It was supposed to be the day before my birthday, but April 29th, 1999 will forever be one of the saddest days of my life. Instead of enjoying the festivities of my special day, it was spent helping coordinate between various family members, while my wife, a travel agent, made their travel arrangements to attend my father’s funeral.
I was not expecting to be summoned to the hospital that Thursday afternoon. Yes, my father was in the hospital once again. True, he had been having heart issues, complications from the coronary bypass he’d had many years ago. Certainly, he was taking better care of his health, exercising and eating right, but apparently, the damage had been done.
I visited Mr. Marty, as we liked to call him on a Monday. He was in good spirits, joking as usual. He even made disparaging comments about the food, which to me signaled he was on the mend. So I thought nothing of it, and went about my business as usual. This was not his first hospitalization, and those previous admissions had been mostly precautionary and of short duration.
Three days later, I got a call from his wife, “You better get down here right away,” she said with an urgency I had never heard before. “Your father is going back into surgery.” His second wife was not my favorite person, and rarely called us, so this was indeed a call we took very seriously. I picked up my wife at her office, and we went to Northwestern Memorial post haste.
Dad was already in surgery by the time we arrived at the hospital. It was an agonizing several hours, pacing back and forth, trying to get a handle on how things took a turn for the worse. Finally, the surgeon emerged with the news we dreaded the most. His sixty-nine year old heart was simply not strong enough to handle the stress of the latest surgery, and he died on the operating table.
I insisted on seeing him. My wife joined me, and in a state of numbness, We were escorted to some curtained off area, where there he was, pale, lifeless, yet lying peacefully on a metal gurney, draped by a solitary white sheet. I don’t know why, but after a few moments of reflection, I removed a dollar bill from my wallet, folded it up, and tucked it under his armpit. Why? Well, my brother, father and I used to share a private joke. It sprung from a Richard Pryor bit, and took on a life of its own when my brother would call or ask my dad for a buck. “Gimme a dollar,” one of us would exclaim. When all three of us were together, which wasn’t very often, it would result in raucous laughter. So if nothing else, I suppose Mr. Marty could have the last laugh when some bewildered employee at the funeral parlor would try to figure out what the bill was doing there.
Mr. Marty loved technology, and I always regret that he never lived to see the millennium. He bought a VCR when they first came out. He had a mobile telephone in his car, and a cell phone when they first became widely available. I remember when he developed an interest in photography, we converted our laundry room into a darkroom. We took pictures, developed the film ourselves, and made black and white prints, some of which I still have.
Speaking of the ubiquitous VCR, in the days before everything and anything could be saved for future viewing, one of our family pastimes was watching Dallas Cowboys football on Sundays. My brother David reminded me that Dad took this day of rest quite literally, and would nod off frequently, leading to another favorite family quip, “What’s the score, Mr. Marty?”
My Dad was one of those “early adopters.” In fact, he was the first person to show me the Internet. I remember stopping by to visit him, when he dragged me over to his neighbor in the converted warehouse that served as his office, and housed a number of other small businesses. They were a computer company, and he wanted to show me something called “the world wide web.” I guess this was around 1992 or 1993. On one of those large, old CRT monitors was the original “home page” for CBS television. I was mesmerized, as the computer guy clicked on images for Letterman and 60 Minutes. Each click led to another “page.” It was even in color.
It’s unfortunate that Mr. Marty never made it to see the Internet in its present state. I have no doubt, he would have loved all the social media that exists today. Since his grandchildren live all over the country, he would have lived on Facebook, following every milestone, sporting event, and accomplishment. Similarly, he would have been telling me how to use Twitter, Instagram, and the other social tools for my business.
As despondent as I was over the tragedy of his loss, I actually had to go back to work that night. We had a thriving business at the time supplying newspaper websites with postgame audio from sporting events. This was in RealAudio. Our reporters would feed the interviews over the telephone, and I would record it on cassette machines. Then I would play them back an record it on the computers. Mp3 technology was still a few years in the future. We even had to deliver the files via 56k dialup. It was brand new, cutting edge stuff, and no one else could easily perform it, or process the incoming audio as fast.
Therefore, I had to try and overlook the days events. I dropped my wife off to retrieve her car at work, and headed back to the office. It was early in the NBA and NHL playoffs, and our clients had games on both coasts, as well as here in the Midwest. A typical night involved five or six events, so as I finished up one game in New York, another “stringer” might call in from Detroit or St. Louis. The last of the reporters usually phoned in just after midnight. Somehow I was able to keep my composure, and stay focused on the task at hand.
Finally, at quarter to one in the morning, mentally exhausted, and physically spent, I was able to close up shop and make the short drive home. I know there’s a higher power up there, with a good sense of humor, and a definite grasp of true irony. I turned on the car radio to try to decompress and what song comes on – “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas. The day went from sublime to surreal….
…and that’s when I lost it.