The bond between a father and his son is something very unique. A dad passes down a lot to his son. He teaches his son what it means to be a gentleman, what it means to be tough, what it means to be caring and, most importantly, what it means to carry on the family legacy.
The bond my dad and I share has been in the public eye since our 1993 Sports Illustrated cover. I realize it is not every day that a father and his son get the privilege to be on the cover of a world-famous magazine. Like anything, though, with that privilege comes an enormous responsibility. My dad – and whole family for that matter – decided the moment I was diagnosed in 1993 to bring cystic fibrosis to a national, maybe even worldwide, audience. The Remarkable Dads team asked me to talk to my dad about a few things, and then write about why I think my dad is a Remarkable Dad – here’s what I think:
(Here’s a writer’s note just for all you readers out there. I took a journalism class in 12th grade. That was like 6 years ago, so you’re going to have to excuse me while I take my best stab at this; and if Ms. KZ is reading this, I really hope I’m using all the techniques you taught me here.)
It’s no secret that my diagnosis came as a bit of a shock to my parents back in 1993. They had already known a bit about CF because of their relationship with Frank Deford. They knew the story about his daughter Alex, who had passed away from the disease, but my parents never imagined that they would be living with a son who actually had cystic fibrosis.
My dad recognized that he was a public icon in the media capital of the world, New York, as he had just been traded to the Jets. He said, “[Since I was] a quarterback in New York City, I knew that people would listen. I have never hidden the fact that I have exploited the popularity of the NFL and my stature as an NFL quarterback.” He exploited his NFL name simply so the newly born Boomer Esiason Foundation could gain traction and recognition.
Since CF impacts the American population on such a small scale, awareness has always been a concern, and so has the overall education around the disease. This is why patient-first programs have always been a backbone of the Boomer Esiason Foundation. Only 20 or 30 years ago, it was not uncommon for doctors to prescribe an overwhelming amount of bed rest for people with CF – that it was better for CF patients not to be active. They actually said that. In fact, doctors and medical professionals thought it was best for parents to enjoy the limited amount of time that they would have with their kids before the inevitable end of the road.
My parents never believed in that, and, as we now know, exercise and activity are the best treatments available for people with CF. From day one, it was decided that I would be like a regular kid. When it came to my playing sports, my dad thought, “It was always important for [you] to be a part of a team. It gave [you] freedom from the disease and offered a distraction from the responsibilities that go along with CF.” Further, he said, “[Mom and I] hoped that it would allow [you] to fulfill [your] hopes and dreams.” I definitely agree with my dad.
There’s nothing quite like team sports. Nothing lets me feel quite as free from the burden of cystic fibrosis as when I am playing hockey or watching my beloved New York Rangers, Boston College Eagles, or Green Bay Packers on TV. For those few hours out of the day, I am totally untouchable, that is until a three-score lead is blown, an onside kick is dropped, and the Packers are no longer going to the Super Bowl. That was a killer.
Personally, though, when I go back and think about my days playing youth sports, I realize where my mom and dad were coming from. I felt like I had a different uniform on each day of the week. One day it was soccer practice, then baseball, then off to play golf, then back to the hockey rink for the weekend. It never ended. I was exploring the endless limit of my athletic prowess. Dad said, “It’s hard to pick just one moment that made me so proud. I think the first time you had a single in Little League Baseball, or your first hockey goal, or really any first you may have had always made me incredibly proud, but your touchdown pass, the one that [was on ESPN] makes me the most proud because of the way your sister and mom and all your friends reacted to it. It was something special.”
If athletics and my dad have taught me anything, it’s that hard work definitely pays off. Just like my dad had a tough time thinking of one moment in the world of sports that brought him pride, I too have trouble thinking of just one time when I felt like I was on top of the world. I guess it was always cool to score or lay a huge hit in hockey, and sure the touchdown was special, not to mention that it was also on ESPN, but I have this one moment that always sticks out for me when I think about my athletic career.
I was in 8th or 9th grade, and a coach (who may have been my dad now that I think about it) really leaned on me in a pinch. It was the end of a hockey game, and we had to protect a one-goal lead. We had a short bench that day and we were going to be killing off a two-man power play for the rest of the game. The other team pulled their goalie to make it a 6-on-3-man power advantage. I didn’t come off the ice from the time that puck was dropped in our defensive with about 2 minutes left until the end of the game. We ended up winning, but more importantly, I don’t think I had ever felt a sense of triumph like that up to that point in my life. Just like any coach would lean on a featured player, I was chosen to be that player despite having a little bit of an extra challenge when it came to catching my breath.
Hard work is not the only lesson I’ve learned from Pops, by the way. He has always driven into me a vast sense of commitment and responsibility to both everyone around me and myself. I will never be a quitter. I always see anything through until the end because, well, that’s just how it has to be. Honestly, the only reason I spend so much time fighting this disease, hours every day, is because I really do believe that one day it will be in my past. I want to enjoy that day.
I know now that playing hockey isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be when I was younger and healthier, but it is still fun. I don’t want it to stop being fun. It’s especially awesome because I get to share these moments with my dad. He’s a rabid Rangers fan, just like me, and we play in an adult hockey league together. I think he sometimes forgets that he isn’t actually playing as a professional athlete anymore. His competitive instinct is unlike anything I have ever seen, which probably speaks to his level to commitment and responsibility.
I know that our recreational hockey team is small scale, but it is pretty representative of his character overall. I can guarantee you that my dad will agree with that statement. I try to feed off his overwhelming sense of responsibility. I think we all do, and when I say “all” I mean the Long Island Wasps hockey team (that’s what we call ourselves). When it comes to CF, though, he always says, “For dads, there is a responsibility that has to be met when a ‘special needs’ child is involved, and fathers must recognize the stress that is evident. This is no excuse not to support your child under any circumstances.”
There is a lot of stress associated with cystic fibrosis, let me tell you. I know all about it from the patient side of things, but I can’t even imagine what my mom (especially, yikes) and dad go through day-to-day. As my dad said, “[You’re an] adult, you can understand this now. [You] can never take life for granted. There is an ugly, nasty aspect to CF and as [you] know some people with CF don’t make it as far [as we have to this point]. It’s a significant reality we all have to face.”
Pops is totally right about this. There is definitely a deep, dark side to this disease, one that I try my hardest not to think about, because honestly, why should I? We all have something we need to deal with in life; my thing and my family’s thing is cystic fibrosis. If we all play our part, and fight it together, I’m confident that I will never have to walk down that dark road. There are times when aggression is the best course of action. Guess who taught me that? When it comes to fighting CF, there is no better way to be. I know I have dependable teammates alongside me and, quite frankly, it’s been quite a remarkable life that we’ve made for ourselves so far.
About Remarkable Dads
Remarkable Dads is an online community brought to you by Omaha Steaks that is focused on all things dad. Whether you have a dad, are a dad, or one day will be a dad, the Remarkable Dads community invites you to pay homage to the men who are remarkable dads of the world. Audiences everywhere are invited and encouraged to share what they love about their dads – and how their dad has touched their life in unique ways – with anecdotes, stories, photos, videos and more. Remarkable Dads can be followed on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RemarkableDads), Twitter (https://twitter.com/RemarkableDads), Tumblr, Pinterest and other social channels.