Today would have been my dad’s birthday.

He would have been 89 years old.

While I wish he was still around, I know where he is and I have a pretty good idea of what he’s doing, and I could never wish him back from there.

He never got to see me as a dad. He died of a series of strokes related to colon cancer in 2005, a few months before we started the process of being approved by China to adopt for the first time.

My dad was a sports fan, but not quite as crazy as I turned out to be. He was way too dedicated to his craft of fixing tractors to worry about how many games the Cubs were out of first place or who the quarterback at Notre Dame was going to be.

He grew up a football player, and was a center for the Plymouth Rockies back in the late 1940’s. That was back when what they wore on their heads was formed leather and the facemask was still a few years away from being invented—and my dad’s nose was evidence.

He would get frustrated as we watched teams throw incomplete pass after incomplete pass. He didn’t like to say it out loud, but he hinted around that it bothered him that a team would throw the ball when the ball carrier could file in behind a center like him and run all day. That’s about as close as he ever came to bragging.

He and my mom loved to go to games. They were avid Argos fans. Dad would tote two lawn chairs out to the edge of the hill at what is now Snyder Field so they had a perfect view of the soccer pitch. During basketball season, you’d find them parked in the second row of the northwest corner of what is now the Weybright Gym. Dad always said they sat there because they were closer to the action, but mom wanted to sit there because she knew the refs would hear her yell “AW, COME ON REF” better.

They never missed, until my senior season of basketball.

In January of 1986, we beat LaVille in four overtimes to win the Bi-County tournament championship. We were down 9 points in the third quarter and rallied to send the game to extra time in an epic game that people still talk about.

 After the game and the on-court celebration that followed, I found my parents up in the bleachers and went up to hug them and celebrate with them. My mom was smiling her big smile and pumping her fists in the air like she was known to do, but my dad (who was not a huge rah-rah guy anyway) was pretty subdued.

 I can’t prove it, but I am pretty sure that he had a mild heart attack during the game and just refused to let on. I say that now because he had felt pain from the colon cancer for a while and never told anyone about that pain either until the first stroke—a stroke cause by cancer cells. He died less than a week after his cancer diagnosis.

That championship game was the last game he ever watched me play.

The next week, with LaVille coming to Argos for a rematch of that legendary final the following Friday, my dad pulled me aside and asked if it would be ok if he didn’t come to the game. He explained that he just was getting too worked up during the games and he thought it would be better if he stayed home and let me tell him about the game when I got home.

Of course, I said that was fine with me  — even though it wasn’t.

He never wavered in his support. He wanted to hear all about the games and how I did — every detail. And I look back now and think I was blessed to have those conversations which were positive and informative, unlike too many parents now who ruin their kids with over-analysis and emotional deflation immediately after games.

I remember taking him to his first, and only, Notre Dame Football game. Taking him up that tunnel and out into the seating area for the first time was like that moment in the movie when Rudy’s dad said with awe “this is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen.”

It was the least I could do for the man who took me to my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

I think about him a lot — especially when I am trying to fix, build or put something together. He was brilliant at that, and I have none of it.

What I did get from him is a love for people. He used his work as a tractor mechanic in order to build relationships, and now I find myself trying to do the same through sports.

Happy birthday Dad. I tell my kids about you every chance I get, and I can’t wait for them to meet you someday in a place where there’s no more pain, no more heartache and no more tears.

Until then…