June 25th, 2018 is a date I will never forget. That was the day my father passed away. A year later I’ve realized the first time it really hit me though was July 1st, about a week later. The Leafs had just signed – no, not John Tavares, but Josh Jooris. He grew up playing hockey in Burlington (as I did) and my Dad had both refereed countless hockey games of his and also had become friendly with Josh’s Dad. When I first saw he signed I immediately took my phone out of my pocket as a reflex to text my Dad. He’s not even a Leafs fan (he grew up in Montreal) but I knew how cool he would think it was. That’s when it hit me in the chest like a ton of bricks: I couldn’t
It may seem strange that it was then that it first really clicked for me that he was gone. Not when I first got a message from my brother breaking the bad news, not as I gave a speech at his funeral or reminisced afterwards with those who were close to him. Nope. It was something to do with sports. And looking back, that was perfect. With him and me, it was always about sports. It was our bond. When I was a kid he was my hero and he loved sports, especially hockey. So of course I did too. Some of my earliest memories are of watching Hockey Night in Canada with him or taking road trips just the two of us, either to see his mom in Montreal or to go to one of my hockey games in a faraway city.
As you get older of course life gets more complicated than that and eventually your parents become human. But sports remained our link, no matter the scenario. Even to this day just listening to sports talk radio in a car makes me feel like a kid in his passenger seat again. So when it came time for me to get over the dream of being a professional athlete and get a real job, I chose what I thought was the next best thing; working in sports media. And I landed at Sportsnet, where I’ve been for almost eight years now. And I started to chase my passion for writing and golf by starting a website and covering the PGA & LPGA Tours. It always came back to sports. And I always felt proud when my Dad would ask me questions about sports or valued my opinion on things in that realm. No matter the time of year or the state of things in our lives, there was always some topic or tie in to the sports world that we could discuss. Strangely enough I was arriving in Chicago to cover my first professional golf major; the Women’s PGA Championship, when I got the news of my father’s passing. Turns out there was another type of major event in store for me and my family that week.
After a year of ups and downs and hard reflection, I can say it has been nothing short of a roller coaster of emotions; the valleys cascading deeper at times than the peaks rose high. Losing a parent is just something you’re not prepared for. Even if you’ve had time to see it coming (which we didn’t in this case) it is a life-changing thing to go through. Something I realized about myself in the process of everything was that I’d been living most of my life with the main goal being to make my Dad proud. And the best way I knew how to do that was through sports. When that got pulled out from underneath me like a rug, it left me on shaky ground struggling to get my footing. At times I lost interest in my job and my writing, struggled with some substance abuse, felt depths of depression I didn’t know existed and at times truly didn’t know who I was or what I was doing with not only my life but that day, week, month etc. I hit rock bottom. Or at least what felt like it. But I’ve come out on the other side.
I now truly know who I am and what drives me. I know what is really important in life. I’m able to better realize what really matters and what isn’t worth it. I know who really cares for me and who is there for me. I know I can get through just about anything and be okay, and that I will forever be better equipped to help others when they are dealing with difficult things. Simply put, I am a much more well-rounded person. A completely different person. And that’s okay.
I still miss my Dad every single day. I always will. I still cry about him all the time. I still imagine conversations we might have about certain things and still want to grab my phone to discuss them. I can still hear his voice or see his big hands pulling me in for a handshake or a big bear hug. But finally after a year of pain, anger, sadness and insistent searching, I can just smile. I know that I can still make him proud in everything I do and that includes being proud of myself. It has been the worst year of my life but no doubt the most impactful and one I will hopefully look back on as one that molded me into the person I strive to be. And I hope in this next year to take positive steps toward becoming that person.
There are two things I know will never change though. One is that I Love you, Dad. The other, is that I will always root for the Leafs to crush his Canadiens. Because it always comes back to sports.