. Maybe then we could see State play in one in our lifetime.
Like most young first time fathers I was ready for my son to start walking, talking, running and playing ball. As soon as he was old enough, we had him signed up for T-Ball. I called Daddy and filled him in on the details, practice schedule and a scouting report based on my observations of Oni during our front yard sessions. This was serious business.
The first day of team practice rolled around and I think we were there an hour early. We had to stretch and get acclimated. All Oni wanted was a drink and nice seat in the shade.
Practice finally got underway and we were informed that we were the Indians. Oni was in a group of youngsters learning how to catch a thrown ball. It took him a couple of tries, but he got it down. A little later he got to hit and run the bases.
Some time during fielding practice I felt a couple of tears hit my cheek. I said to my wife, "Just look at what all he missed." I didn't have to explain. She knew who I was talking about.
At that moment I began to feel sorry for my Dad and all of the memories that he didn't get to make with his own boys. It was a big step for me and I think the first step towards healing an old wound.
We got home from practice and the phone was ringing. It was Daddy calling to hear how his grandson did in his first practice. It all seemed perfect.
The years went on and Oni excelled in all sports. He was becoming an all around athlete and he had even taken up Tae Kwon Do.
When Oni won the State championship for the first time, the first phone call I made was to my Dad. I was anxious to share it with him. He couldn't tell you the first thing about the sport, but he knew his grandson was pretty good at it.
In 2004, our family was in attendance as our fighter was competing in the Ft. Worth International TKD Tournament. It just happened that the tourney fell on the same day as the Florida game.
Daddy had become ill earlier that year and by the time the Gators came to town he wasn't attending any ball games. I called him every chance I got to get an update. We listened to the final minute with me standing outside in the only place I could get a signal.
That day we didn't talk about doctors, tests or treatments. Our team was playing and had won one for the ages.
Over the course of the next few months Daddy seemed to be doing better. When you have a loved one who is fighting a serious illness your concept of time changes, you learn to take things one step at a time. Each time we had something to feel better about, we made the most of it.
Things were up and down for a while and we just didn't know what was coming next. Life refused to stand still for us, so we did the best we could.
That spring Oni won the AAU Tae Kwon Do Regional Championship for the third consecutive time. This particular year the Junior Olympics were held in New Orleans, so not having to travel and sleep in hotels we felt was a huge advantage.
The week of Junior Olympics Daddy had to go back for some tests, but I did my best to focus on the road Oni had in front of him. Any worrying I would do about Daddy's situation would benefit no one.
Junior Olympics brings together the best athletes in the country who were able to qualify at a regional qualifier. Being the Regional champ again for Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, Oni was an automatic qualifier.
Tae Kwon Do Tournaments are usually comprised of two events, forms and sparring. Oni participated in Olympic style sparring his entire competition career. During these Junior Olympic Games, Oni would finish second in forms and third in sparring which was good enough to find a place on the medal stand in both events. After five years of coming home from Juniors empty handed, our little guy won two shiny medals to be proud of.
Naturally my first call was to my Dad. After I recounted every moment blow by blow, the line fell silent. After a moment or two Daddy informed me that we got the worst possible news from his test results.
Now I would like to tell you that I handled this really well and that I was faithful and true in my belief that all things work for good. If I did then that would be a lie.
I walked around my office angry. Our day had gone from the greatest ever to the worst ever. I began to think about my son and his shining moment. How could I tell him today? What do you do when you simply don't know what to do? I did nothing. I knew how horrible I felt and how unfair it all seemed. I wasn't going to pass that feeling along, so I kept the news to myself for a day or two until I could fully digest it.
Why my Dad? Why now? He had just retired and he had so many plans. He had so much left to do and several grandkids that needed spoiling in a way that only a grandfather could.
I prepared then for the fight. Daddy wouldn't face this alone. We were all going to fight and pray right along side him. We weren't going to just sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. Daddy would never approve of such.
There was not a lot of encouraging news the rest of the way. As things began to wind down I began to ask myself certain questions.
What could I do? Did I owe Daddy any amends or any apologies? Had I told him I loved him enough over the years? Do we ever? With anyone?
I think it hit me somewhere around the Lexington, Mississippi exit as I headed down I-55 south. I knew what I had to do. I knew what I owed him and I knew I had to speak with him.
I made plans to stop by the hospital on my way home, but when I got there I chickened out. In fact, I chickened out three more times before I finally said it.
Once Daddy was in his final days and I had come to be by his side for the duration I finally got the courage up to tell him what I needed to.
We were all standing around his bed telling funny Daddy stories and I just grabbed his hand and let it go.
"Daddy, I don't want you ever to think that me and Pat got the short end of the stick. I don't want you to ever think that we never knew how much you loved us. I know we both made some mistakes along the way and I think we made up for them as we got older. I know you did the best you could and I love you for it. I know you wanted to come see me and Pat play ball all those years and I know you wish you could have, but I want you to know I got over all that a long time ago. When I became a man with a wife and family of my own, you became my best friend."
I get misty-eyed just typing the words again.
He couldn't talk anymore, so he couldn't respond. He didn't have to. I could tell by the look in his eyes that I had unburdened him. I had freed us both. It was something we never talked about, but it was something that ate away at both of us. Now it was behind us.
As I scanned the room, there wasn't a dry eye in the place.
I slept that night like I never had before. I was exhausted. The emotions of it all just weighed on me more than I ever realized. I knew now I could let him go with no regrets.
The final words my Daddy said is something I will never forget. With his wife and their children all around his bedside he cleared his throat and said, "I love all of y'all."
Again my eyes are watering as I type this.
I have thought on more times than I can remember that there could never have been a better final statement from him or anyone else for that matter. In the end love for each other is all we have and we realize it's all we ever really had in the first place.
When my Daddy left this world I was there with him holding his hand. I count that as one of God's greatest gifts to me.
There were times after that I would say out loud, "I can't do this. Going on with out him is too hard."
As soon as I would get those words out I could hear him say, "You don't have a choice. You have to."
The fall of my Daddy's passing I was playing soccer for a men's team for the first time in over a decade.
I wasn't in very good shape and I had lost a step or two, but the competitive juices were still there. My Dad died just before our first game.
After he was gone I felt like he was always with me and always watching me. So I became real careful about things that I did. I didn't want him to see me doing anything that wouldn't make him proud.
My wife is the greatest woman on the planet and I am so blessed to have her as my bride. The night of our first game she came to the game and brought all four of our kids, so they could see their daddy play. I was just hoping to avoid embarrassing myself.
The first half was rough and I felt older than ever. I was no where near the player I used to be and I was pretty hard on myself about it. I looked around and those other guys seemed to be a step ahead of me every time. I was being tentative.
At half time I had a little pep talk with myself and I asked to go back in. I ended up playing left wing. It wasn't my spot, but I was just glad to be out there.
About three minutes in, a crossing pass came from the right wing and I timed it just right and BANG! BANG! It was in the back of the net.
As soon as the ball hit the nylon I was overcome with emotion. I turned and pumped my fist and pointed to the heavens. I said, "Daddy that was for you. I am glad you finally got to see me play."
I didn't score another goal the rest of the year, but of all of the ones I did in my lifetime that one means the most to me. My kids thought I was the man and I got to fill a need within myself. It was a great moment.
If State was ever playing I knew my Daddy was watching or listening to the ball games. I smile to myself sometimes when I think about the fact that Daddy doesn't have to listen to the broadcast anymore and he doesn't have to worry about what's happening when the commercial breaks run long. He gets to see every game live without commercial interruption, including the ones his grandkids play in.
There are so many things I wish I could talk to him about if I had the chance.
If we talked about State being in Omaha he would talk about how he knew Chad Crosswhite was going to be a good pitcher. Daddy worked with Chad's dad for many years and he was incredibly proud that Chad went to play at State. When Chad takes the hill, I am sure Daddy will be telling the residents of Heaven what a good kid Chad is.
If we talked about things in life that sometimes seem unfair to me, he would just tell me in his Jones County raised voice that everything was going to be alright one way or another and that the rain falls on the heads of the just and the unjust alike.
He would find some way to poke fun at me for being able to wear his suit after being such a bean pole most of my life. I would tell him that I may be able to fill his suit, but never his shoes.
I would tell him that his grandsons are all playing ball, those that are old enough. We are still working on that Sugar Bowl and since he is in closer contact with the folks who affect such decisions, to please put in a good word on our behalf.
I would tell him about Ryan, the young man marrying Regan Annie. I would have to tell him about how Ryan went and fought for our country and he never complained about the life he had chosen. He just went and did what he had to do. I would tell him that Ryan will do just fine.
The main thing is that I would just want to tell him one more time that I loved him and everything I am or ever hope to be in this world is because of him. Freddie Robertson is the greatest man I have ever known and every person he knew was a better person because of him.
Mississippi State sports brought me and my Daddy closer together. Some of my greatest memories are going to games with him. If we were apart from each other I would always call him before, during and after games. It gave us a closer bond. Seeing the Bulldogs back in Omaha makes me miss him even more because I know every time the momentum shifts I would ordinarily be calling him for his thoughts on the matter.
If you have the ability to make that call to your Father, go and make it now. One day that option will no longer be available and if there are any unresolved issues get them resolved now. Life is too short and Death is too certain to live like that. At least that's what my Daddy told me.