Leo Collins 1919-2010

Three weeks ago, my life changed forever. Three weeks ago, my father died.

Three weeks ago, I woke up to a  typically foggy, San Francisco summer morning, and before the day had a chance to blossom, the phone rang. It was the call no son wants to receive; my father had collapsed and was near death, being kept alive by machines- and I had to return home, home being upstate New York. So, in shock, I did that, and spent a surreal day traveling back east, racing to be with my dad. There is perhaps no more difficult thing, when needing family and friends at such a moment,  to travel  alone, all day, through the masses of  travelers that crisscross this great land in summer. They, giddy with expectation of the unknown and promised, and me, isolated in my knowledge of the expected and dreaded. My Dad was 91, and in this very space, I feted him (thank god) a little over a year ago on the occasion of this 90th birthday. So, while not a complete shock given his age, its never expected.

Three weeks ago, I made it home in time to be with my Dad, though at that point, he was unconscious. I spent the night with him, just him and me, watching ESPN one last time. “Damn those Yanks Dad, they blew another late lead, they need a better set-up man”. I think he heard me, I think. Last fall, I had gone home to help reposition his house onto one floor, as the stairs were too much, and that October, enjoying our new little TV room, we exalted in our beloved Yankees returning to the top of the heap. He, with his bad eyesight, a foot from the TV, and me behind, translating the stats. What a time we had!

Three weeks ago plus one day. By the morning, it was clear what was going to happen, and the immediate family  gathered. How do you say goodbye ? In a moment, a clasp of the hand, a torrent of tears, or just that sense of of being overwhelmed , being incapable of any specific grief?. But my Dad seemed to  sense this confusion, and he slowly began shutting down. Somehow, the knowledge that we were thusly still in touch eased the pain, and there was a beauty to it all. It was wrenching, …………oh god it was wrenching, but beautiful too, yes ………………………….., and my Dad had moved on.

As I prepared to write this,  I thought about the arc of my relationship with my Dad. We were always pretty close, but  the last 10 years in particular, I was never closer to him. He would routinely call me at work, and charming the hell out of the receptionist, would usually launch into whatever he intended to talk to me about with them. This could  be weather related (“Bob’s not there?……….never mind, I am looking out at 2 feet of snow……… in October”, “I am standing on the back deck that I designed enjoying a cold beer, and its 98 degrees!”,  and the receptionist would then have to ask who this was!

And of course, he’d call about sports- all the time, we spoke of the latest outcome of our beloved Orangemen , Yankees, or Giants. Ironically, the following day after Dad passed , George Steinbrenner died, and there was no lack of ruminating as to what these two very outspoken men might have been saying, meeting on the “Great Escalator to the Sky”. Dad- ” Why did you let Pettitt go, what were you thinking?……….” I’ll never forgive you for Ed Whitson and Steve Balboni”……. why in god’s name did you let Joe Torre go?- Jesus Christ”

The amount I will miss him cannot be described here. But what I can testify to was the great life he lived, a man of the 20th century(plus).  He grew up one of 16 in a poor Irish-Catholic family in the depression, lost both parents at age 2o, fought in World War II. Can you imagine that life……………………..by age 25?  He then  found his stride in business  in the 50’s, married and brought a family up in the 60’s and 70”s and 80’s, and still saved some of his greatest personal evolutions for the 90’s.  In short, he WAS  the 20th century.

I, like many , have struggled to find stable ground this year. Losing my father, while crushing, also finds me feeling fortunate to have had such a relationship, so evolutionary, so loving, so supportive. Right up til the end, Dad prayed for me, hoping that I could find my way through this morass. And the amazing thing has been , in the last few months, that’s exactly what has happened, suddenly many opportunities have arisen.

I’m finding that a good-bye to a parent is a long, slow process. You gradually gravitate from missing them more than you can bear to understanding that they are still there with you; supporting, advising, and yes, nagging. And of course, we realize along the way how much of  our parents we have always carried with us, every single day. I thank those of you who have shared your thoughts and condolences. The outpouring of support and love has been amazing. In closing, a few snapshots to share:

Dad- beat after a tough day in the 60’s

Dad with his grand  kids
Dad with his OLDER sister- 3 years ago

My Dad last year at the Ernie Davis statue- what a day!!

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