As Father’s Day approaches, I decided to change things up a bit and celebrate my dad in the best way I know how – and that is to dedicate this post to him. You may recall A Man’s Best Friend. That post, written by my dad, reflects on my first surgery and the turmoil my family faced during that time. Now, I return the favor and share some happier memories.
For those of you who have the privilege of knowing him, you likely think that his favorite thing is food. I’m not going to lie, he enjoys it. After all, he has taken the snack food industry by storm and has done some remarkable things with various companies. However, I can tell you, as his son and growing up under his roof, that his favorite things are his wife, kids and grandson, trusty dog Chip, son-in-law, daughter-in-law and extended family. A true family man.
There are countless memories that I can share with you, but there is one memory which I will always treasure and I know that he agrees.
The year was 1999 and the UConn men’s basketball team had just advanced to its first ever Final Four. I was just a freshman in high school, but already had my sights set on UConn as my college of choice. My dad is an avid fan as well and enjoys watching the games, so when UConn secured its ticket to the final four, the decision was easy – off to Tampa Bay we would go.
Going into the weekend, I remember being so confident and optimistic of the team’s chances. I knew in my heart that they would return to Connecticut as champions. My dad was hopeful, but not as confident.
In the national semifinals that Saturday, UConn defeated Ohio State and Duke beat Michigan State. The final game of the season was set – UConn would play Duke for the National Championship.
On Sunday, excitement, anticipation and worry sank in. There was a buzz around Tampa Bay, basically crowning Duke as the champions. UConn entered the game as 9.5 point underdogs – that was quite the spread for a championship game. After all, this was UConn’s first ever final four appearance and Duke played the 1999 season like a seasoned professional. Regardless of the odds though, I was probably the only person who actually believed they would win. As my dad was saying “I hope they win and think they have a shot, but they need to play their best game of the season and I think they are capable, so we’ll see.”
My dad and I spent that day talking about basketball and acting as if we were analysts. The atmosphere was electric – on the beach, there were artists drawing the two school’s logos in the sand; television and media coverage everywhere you looked; pep bands playing the school’s fight songs; and just an overall great feeling. As the time continued to pass and the sun set, Monday was shaping up to be a pretty special day.
When the game began, there was an overwhelming sense in the crowd, other than by UConn fans, that this game would be a blowout win for Duke. I had Duke fans to my immediate left and we exchanged cheers and excitement throughout the game. At halftime, UConn trailed by 2 points and nerves were settling in. But they kept pace and as my dad said to me “it’ll come down to the final minute and whoever has the ball last will win this game.” Sure enough, it did.
I can remember it like yesterday: with nine seconds left, UConn was up 75-74 and Trajan Langdan of Duke was driving to the basket and was whistled for traveling. At the other end, the inbound went to Khalid El-Amin. He was immediately fouled and stood at the free throw line to shoot two free throws – he hit the first and the second, which left Duke about 5 seconds to get down the floor and tie the game. In what felt like the longest five seconds of my life, I nervously watched as Duke rushed down the court and with seconds to spare, Trajan Langdan approached the three point arch and then tripped and failed to get a shot off. With that, the final buzzer sounded and UConn had done it! As El-Amin shouted into the camera “we shocked the world!” UConn was the national champion, ending Duke’s 32-game win streak.
The Trop turned into pandamonium. The Duke fans were stunned and the UConn fans were jubilant. The excitement of that game never wore off and brought my dad and I closer as father and son. We talked about it for days and months, and still do.
For my thirtieth birthday, he handed me this card, along with a wrapped box:
In 1999, my dad received one of the championship rings that the team received for his support of the university and I had always admired it. Inside of the wrapped box was a UConn themed jewelry box which plays the UConn fight song and the ring. I wear it on special occasions only, and when I do, I am instantly brought back to that weekend. Those memories will will live with me forever, also.
That weekend is the epitome of who my father is. The rock of our family and the person that my family and I can always turn to for support. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, he asked God for a sign and a maple leaf fell into his hand; when I was brought back to Yale in the midst of my misery for neurospychological testing, he again asked for a sign that I would get through this and the ladybug appeared and stayed with him for hours. He will do anything for his family and children and I know that I speak for my family when I say how lucky we are.
When I think back on those results of the neuropsych tests, I find similarities to the 1999 Final Four weekend. Just as he was uncertain, but hopeful that UConn would win, when we learned the results of my testing and contemplated the shunt surgery, he was again cautious, yet optimistic. In both cases, he certainly could not have expected the miracle that occurred. Yet, he and the ladybug assured my family and I that I would show improvement. He knew I had a fighting chance that I could regain my cognitive functions, but was not making any guarantees as to when. Talk about “shocking the world”!
Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thanks for everything!