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-   -   Flying Solo. (http://www.udpride.com/forums/showthread.php?t=34454)

Chris R 09-21-2020 04:58 AM

Flying Solo.
 
It’s been over six months since the viral pandemic stuck a resounding fork into the 2019-20 college basketball postseason, and no other university took the news harder. Shauna Green’s WBB team just wrapped up an A10 conference title on home soil alongside an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, Anthony Grant’s team polished off George Washington to secure a perfect A10 season, 29-2 record, 20-game winning streak, #3 national ranking, future National Player of the Year accoutrements, and likely #1 seed in March Madness. The Dayton community didn’t wait all season for this; they waited their entire lives.

That wait was longer for some than others. For lifelong Flyer fans like my father, it was 73 years of patience and a carpet ride we flew together – always. His journey was not unlike so many others and on more than a few occasions fans like him never thought Flyer basketball could be so grand. Like they are accustomed, the Faithful kept the faith that eventually all the pieces would finally come together. That seminal moment conjured up in our collective imaginations became the realized dreams of the present. Only it was better than a dream because as the pieces came together, so did the Flyer community. There was an unspoken understanding of the pilgrimage to get here, the dirt under the fingernails, the hardship, the sacrifice, and ultimately the atonement. Four months of basketball changed the Flyer fabric, until the world changed with us.

On Monday, September 14th, my world changed a second time. I lost my wingman.

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Over the last two decades I’ve rarely talked about my father because Jerry – as everyone else knew him – never wanted me to. He craved privacy and lurked in the shadows, but those in and around the University of Dayton knew wherever he or I was, the other was never far behind. Not because we couldn’t walk alone but because the experience was never as fulfilling. Yet somehow despite knowing the same people and running in the same circles, toes were never stepped on. I had my space and he had his. It was a mutual respect that carried over into everything we did for or with the university.

It took 40 years to grow that seed. As soon as I could walk, my mother gladly surrendered her UD basketball seat to earn some valuable alone time in the winter months. But the story starts even earlier and Im going to tell it for the first and only time.

Jerry had a knack for academics and became a National Merit Finalist growing up in the small rural NE Ohio town of Kalida, Ohio. He played varsity basketball and worked as a bus boy at the local restaurant. He also had an interest in computers – a fresh novelty of industry in the mid-1960s. UD was one of the first institutions in the country to offer a BS in Computer Science and he jumped at the chance after having his pick of schools.

He was also smart enough to realize if he worked for the Daytonian Yearbook staff he would have a seat at every home basketball game – an otherwise unobtanium privilege given the 5,808 sold-out seats at the “Thrombosis Fieldhouse”. While in college, he and a fraternity brother earned their pilot’s licenses. They rented small single-engine Cessnas and flew to road games in Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York. My Dad played Yearbook photographer in 1968 and stormed the court as the Flyers won the NIT championship. By 1969, diploma in hand, Jerry looked for a job.

He also began looking for a woman.

He found the job first, accepting a position at a new upstart computer technology company called Dayton Data Processing. It’s the only business he ever worked for after leaving UD, eventually co-owning it with a founding partner. He drove to Chicago on weekends with 12-inch reel-to-reel magnetic tapes, renting computer time to process the data on the faster machines at large banking institutions to generate quicker turnarounds back home – the need for computing speed was that valuable.

It wasn’t long after graduation that Jerry and a couple college buddies moved into an apartment near Wright Patterson Air Force Base. It was a second-floor unit with a small balcony. It just so happened that a hot little number lived next door. That was my mother. They hopped balconies to blossom the romance.

My mother was a year older and twice divorced with two young daughters – one from each failed marriage. She lived with her parents – her father a Major in the USAF – while trying to get back on her feet. For a young, smart, successful, college-educated man from a small, conservative, rural Ohio community, this was not his family’s first or second choice. My father was many things but never cavalier or misguided. With a computer science background, his mind was all logic, reason, deduction, and critical thinking. But Donna Jo won his heart and so too her two daughters of eight and five.

Being Catholic, the church refused to marry them because of my mother’s baggage. They waited for the Pope to approve. Eventually my father got tired of waiting, told the Pope to go fly a kite, and picked another church to join the four together – thoroughly convinced by the certainty of his heart. This was 1971 when split families were still a scarlet letter.

As he took his wife, he took her two children as his own flesh and ultimately adopted them through the courts. I was born in 1974 and together the five of us watched a marriage last 37 years until the passing of our mother in 2008. As different as they were, no two people were ever so right for one another.

As the lone son, Dad and I bonded with the usual stuff: playing catch in the back yard, Dayton Air Shows, soccer tournaments, and ultimately attending Flyer basketball games. I started tagging along around 1980 and was instantly hooked. Years later I was attending UD as well; I suppose it was preordained but I also applied to USC and Virginia Tech. The UDPride thing came along as a college junior but was merely a footnote in the things we shared. Maui, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Charleston, Orlando, Spokane, Buffalo, St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia – just a few of the stops along the way.

Speaking of sharing, we did a lot of that recently. Among the highlights were a pair of nationwide road trips to see America’s natural and man-made wonders. Over 18,000 miles in the car, two months, and 30 National Parks later, we were plotting a third and final trip up through New England, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland in the summer of 2021.

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Over the years we broadened our Flyer Fix with loyal attendance at UD soccer and volleyball games to shorten the “offseason”. He’d watch, I’d report, and sometimes we’d watch together. I’ll especially miss the Sunday drives to Baujan Field in the 911 Turbo on a beautiful September afternoon. We talked about the kinds of things fathers and sons talk about: everything.

You’re familiar with the UDPride RPI, but I’ve kept a small secret: it was my father’s pet project behind the curtain. We co-developed the software program to organize and tabulate the data, but Jerry entered the scores every night for over a decade. As stat nerds that enjoyed losing ourselves in the metrical weeds, we talked like a pair of Athletic Directors discussing scheduling strategies, quality buy games, travel considerations, conference pods, 2nd and 3rd level factoring, leagues, and bracket bias. Our RPI was so accurate it became the gold standard and on more than a few occasions it was us – and only us – that corrected the NCAA’s RPI errors. We had an open channel of communication with the NCAA’s governing board and tournament leadership from start to finish. That came in handy when they offered me a seat at the table for the 2015 NCAA Mock Selection Process in Indianapolis. I was excited about the invitation but knew were it not for my father’s nightly dedication to entering scores and locations, we never would have gotten this far. I insisted my father attend instead. Jerry’s only stipulation: he didn’t want any credit. That took some clever editing in the five-part series but that’s the way he wanted it.

Jerry was active at UD his entire life both academic and athletic. He was a charter member of the President’s Club and was recently inducted into the John Stuart Society. On the outside however, he looked and acted like everyone else: blue jeans, tube socks, sneakers, and a red Dayton sweatshirt.

In the last few days of his life, my father’s strength to verbally express himself slowly but methodically slipped into the dying fog. While Jerry struggled to communicate however, he was still coherent enough to listen intently as family comforted around him.

I spent his last good day checking off boxes. The end was approaching and everything that needed to be said….was. I caressed his head and ran my fingers through his thinning silver hair. I spoke with omniscient certainty, assuring Dad there were no loose ends left to tie. Everything was headed to an endpoint as he laid in the ICU bed and listened; he was too weak to respond. And the truth is, he had nothing left to tell me. I know he loved his son as he loved my two sisters. He was departing a world without misunderstanding or ambiguity.

There were stories I told about family vacations, youth soccer tournaments, holiday dinners, working as father and son in the family business, morality and ethics, life lessons, and our departed mother and wife he was racing toward. And while silent and unresponsive, he soaked it all in. I knew he could still hear me.

I eventually circled back to UD basketball and the 40 years of shared experience. I started from the beginning when we sat in the upper Arena, so small was I that standing on the chair was the only way to watch the games. My narration touched the seminal moments in Flyer basketball that followed, and it was as fulfilling to retell as it was knowing his mind was still wired.

Finally, I talked about last season. With the pandemic, it felt like a lifetime ago but as the words poured out, everything suddenly came back into focus. I started the conversation in Maui and the blessing to have made the trip together with close friends. We believed the Kansas game was the most entertaining, exciting, high-level, ambiance-filled, contextually- and geographically-unique, dramatic, fulfilling Flyer basketball game we ever shared in person. It was so enjoyable the losing almost didn’t matter; it was observing Dayton through a back-lit, prismatic window of perfection we never imagined could exist in the underdog, blue-collar world of UD basketball.

There was more reminiscing as I continued with other great moments that followed. The 20-game winning streak, Obi’s dunks, Crutcher’s dagger against Saint Louis, and the exclamation point against George Washington that clinched the undefeated A10 season and potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I concluded by describing the events in the words of my father as he articulated repeatedly throughout the season:

“It was ‘one for the ages’, Dad.”

Eyes still closed, tubes, wires, IV’s, machines, monitors, and other devices still attached, he drew the strength to muster the last coherent sentence he ever said to me:

“one. for. the. ages.”

And then he smiled.

He passed away three days later at Hospice of Dayton.

Jerry was laid to rest on Friday, September 18, 2020 alongside my mother – wearing blue jeans, tube socks, and a red Dayton sweatshirt. Tucked inside his casket were ticket stubs from the recent Maui Invitational and the 1994 World Cup – two of our favorites.

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It’s never easy to say goodbye, so I never did. I told him “until we meet again, father.” For now, I take comfort in the blessings and one in particular stands out. When UD personnel saw my father, the first question they asked was, “How’s Chris?” When the tables were turned, it was “How’s Jerry?”, or “How’s your Dad?” Those at UD enjoyed us as a pair but respected us as individuals. It wasn’t about platforms, favors, or donations. More important, they understood how much we loved one another.

Had the pandemic or passing shifted six months either way, we would have missed out on sharing the greatest four months of our Flyer basketball lives. I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit and while it doesn’t eliminate a loss so profound, it reminds why I have so much to be thankful for. It was my distinct privilege to be his son; a lifelong journey that was truly one for the ages.

And so was he.

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Bill McPeek 09-21-2020 08:55 AM

A wonderful tribute Chris! Please accept our deepest sympathy. Losing a parent is extremely painful.

springborofan 09-21-2020 11:26 AM

Beautiful tribute Chris. You could feel the love in your writing. I hope the warmth of your memories helps you through this tough time.

Alberto Strasse 09-21-2020 01:15 PM

What a fantastic tribute. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Radar 09-21-2020 01:33 PM

Wonderful tribute, Chris. My sympathies to you and your family.

Go Flyers!

Flyer 79 09-21-2020 05:19 PM

A tribute for the ages. Thoughts are with your family.

UDTradition 09-21-2020 05:35 PM

Your Dad missed out on nothing...when you have a loving Son and Family who will miss you forever...you have everything that life can offer. It is the process in life that matters, the hopes and dreams are much more important than the outcome. The outcome lasts for moments before the next hope and dream takes its' place.

I have tears in my eyes as I tell you with certainty that you are crushed today, but your loving memories will fill in this loss with time...

God Bless your Dad and your Family...I certainly know him after you have shared this tribute...

momszer 09-21-2020 08:20 PM

Sorry for your loss Chris.

Flyer69ers 09-21-2020 09:37 PM

The definition of Flyer Faithful.

NJFlyr71 09-23-2020 10:59 AM

Sorry to hear of your father's passing. Losing a parent is always a difficult time.

Sounds like he lived his life to the fullest, which is what we all can hope for.

You may have lost a wingman but you probably already know this ...

You have the complete air force of the Flyer Faithful in reserve, covering your 6 o'clock position.

Take care! Be safe and God Bless you and your dad.

Viperstick 10-02-2020 12:25 AM

My deepest sympathies Chris. A poignant and heartfelt retrospective of your dad & your mutual love and respect. Well done.


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