I’d be lying to you if I told you that I am sad to see Christmas come and go. I remember as a kid, there was nothing better than Christmas. The lights, the singing, the presents. It was always a magical time of year. Unfortunately for me, the last couple of Christmas seasons have been pretty …..well, blah. Although I have had the chance to experience Christmas through the eyes of my kids, personally speaking, they have been kinda’ rough.
And I think about all the things that have made the holidays rough for me. Some have been of my own making while others have been incidents well beyond the scope of my control. Regardless of the hurdles, though, here I am facing a new day and a series of new tomorrows. And I feel that I am finding the strength to get through it all as a result of someone else’s tragedy.
Last Thursday, as I was driving down to South Florida with my kids, I received a news alert on my cell phone. The text message said the son of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy had died. I got on the phone and asked my friend to look up details on the incident. I just couldn’t believe it. I was shocked. I have nothing but admiration for Coach Dungy stemming from his days as Head Coach of the Bucs and as a result of all his work in the Tampa Bay community. Here is a man that founded AllProDad.com, has spoken out against dead-beat dads, and now his son has passed away.
As you may already know, the death of James Dungy has initially been ruled a suicide. Evidence points to clinical depression in the eighteen year-old. It truly is a tragedy, and it really put things in perspective for me. On the drive down, I was pretty upset thinking about my problems and my situation. I was preoccupied with life after shattered dreams and broken hearts. All of the sudden none of that mattered anymore. The pain and persistent questions in my head were no longer relevant. All that mattered was that my two kids, both of whom were sitting quietly in the back seat watching their respective DVD players, were safe and sound.
The death of James Dungy didn’t immediately make me a better parent. I still found myself being just as hard on my kids as I always had been. I still lost my temper with them just as I had before. I made parental mistakes with them, as I am sure I will make again in the future. What did change is that in the times I was with them, one on one, I was able to better appreciate the beauty of the moment. I was able to consciously stop and thank God for the blessing He has given me in my two kids.
Friday was a long day and traffic in Miami seemed to make it longer. Daniel had given me fits all afternoon, and my mother – yes, my mother – ranked a close second in the ‘aggravate Gil’ department for that day. I dropped them both off at my brother’s house and proceeded to take Natalie out for ice cream as a reward for behaving so well. It was just her, me and Oreo ice cream at Bennigan’s. Another father-daughter moment I will always relish and one I hope she never forgets.
When we got back, Daniel and my nephews were playing in the back yard. I went out to join the fun, and somehow ended up alone with Daniel on the hammock. We were looking up into the sky, finding shapes in all the clouds. We were being silly and playful and unabashed. I would tickle him and make him laugh his sweet, 4 year-old, life is wonderful laugh. It was a Hallmark moment for me. I felt so blessed.
Perspective. That’s all I needed to help me get through my issues. I needed a reminder that even though it seems that my world was coming to an end, the real world was not. I needed a swift kick in the ass that told me that nothing in this world is more important or precious to me than my kids. I needed to find a reason to smile when I had convinced myself that all I could do was frown.
Don’t get me wrong. I am still devastated. I am still hurting inside, and probably will be for a long time. But instead of allowing little things that remind me of my relationship with Kim to pull me down, I am resolved to turn that emotion from negative to positive. I will try to not sit and ponder all the “What if’s” of the situation. I will not dwell on missed opportunities and questions unresolved. Instead, I will acknowledge that what we shared was great and wonderful and real. And even though it is over, it happened and I am a better, stronger and more complete man as a result.
I could sit here and feel sorry for myself all I want. But I have to remind myself that it could be worse. I could be Tony Dungy right now.
My heart and my prayers go out to Tony and Lauren Dungy as well as the entire Dungy family. May God give you the strength to persevere after such a terrible tragedy.