Hoarding, Microchips, Death and Sundays

jacobharris

What you’re about to read covers a subject that has been written about forever in infinite incarnations. Know I’m aware of that as you read this. I’m a writer, so I’m just arrogant enough to believe my experience with this subject is of value. I’m also just arrogant enough to use my weekly column space on the Sports Illustrated Chiefs site to write a glorified personal blog post.

Three days ago was Father’s Day. It was the second Father’s Day I’ve spent as a dead-dad person.

Everyone will, one day, have a dead dad. Even people who’ve never met their dad will eventually have a dead one. People who were adopted by two dads will end up with three dead ones. A “dead-dad person”, however, is someone whose age upon their dad’s (or dads’) death is young enough that their dad's death is abnormal enough for it to become a part of their identity to others. I was 27 when my dad died. I’ve probably got a good five years left of being a dead-dad person. The older I get, the closer I am to having a dead dad being the expectation.

Most of the positive memories I have of my dad are sports-related. Yes, that’s impossibly cliche. But it’s true. Baseball was a constant obsession because I played it and I was very good at it. But the Chiefs were a unique thing to bond over. Living 500 miles away from Kansas City, our family probably had the only Chiefs fans in our podunk town. Almost everyone there was a Reds fan, and we were too. During baseball season we were a part of the crowd, but during football season we were a family of outsiders.

My dad grew up in southeast Indiana, just outside of Ohio. This was before the Bengals existed or the Colts moved to Indianapolis, so while he was a fan of football, he had no strong allegiance. In the 80s, he met my mom in Kansas City while he was traveling as a musician. She joined his band as a singer, and they settled down in KC for a while before returning to my dad’s hometown. Naturally, dad contracted my mom’s Chiefs fandom. So that’s how I inherited mine.

When I was young, we lived way out in the middle of nowhere on a gravel road about a half-mile down from a pig farm. We didn’t get to watch a lot of Chiefs games over our antenna. The nights the Chiefs were on Monday Night Football may as well have been Christmas. I remember both dad and mom yelling at the TV about how Rich Gannon should be starting and Elvis Grbac is trash.

After my parents got divorced, one of my dad’s early shots in the “get the kids to spend more time at my house” war was to buy Sunday Ticket. Obviously, he locked up Sundays with that one. We got to watch every game of the 2003 Chiefs as they blazed through the season, screaming to their inevitable, crushing, miserable playoff heartbreak.

But sports was ostensibly the end what we could agree on. My dad was crazy. I don’t mean that in the way that many people mean that with their dad. My dad was, in all likelihood, multiple flavors of diagnosable crazy. But he didn’t “believe in” mental illness, so those flavors remained undiagnosed.

He was a bit of a hoarder. He always had a room piled with stuff. Nothing in particular. Just stuff. After my parents got divorced, his room with stuff became his house with stuff. Now that he’s gone and I own his house, I’ve got some old Windows 95 discs if you need them.

He was one of those “buy a run-down thing and fix it up” guys. All his cars were purchased under this model. He just never got around to the “fix it up” part. He made enough money to live comfortably, but unless he could pay for something in full, he refused to buy it. Not once in my life did he own a car that just ran.

Politically, he was a living Onion article. I once offered to microchip a stray dog we adopted, and he responded by telling me he’d never allow it because “that’s what the Democrats are going to use to hunt Christians when they start killing us in the streets.”

He got his religious beliefs in KC in the 80s from Mike Bickle, and when my dad moved back to Indiana he continued following him. Over the last ten or so years, the only four things I ever saw my dad watching were Chiefs games, Reds games, action movies, and a 24/7 livestream of Bickle’s International House of Prayer.

It’s because of this church that my dad became convinced he was a holy prophet whose dreams were premonitions. I remember waking up as a kid and him feverishly asking me to recount my dreams, because if he was a holy prophet, it only made sense that his son would be one too. Despite prophetic dreams being in my DNA, the Chiefs didn’t win a Super Bowl for almost 30 years of them.

So, yeah. The International House of Prayer is a bonkers cult. It’s like Christianity filtered through L. Ron Hubbard. If you’re reading this and you are a member of that place, I’m not judging you. I’m judging the bonkers cult you’re in.

When my dad got sick, it eventually led to me spending the last year of his life living with him. He couldn’t do day-to-day stuff by himself. At this point, the house he owned and had been living in for five years was the pinnacle of his “buy a run-down thing and fix it up” routine.

It was a disaster year. Everything about the house was borderline unlivable. There was a six month period where I had to poop in a portable camping toilet I bought on Amazon. He heated it in the winter by turning on a burner on his gas stove and letting the flame roll 24/7 because the furnace didn’t work and he said it was more efficient than a space heater. He slept on a half-broken sofa even though he had a brand new full-sized mattress I’d given him a few years prior. He could have afforded to buy a home where the toilet worked right and a functioning furnace heated him in his cozy brand new bed. But he chose this house instead, and now I was stuck in there too.

But there were Sundays. For the first time since 2003, we watched every game together. We got to watch the 2018 Chiefs as they blazed through the season, screaming to their inevitable, crushing, miserable playoff heartbreak. I’d never seen my dad react to something the way he reacted to watching Patrick Mahomes. He liked to react to everything as if he’d seen it before, but he couldn’t keep up the act watching Mahomes. It was like watching a baby eat ice cream for the first time.

A month after the Chiefs’ executed some offsides misery in the AFC Championship, my dad was in hospice rambling about government bombs and how he was a fixer for the mob with a secret key under his bed. The last twenty or so texts I have from him are indecipherable gibberish and emojis. In May of 2019, he died.

My internal coding was half-written by this absolute crazy person. I wonder what I’ll be rambling about in 40 years.

Dad became a Chiefs fan too late to have been personally impacted by their first Super Bowl, and he died one year too early to see their next one. His entire Chiefs fandom was nearly 40 years of constant woe with zero relief. Only a Chiefs fan dies four months before the season they won the Super Bowl started.

There’s a lot of sports-guy talk about sports being something that can “unite” people during chaotic times. It probably seems like that might be the point of this article. It isn’t. I don’t know if there is a point, besides Father’s Day being last weekend and me having nothing to write about.

I don’t think there’s anything profound or powerful on a macro scale about sports having an ability to take people with entirely separate worldviews and have them cheering for the same thing. Everyone likes pizza, but pizza is not a great unifier. It’s just a thing that everyone likes.

On a micro scale, though, it can be important. Without the Chiefs, my 2018 living situation would have had legitimately zero redeeming features.

I’m not going to tell you to tell your dad you love him. I’m not so sure I’d even go that far with my own. But I am going to thank him for allowing his delusions of grandeur to send him across the country chasing a music career. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t have the Chiefs in my life, which has only ever been a good thing that provides me positive vibes and has absolutely never sent me into week-long depression naps. So happy belated Father’s Day. They finally won one. But I’m sure you’d already dreamt it and just didn’t want to spoil me.

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