I'll Do It Next Time
Updated: Jul 29
Twenty-two years ago on a cool, sunny Saturday morning, I got the phone call all children dread. My brother, who was coaching in Allen, Texas said, “Don’t panic yet, but Dad has either had a heart attack or a stroke.” It was rare during football season I would be home on a Saturday morning. We usually worked seven days a week throughout the season; however, we had played our game on Thursday and worked most of the night Friday so we could take Saturday off.
I had been looking forward to this day for quite a while. The plan was to take Mona, my 9-months pregnant wife, to the Tulsa-Rice football game. We don’t get to go to many college games because of our schedule, so it was going to be a treat. My very pregnant wife was really excited to drive to the stadium and walk up about 50 or 60 rows to watch a college football game.
After hanging up the phone, I tried to decide what I needed to do next. Mona was due any moment, the situation was unclear concerning my dad, and our football team was 6-0 at the time. In that specific moment, I was trying to figure out if I could still make the Tulsa University football game. Quickly, I came to my senses, jumped in the shower, packed a bag, and headed to a hospital in Plano, Texas. As I was headed out the door, the phone rang and my brother said, “Rick, you better hurry."
It is about a four-hour drive from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to Plano. I had no cell phone or way to communicate with either my brother or Mona. About every hour, I would find a pay phone to call my wife and get the updates on my dad.
My dad was my hero and my biggest fan. To say he loved football would be a huge understatement. He was, and is, the biggest influence on my life. As boys, we believed our dad could whip King Kong. I remember many conversations with the neighborhood boys arguing about which one of our dads would win a fight against the other. We believed our dad was the smartest, fastest, greatest, or whatever, in the entire history of the world.
Sometime around our junior high years, we realized our dad was not quite as invincible as we thought. As we grew up, we saw his humanity, his weaknesses, and his fears. I would guess some boys never forgive their dad for being human. After we reach a certain level of maturity, I would expect most sons just come to accept the fact their dad isn’t perfect and move on from there. I’m 100 % sure my own son has come to the realization I am not perfect.
When I arrived at the hospital, I learned that Dad had a heart attack. He was in surgery to attempt to repair his heart. He was 71 and the prognosis was not good. For 29 days, Dad battled for his life in ICU in Plano. Most of the time, he was in a huge amount of discomfort with tubes in and out of every part of his body. The most uncomfortable one was the tube they had down his throat which kept him from talking or eating. For my mom, the kids, and the grandkids, those 29 days were very special. We got to spend a lot of time with each other and our dad. Even though he couldn’t speak, he became great at communicating with his eyes and facial expressions. From time to time, he would scratch something out on a yellow pad. We settled into a routine where my mom would stay at the hospital and one of the four kids would be scheduled to stay with her.
I worked out a plan with our staff at Broken Arrow. After working early Saturday morning, I would fly to Dallas and spend Saturday and Sunday at the hospital and then fly back Monday morning in time for practice. Our daughter, Regan, seemed to be in no hurry to get here, so we just stayed with the schedule for the next few weeks.
We spent some great times with my dad. One of my best memories was crawling up into his hospital bed and watching the Oklahoma and Baylor game on TV. All of us got to say what we wanted to say and make sure he knew how much we loved, cared, and admired him. We left nothing unsaid. We knew there was very little chance of him recovering, so we took full advantage of our time together. After three weeks of going back and forth between coaching the team, monitoring my wife and soon-to-be daughter, and spending time with Dad, we decided to induce on a Monday. With this plan, we could have the baby, coach the game, and be able to make it to Plano on the weekend. Things with Mona and Regan went great. I would think all Dads think their baby girl is beautiful and I am no exception. Her mom and I took her home the next day, and I ran over to football practice.
On Thursday of that week, my sister called and told me that things were getting worse with Dad. We decided if Mona was up to it, we would bring Regan to Plano so Dad could see her. When we walked into the hospital room, my Dad got a look on his face I will never forget. It was a look I can only describe as the way a proud grandpa can look at his newborn granddaughter. He couldn’t speak, but his eyes and his expression said more than words ever could. He grabbed a post it note and scribbled “Let’s go” meaning he was ready. The next day around 3:00 pm, he went, as he said, “to see Jesus.”
This month, my daughter Regan will celebrate her 22nd birthday. While most birthdays are days of celebration, her birthday always takes me back to a hospital bed in Plano. In that bed, my dad fought for his life for 29 grueling and tough days. He was born during the Great Depression, fought in World War II, worked like a dog his entire life, and loved his kids and wife. I think on his best day, he would have given King Kong all he could handle.
There were a lot of lessons I learned during that time, now coming up on 22 years. These three things stand out the most:
1. I truly appreciate and respect the people working in the medical field. I don’t know how they do what they do, but dealing with injury, sickness, and death on a daily basis cannot be easy. The Plano Hospital staff was so kind to our family, especially my mom. During the 29 days Dad was there, my mom slept in the ICU waiting room only leaving the hospital to clean up and change clothes.
2. “Football People” are the best. My mom never ate a meal outside the ICU waiting room. The Football Booster Club at Allen High School fed her (and everybody else in the waiting room) three meals a day, for 29 straight days.
I will never forget their kindness and generosity to my family. Two coaches, who my brother had worked with earlier in his career, drove from Tahlequah, Oklahoma to Plano after their meetings on the first Sunday Dad was there, to comfort and support my brother. They drove about 4 hours to spend 2-3 hours with my brother and drove back. Todd Dilbeck and Mark Walker, I appreciate you being there for my brother.
3. During tough times, it is great to be a part of a team. Our football team at Broken Arrow High School and our staff were outstanding. Our team kept working hard and adjusted to the head coach not being there every day. Our staff just worked like crazy to fill the gaps and make my life as easy as possible. I’m not sure I can say thank you enough.
As I mentioned earlier, my Dad loved football. He and my Mom would look at mine and my brother’s football schedules to pick out the games he wanted to see. The week before that fateful weekend, Mom and Dad were in Broken Arrow to watch the Tigers play. On Friday night after the game, the family was home rehashing the game and playing with our 14-month-old son, Kevin. Kevin was a fairly “chubby” boy. Dad would hold him above his head and gently shake him to watch his cheeks jiggle. Both Dad and Kevin thought it was absolutely hilarious. While I was watching Dad and Kevin, I thought about getting the video camera and recording the scene for posterity; however, it was late, way past Kevin’s bedtime, and I told myself I would do it, “NEXT TIME.”