You can plan on me.
I’ll always feel like I was cheated in life. When I was five, my dad passed away from carcinoid cancer. He was 40. In 1995, it was still a rather unknown form of cancer and it took my dad’s life before he even had a chance to really fight it. In three months’ time we saw my dad go from this larger than life 6-foot-4 guy from The Bronx, N.Y., to someone so weak he could barely get up to go to the bathroom. Not only did I lose my dad at a very young age, but all of this happened during “the most wonderful time of the year.”
On December 25, 1995, cancer gave me the worst Christmas “gift” of all time. I saw him that morning for the last time. The last words he ever told me and my older sister, who was seven at the time, were “you’re the best.” The best; something I strive to be every day in every aspect of my career.
My mom is one of the strongest people I will ever know. Yea, everyone says that but I really mean it. She lost her husband, her high school sweetheart, the love of her life far too soon. At 40, my mom became a single parent with two young girls, one five (me) and one seven (my sister). She did an outstanding job raising us and although the holiday season is always a reminder of losing her husband, she did the best job of making Christmas special for us. One way she helped us cope as kids was she told us that Dad was needed in heaven so he can help make the snow for Christmas. So as you can imagine, snow on Christmas is always a little extra special for my family.
Every Christmas mom decorated a tree, left cookies out for Santa and put a smile on all day while we celebrated with family. Every year after our second course of Christmas dinner, my family sits around the table and tells stories. Dad is always a topic and every year for the last 21 years I have come away from Christmas dinner with one new story I’ve never heard before about him. Until the recent tradition of me and my cousins going out on Christmas night started, we would go home after a day of celebrations and hang out with mom. Even if that means just laying on the couches watching whatever is on TV.
For these reasons I’ll never miss Christmas. You’re probably thinking, “yeah right you work in sports,” but it’s a must for me; I must be with my mom.
It’s not that I want to be home to open presents Christmas morning or eat all the amazing Italian food my family makes. It’s that she was there for me all the years growing up when I needed her. We have a tradition; every Christmas morning on the way to whichever family member is hosting Christmas dinner, we stop at the cemetery to bring my dad a bouquet of irises (mom’s favorite flower in which he always brought her) and say hello. I can’t imagine not doing this on Christmas morning.
I realize there may be a time in my career, especially since I work with a basketball team, that I might not have the time to go home. I always know there is a possibility that I will have a holiday tournament somewhere and won’t have the opportunity to go home for the holidays. When and if that day comes, mom’s Christmas present that year will be a flight to wherever I am.
It’s so hard having a career that takes you away from family - especially around the holidays. I miss everything, as many of us do. I miss birthdays, christenings, thanksgiving, Easter, anniversaries, baby showers and so much more.
But because of my unique Christmas situation, I’ve always accepted that missing nearly every other life event and holiday with my family is worth it as long as I am home for Christmas.
I’ve been fortunate to always have “a place to go” for the holidays I am unable to head home for. The last two years for Easter I was able to take a weekend off due to none of my teams having games and head to New York. This year I won’t be as lucky.
I haven’t spent a Thanksgiving home since college. But I am thankful for the many Friendsgiving’s I have had over the last six years.
Chances are, you are or have been in a similar position as me when it comes to work interfering with the holidays. My advice is to start a new tradition of your own. Whether that be a thanksgiving, an Easter morning hike with friends (or your pet) or spending Christmas Eve out to dinner with some of your friends or coworkers. If you’re traveling with a team during the holidays, chances are you’ll be spending Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner with the team.
But whatever you do and wherever you are, make sure you call your family and let them know how much you love them. And remember how fortunate you are for having them in your lives.