Gone But Never Forgotten: A Tribute To My Late Father

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Gone But Never Forgotten: A Tribute To My Late Father

After reading Joe Yanarella's story on the loss of his father, it got me thinking and remembering back to my late father and how we also shared a lot of bonding through sports and life.

Born in 1984, I was the only son my mom and he had, so I was the one he would share any sports moments and history with.

Growing up, he was a huge Boston Celtics and the rivalries of the Celtics-Lakers and Celtics-Pistons is what I grew up on. When I was about one in 1985 in the NBA Finals, Kevin McHale threw Kurt Rambis to the ground and my father was so excited from the play, he kicked his stool across the room while shouting and I apparently cried because I was still a baby scared from my dad's loud noises, a prelude of how I would become as a sports fan.

His favorite was Larry Bird. He had many stories to share of the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry. He also loved to show the highlights of when Bird stole the ball from the Pistons on an inbound, passed it to Dennis Johnson for the winning layup. He also loved telling me how Michael Jordan scored 63 points against the Celtics in 1986, yet Boston ended up winning the game.

Aside from his stories, he also taught me how to play the games and their rules. He bought me my first glove when I was six. We set up our first basketball court when my family bought their house in 1992. It was in the backyard with dirt, but we eventually moved it to our new driveway. He also bought me my first "big kid" NFL-sized football when I was eight. We'd spend many winter nights throwing the ball in our backyard. I learned how to catch and throw because my father taught me how.

He also worked a lot as an auto body painter and he took a great deal in his work. It was his passion in life to work on cars since he was 14. He went to vocational school to perfect his craft and he was never unable to find a job.

Because he worked a lot, going to sports games was rare, but it was a special time. My first baseball game was a minor league game when I was 11, a Trenton Thunder-Binghamton Mets AA game in 1995. We saw a young rookie by the name of Nomar Garciaparra play that game and most baseball fans know how his career turned out in baseball. He taught me how to keep score, how to fill out a score sheet and everything else a father tells a son. We went to many more Thunder baseball games because my mother's boss had season tickets to give away, but I'll remember the first one we went to.

In October of 1996, we watched the Yankees win their first World Series over the Braves on a Saturday night. I remember jumping up and down in my living room and hugging him as I had seen my first Yankee championship at age 12 while he had not seen one since he was 17, so after 18 years at age 35, he was just as excited as I was when Charlie Hayes caught the final out. His favorite Yankee growing up was Thurman Munson because of his grittiness and passion for the game of baseball. My current favorite Yankee player, Andy Pettitte, shares a lot of those same qualities I admire in a player as well.

He was also my biggest fan when I played sports. I was on my elementary school's basketball team in sixth grade when our team went 10-0. My mom would tape the games and after they were over, he'd go over them with me like a coach, then go outside to shoot around, while still teaching me.

I also played football in high school as an offensive and defensive lineman. My dad would make sure to take off from work early during the J.V. games since they were in the day and he and my mom would come to the varsity games on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.

One October afternoon in my senior year, I was playing defense on a third down and had full evasion to the quarterback. Next thing I know, the guard took his helmet and shoulder pad and drove it into my already sore and injured left knee. I collapsed to the grass like a sack of potatoes while pounding my fist. I thought my season was over, but because of the knee brace on my knee, it saved me from serious injury. When I got turned over and I was able to open my eyes, there was my dad waiting to help me up and over to the sidelines. He then whispered to me, "I love you Doug, but don't ever do this to us again," gave me a kiss on the head, and went back to the bleachers.

Following graduation, I was going to pursue my goal to be a sportswriter, a decision my mom and dad both supported fully. My dad wanted me to get an education and get a great job rather than work with my hands every day. He'd show me his hands which were covered in paint and rough from the daily work he did on cars.

While at community college, my world, his life and our families' lives changed forever .

On April 2, 2004, I came home from working to find my mom and grandmother sitting at the kitchen table in tears. I knew this was not good. I asked my mom what was wrong. Then, she hit me with what I always referred to as "The Atomic Bomb."

"Doug, your dad has cancer."

This shook me to my core. He was diagnosed with Stage-4 Esophageal Cancer and given six months to live. I decided to take time off from school to help him through treatments, the chemo-therapy, everything. It was not easy.

What was worse was finding him a month later in his room crying while looking at old pictures because we cancelled our Disney Trip for that May from his illness. I put my arms around him and told him he would live long enough to get back to Florida.

He was so determined to battle and prove the doctors he had more than six months left. And fought he did.

He would continue to watch sporting events with me while trying to have the energy to stay up and watch the games; for those who have not seen a cancer patient, cancer will sap the energy out of a person very quickly.

I'll never forget after Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS when the Red Sox completed the four game comeback on the Yankees, I was sitting on my bed in complete sadness. He came over, sat down next to me and said,

"Doug, unfortunately, this is how Red Sox fans have been feeling and going through long before you were alive, but don't worry, there is always a next season in this game."

I still felt like crap after Boston won the World Series the next week, but I never forgot his words trying to cheer me up.

In September 2005, and yes, he lived longer than the six months given to him, he was still battling and at times struggling with the cancer. One night, my mother came in my room and told me I was needed immediately, as my father had fallen to the floor from being so weak and needed my help up.

I raced into the living room to my father's side and I found a way to get behind him, put my arms underneath his armpits, and pick him up to put him in his wheelchair to get him to his room. He held onto me the rest of the way down the hallway and when I left, I could hear him tearing up to my mother that, "his son had to pick his sorry ass off the ground." If I had to do it all over again, I still would not have thought twice about coming to his aide.

Unfortunately, in January of 2006, he developed a tumor near his brain that pinned his tongue and prevented him from talking. If you need to know how that is, hold your tongue still like it was burnt and try to speak, it's not easy and that's what it was like for him.

We had our last family get-together of our Rush Family two weeks after Christmas so he could see his brothers and sisters, maybe for the last time, before he had to return to the hospital. He did return to the hospital two days later, which is where he would stay.

During Super Bowl 40, I was at home watching my grandmother who was living with us, who also was battling and defeated cancer at the same time, while my mom, aunt and uncle watched the game with my dad. During the first quarter, my phone rang with a sports question from my dad and uncle. Even during his sickness, we still shared those sports moments and had those questions for me because my knowledge had grown.

On February 25, 2006, I got the call from my mom to come down to the hospital, because my father's condition had taken a turn for the worse and it was near the end. He had to be put on a morphine drip because of his condition, so he started to fade out of consciousness. We thought he wouldn't make it through the night, but somehow, he was still alive, fighting to the end.

My mom told me to go to work to get my mind off everything that night. I tried my hardest to work, but it was impossible not to think of him. Around 6:30 on February 26, I got called back to the hospital because they thought he might go again and they wanted me there just in case it was the end.

I stayed with my mom, girlfriend, grandmother, aunt and uncle until 3:30 a.m., tossing and turning on an uncomfortable chair until he finally breathed his last breath. My dad took one last breath, a symbol that he had fought it until the end. The doctors gave him six months, and he fought for two years.

In the early hours of February 27, 2006 around 3:30 in the morning, my dad, James Stephen Rush, passed away from the brain tumor that developed. He was only 44 years old.

Not only was my father gone, but a best friend, a mentor, and my hero. The  guy who I would come running out to and give breaking news to about sports was no longer there.

I had comfort and peace knowing he was no longer sick and in no more pain up in heaven and he would watch over me, even if I would miss him every day.

Five days later, I would find out I had won 1st Place in Sports Writing by the New Jersey Press Association. I broke down into tears and had a feeling he had something to do with it, although he would tell me it was all my talent and hard work that won it. He was just that modest.

It's been over three years since his death, but not a day goes by that I don't think of him, miss him and remember how much he taught me.

He taught me more than just simple games and sports. He taught me so much about life. He showed me how to really fight and battle adversity and to never back down.

So for all the writers on this site who have families, don't ever take a day for granted with any of them, especially those sons and if you still have your fathers. Even if you are mad at him, make sure you still tell him you love him, because you never know when they might not be there.

My dad ended up being my hero in life, and I am thankful that he was a good enough person for me to call him that. I am also grateful for every memory we shared, sports related or not.

My only hope is that I can be as good person as him, so that I can get up to heaven, and see him again someday.

Dad, I know you are up in heaven and I love you and miss you very much and still think about you to this day. I only hope you are very proud of your son, who is doing his best in life and keeps your memory alive.

Thank you to the Bleacher Report site for allowing me to share this story to all of you.

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