This essay is adapted from a speech I gave on July 18, 2021, at a memorial for my father, Philip M. Athey, who passed away at the age of 59.
I’d like to tell you all a little about my dad.
My dad was the hardest working, most honest and most loyal man I knew. He would do anything for his family. By the time I was four or five he was already teaching me how to play tee-ball, hook a worm, shoot a bow and turn a screw — righty tighty lefty loose-y!
Some of my favorite memories with my dad are from when we would go hunting and fishing. I remember him showing me how to place my feet when walking in the woods so I didn’t spook the deer, or how to cast my pole so the bait would land perfectly under an old dock. He was so proud of me after I killed my first deer with his father’s hand-me-down gun that I thought he would cry right there. He probably did, actually.
On Christmas morning, he would spend hours putting the stickers on my brand new Barbie dream house — and every time I moved dorms or apartments as a young adult he was there with a U-Haul, his tool box and a pair of bibs to make sure I got everything where it needed to go. And since he was a master plumber, he always did me the huge favor of drilling that stupid water saver out of my shower head so I’d have the best water pressure out of all of my roommates.
My dad was the best coach in all aspects of life. Yes, he was also my actual coach for several sports seasons, but the things he taught me on the ball field are lessons I take with me everywhere. Some of my favorites were ‘walk it off’, ‘rub some dirt in it’ and ‘don’t be afraid to throw an elbow or two’. My dad was not just a coach, but also our biggest cheerleader. At one of my youth softball games, he made sure the entire field heard him yell ‘bullshit!’ when the umpire missed a runner interference call. He got thrown out of the game and marched out to the parking lot, cooler and peanuts in tow. This was especially ironic because he always complained about those parents when HE was the one umpiring. Anyone who ever watched him umpire a game would know that he relished the moment a kid struck out looking because he could whip out one of his ridiculously melodramatic ‘strike three’ calls.
My dad taught me how to ride my bike in the parking lot at Glade Elementary School, which, coincidentally, is right across the street from where we laid him to rest. The first time I tried to turn around on my two-wheeler, I crashed. I sulked back to my dad thinking he would comfort me or let me cry for a bit. Instead he said, ‘You’re good, now do it again. And don’t fall this time.’
On the other side of the road, at Heritage Farm Park, he taught me how to drive. I was in our Tacoma, going maybe three miles per hour and slamming on the brakes at every speed bump. Eventually he said, ‘Goddammit, would you give it some fucking gas?’ We learned to never be overly timid thanks to Dad.
I know that it took a physical toll on him to do everything he did for us, but he never once allowed us kids to worry about anything. When he was sick and out of work during the 2008 recession, he would drag himself out of bed to do puzzles with me when I got home from school just so we could spend time together. Once when I visited him in the hospital, he lied and told me how great the food was and even made the nurse bring him a slice of carrot cake so I could try it for myself.
Those of you who knew my dad also know that he was very unapologetically himself. There were certainly times in my life that he embarrassed me. Probably too many to count, actually. When I was in middle school he asked me to go shoot hoops with him at the court at the high school. I was praying during the entire game of H-O-R-S-E that no one I knew would drive by and see me because my dad decided that a pair of yellow mesh athletic shorts worn over baggy gray sweatpants was the hot look for the basketball court.
I remember sitting at the dinner table once angry at him over something he did earlier that day to embarrass me yet again. He said to me, ‘Sweetheart, I’m far too old to change or give a damn what anyone thinks of me.’ There were times when I was young that I didn’t understand not caring about fitting in, but as I got older, I came to deeply respect his attitude toward life. And I loved him for it.
Years later, on the night of my senior ball at Georgetown, a friend’s dad was sharing his work in the finance or consulting or legal industry. I honestly cannot even remember what this guy’s job was, but my friend’s dad recited his credentials and résumé and then finally asked what my dad does for a living. He responded confidently, ‘I’m a master plumber for the Local 5 Union’. My friend’s dad seemed simultaneously taken aback and also extremely curious, and asked, ‘Oh, how’s business?’ My dad replied without skipping a beat, ‘It’s great, everybody’s got to piss and shit.’
He wasn’t always politically correct, but damn if he couldn’t make you laugh.
Over the past week and a half I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my father will never be able to walk me down the aisle at my wedding or meet my future children. I feel there is so much ahead of me in life and frankly it is devastating that I will not be able to share those things with my dad. But I know how much he loved me and how proud he was of me because he told me and others all the time. He was certainly not shy about how much he adored his family. I am so grateful for every second that I got to spend with him.
I’ll stop with the sad stuff, but at the same time I don’t feel too badly because anyone who knew my dad knew that he was a secret sap who would cry during the most random things, like watching the movie Baby’s Day Out. I’ll never forget when I came downstairs one day to find him with tears in his eyes listening to ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. When I asked him why, he said it was because it reminded him of my mom. That was the type of loving man that he was.
My dad was truly the best and there will never be a day that goes by that my family doesn’t miss him.