My dad had a heart attack.
Don’t worry. He’s okay now. This was a few years ago and I still remember this moment in our lives like it was yesterday. It’s something that still haunts me for a brief moment every time the phone rings. It’s nothing I can seem to shake.
I was working in the mailroom of an appellate court in California back then. Part of my duties at the time were sorting through loose sheets of files and dividing them up into groups based on their case numbers. I’d get them sorted in numerical order and then take them on a cart into the file room to put them away in their proper place. It was boring, mind numbing work so I’d often listen to podcasts on my iPod while I filed away papers.
I felt my pocket buzz around 9:30 in the morning that day. I reached down and pulled out my cell phone. It was a call from my dad’s phone. I decided I didn’t really have time to talk and put the phone back in my pocket. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk to my dad; I just didn’t really feel like killing 20 minutes on the phone with him in the back of the file room with all of the filing I had to do. He called back a couple of minutes later and I ignored it again.
I sorted everything I needed to arrange and started filing papers. It took me about 30 minutes at the time. Instead of going and looking for more work to do when I was finished, I decided to head back to my cubicle to play some Minesweeper, read whatever was on ESPN.com and kill some time. About 20 minutes later, I heard people walking around my area of the floor. I decided to get up to pretend like I was going to do more work, but really I was just killing time until lunch. At around 10:35, I decided I would call my dad back and see what he wanted.
When I called his cell phone, my mom picked it up. This was extremely confusing to me because my mom and I worked for the same court. In fact, she helped get me the job. She was supposed to be in the building across the street, not picking up his phone. I asked her what was going on and she told me my dad had suffered a heart attack.
My body went numb.
Remember that scene in Fahrenheit 911 when Michael Moore is criticizing President Bush for just sitting frozen at the school reading for a minute or so and not doing anything when he’s found out there was an attack on U.S. soil? Not to say it’s the same thing, but when I found out my dad had a heart attack, I just stood there. I was incapable of reacting because I didn’t know how to wrap my head around what the reality was. I asked my mom what I should do. Should I go to the hospital right now? Should I stay at work?
She told me to not panic and that everything would be fine. I hung up with her and tried to go back to doing some work. I heard chatter around me in the mailroom but everybody sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher to me. There was no focus from any of my senses, only a blurred tunnel vision as I opened up letters.
After about 15 minutes of opening up letters and prepping them to be stamped, I informed my supervisor of what had happened. That my dad had a heart attack and my mom was at the hospital with him. My supervisor asked me what I was still doing there and I said I didn’t know.
I grew up extremely fortunate. My family didn’t have money. In fact, it was often a struggle and a point of contention within my family because the bank accounts were tight, the credit card limits were often near capacity, and my parents did everything they could to send my sister and me to private schools in Sacramento. I never fought with my parents. I had two loving parents that supported me in everything I did. My dad wasn’t abusive or absent. My mom wasn’t disconnected or a bitch. I was infinitely lucky to have the best parents I could ever imagine having.
When you grow up in that environment and you see your dad work 70 to 80-hour weeks in order to send you to a private high school you know they can’t really afford, you learn a lot about work ethic and doing what is necessary for your family. You learn that basketball players, other athletes and celebrities aren’t the role models you desire. Your hero is your dad and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the moments I found out my hero had suffered a heart attack and was in trouble, I froze up completely. I didn’t panic and I didn’t react. Time stood still and I didn’t know how to compose myself. I couldn’t see him in the hospital before he went in for surgery without completely breaking down. I don’t think I was able to say one thing to him that wasn’t trying to fight through uncontrollable tears.
He had a six-way bypass that night and was hooked up to tubes in ICU for the next few days. It was well more than a week until he was able to come home and over three months before he was back to being himself. When he started to feel good again and wasn’t shaken any more by seeing the scars down his arms and legs from where they extracted the veins to put around his heart, he would exclaim to us, “I’m back!”
It made us laugh. It made us realize he was going to be okay. I had a great support system to get through this time. My friends were there for me constantly. My mom never wavered in the way she handled the situation. She was a rock, refusing to show any fear because she knew she had to be strong for me. She could see that I couldn’t handle the situation at all and that she needed to be resilient enough for the both of us.
And everything worked out fine. My dad is healthier now than he ever was. However, whenever the phone rings and I see it’s from him, my heart still stops for a brief moment. I wonder if I’m getting a call from him to discuss the Atlanta Braves, him seeing me in the media section of a Wolves game on TV, or just checking in to see how things are going for me. I also wonder if I’m getting a call from my mom from his phone, scared that it could be bad news I can’t briefly ignore again. This happened over four years ago and to this day, I can’t shake that fear.
What’s the point of sharing this story with you?
Last night during the first half of the Knicks-Raptors game, people were unfairly all over the terrible play of Amare Stoudemire. He had six points on 2/9 shooting and just three rebounds in the first half. He looked slow and barely competent on the basketball court. He was ruining Jeremy Lin’s streak of historic basketball in some way and people weren’t getting the same excitement they felt when Lin was winning games during Amare’s recent absence.
Amare missed a week of basketball because he was with his family. He was with his family because his brother Hazell Stoudemire was killed in a car accident. While Linsanity was a bastion of entertaining basketball for hoops fans everywhere for a solid week, it was a brief moment of solace for the Stoudemire family.
“The only positive for us during that whole week was we were watching the basketball games and we were watching Linsanity,” Stoudemire said following practice on Monday. “My family was getting a kick out of it. That’s the only smiles they really had all week. It was great to see that. It’s been a tough week.”
When my dad had a heart attack and lived, I couldn’t concentrate on filing papers for my job for weeks. When Amare Stoudemire’s brother died in a car accident, he came back a week later and had a bad half of basketball. He had 13 points on 6/13 shooting and six rebounds in the second half of last night’s game. He helped the Knicks throw together a valiant team effort to put the game in Jeremy Lin’s hands on the game-winning possession.
Stoudemire wasn’t good last night. He was far from it. But he’s been dealing with a tragedy that some of us thankfully never have to experience. We often like to pick apart these guys because we expect excellence from them all times. When they don’t give it to us, we as fans immediately try to tear them down by judging the action on the court.
It’s possible that everything going on off the court is a contributing factor, and that’s something we rarely take into consideration. Take a week off from professional basketball and you’re probably going to come back a little rusty. Add the element of family tragedy that sometimes you can never shake, let alone get over in a single week, and I think these guys deserve a pass for not playing like cyborgs.
My dad had a heart attack over four years ago and I still broke down several times just now while typing out the story. It’s been nine days since Stoudemire’s brother died. I know we don’t want anything to screw up the momentum of everything good that is happening with Jeremy Lin and the Knicks’ winning streak right now. It doesn’t mean Amare shouldn’t be allowed a little leeway with his struggling play as he comes back both physically and mentally from what’s going on in his life.
Playing right now could be cathartic for him. It could be a brief escape from all of the pain he’s feeling. And that’s why I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt right now and a reprieve from criticism right now.
Sometimes your heart still stops when your phone rings.