It is hard to put into words what my parents have done for not only me, but also the cystic fibrosis community as a whole. As the story goes, my dad wanted to get involved in CF fundraising well before I was even born. He and my mom were at an awards dinner and Frank Deford was the keynote speaker. Frank talked about his daughter Alex, whom he lost to CF some years earlier. It really touched my dad, and so, it all began there.
In 1993, when I was two years old, I was diagnosed. My parents kicked it into high gear, and started the Boomer Esiason Foundation. Long story short, here we are 21 years later and things are going pretty good.
Whereas my mom is in unrelenting command of my health on the home front, my dad spends an enormous amount of his time raising money and awareness for all of us stricken with cystic fibrosis. Whether he’s on the radio, TV or computer screen, he is out there getting the message out that people can help us win this fight. I’m confident that you all know this already though.
On a more personal note, though, my dad has been a great mentor and taught me quite a few things along the way, probably nothing more important than never turning around on a commitment. He certainly leads by example. It seems like he has fifteen jobs, so I have to say this lesson has been drilled into me quite a bit. For as long as I can remember, I have been allowed to do pretty much whatever I have wanted as long as I see it all the way through. I guess you could say he really instilled a never give up attitude in me from the very beginning. No matter how tough things get, I know what my responsibilities are, and the number one responsibility is always my health, even when I am so sick I can hardly move. If I take care of every responsibility I set out for myself, I know my dad will be happy. I will too. I think happiness is certainly tied to a sense of accomplishment, and taking care of any responsibility can provide that feeling. So, when it comes down to it, I know I have two treatment sessions to do every single day, about 80 minutes each. No matter what time it is, or what is going, I’m going to do them. I can count the number of times I missed a treatment in college on one hand.
As long as I don’t put myself in harm’s way, everyone is generally happy in my family, especially my dad. That could be something as small as staying away from someone who just lit up a cigarette, or something as serious not playing hockey a few hours after coughing up blood. That really ties into the second most important thing he has taught me, and that is being able to say no. I have to tell you, I am pretty stubborn, and when I can’t do something that I want to do, I can get pretty worked up and angry. Just like the Hulk, you will not like Gunnar when he is angry, so, getting me to say no to something can be a real challenge. My dad always tells me that there is no one more important in my world, than me. That’s not the easiest thing to accept, but it makes sense. I think the way I finally learned that I needed to say no sometimes, was after getting pneumonia in the fall semester of my senior year at BC. Pneumonia put me on my back for about three weeks. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was actually drowning from the inside. There were a few nights in the hospital that Fall that were not so fun. I was discharged once I was no longer dependent on oxygen, and allowed to go back to school a week later. After that, I had one of those moments where I had to tell myself that dad had been right all along and no, I didn’t know everything. So, there it was, and from that point on, going out drinking until whenever had to be cut down. I needed to actually sleep and get back to being a normal human being, not just a college kid living in the Animal House. It’s not that the drinking was necessarily bad, but more so the fact that college life in general is just disgusting. Really, it was a small miracle I didn’t get pneumonia until my senior year.
My dad and I have been through a lot together. Some of it bad because of CF, but a lot of it has been pretty good. I think his favorite memory has got to be when we were at game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 1994 when the Rangers won it all. My dad is a HUGE hockey fan, and if you can’t tell, it sort of rubbed off on me. Sadly, I can’t say I remember that game because I was sleeping on his shoulder. How I was sleeping, I don’t think we will ever know. He always says it was the loudest sports venue he has ever been in. Three and a half years later, he didn’t put me in football pads; he put skates on my feet and threw me on the ice.
Now that I no longer play hockey super competitively (the dream really ended after high school), my dad and I play on a beer league team together. The year after retiring from the NFL, he took up hockey and learned how to skate. Now, he has made himself our first line center. OF COURSE. Come to think of it, he really considers himself to be like Mark Messier out there. We’ve all given him the nickname Reggie Dunlop, who is from the movie Slapshot, because he was the player/coach for the Charlestown Chiefs – dad is our player/coach (it’s a good and bad thing).
Playing together and going to just about every home Rangers game together, are probably our favorite things to do. Thinking about some of our past seasons and more specifically games we’ve played in, and been to, it is amazing my dad and I still talk to each other. There was one game specifically that comes to mind. I was maybe 14 or 15 years old and we were at a Ranger game. At the end of the 2nd period, the Rangers were getting blown out. It was bad, maybe 5-0, and my dad, like any New York fan, loves to get on the players of his favorite team. He started bad mouthing one player in particular, Nik Zherdev. At the time, Zherdev happened to be my favorite player because he played with style. I’ll agree he was a lazy player, but he could do things with the puck that were amazing. My dad was really laying into him to the point where my dad and I were screaming at each other in the middle of the grandstand. It was a huge scene, and we were very loud. Eventually, my dad just stormed out and said, “I’m leaving, you can take the train home.” So, I stayed at the game by myself, watched the Rangers lose 7-0 and then took the train home once it ended. Mom picked me up at the station. We all laugh about it now, but it was heated.
Father’s Day just passed, and I think that’s why I chose to write about faj, as I call him – If you haven’t seen Austin Powers: Goldmemeber, you won’t get that reference, sorry. He really has made a huge impact in my life, and I will forever be grateful for everything he has done for the CF community, we really have come a long way. This week coming up is probably one of my favorite weeks of the year. We have several fundraisers going on that I get to go to with him. We have an event in Kentucky, Cincinnati, two in New York and one in New England. It’s going to be a crazy week, but I get to spend it with my dad.