Last Sunday's death of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon hit home. It had nothing to do with him being a professional athlete. Nor was it because he lived here in St. Petersburg. I didn't know him, either, only meeting him briefly as Colin got an autograph.
No, the connection was far more personal. He was a daddy, just like me.
When you take away money, jobs and possessions -- all things we've been told, for good or bad, are defining factors -- there are two types of men -- fathers and those who aren't. Fatherhood crosses every line -- racial, socioeconomic, spiritual. It's a common bond for millions of us.
Fathers face an enormous pressure to provide for their families, serve as positive role models and lead our little ones down the path of becoming an adult. Sometimes we get it right. There are times, though, when we're the ones learning. Still, we don't complain. Choosing to become a father means choosing to accept that responsibility.
Over the past week, from the initial news of Wheldon's horrifying crash to yesterday's funeral and memorial service here in his adopted hometown, one thing became crystal clear: as much as the speed of racing brought him fame and fortune, it was being a father to Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 7 months, that kept him grounded.
If you're looking for one quality that defines a good man, there you go.
Over the past 10-plus years, from the day I first held Colin only minutes after his birth to watching him score a game-winning goal with less than a minute to play yesterday, I've done my best to be a good man. More often than not, I believe, I've reached that goal. Lessons have taught him right from wrong. Honesty, he's learned, is the best policy. He has been held accountable for his actions, as well.
Along the way, we've shared a growing lifetime of memories, far beyond hockey, that bring smiles to our faces. From our fishing (mis)adventures to flying kites to many, many innings of watching minor league baseball, it has been, and I hope it remains, a fun ride. That, to me, is what separates a Daddy from a father.
For whatever reason, which remains elusive to this day, the man listed as my father on my birth certificate played no role in my life. Thankfully, I had plenty of other positive role models, from within and outside of my family, to guide me down my path. In most cases, I learned what to do.
I also know the gut-wrenching pain of losing a parent as a child. That early morning call, when I feigned sleep because I wanted it to be a bad, bad dream, is fresh in my mind, like it happened only yesterday. Nearly 40 years after the fact, it still brings tears. No child should lose a parent.
Wheldon's sons, Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 7 months, are far too young to even remember him. The only memories of their far-too-short time together were his. As they grow up, I hope they take comfort in knowing that their Daddy, in spirit and from high above, will be watching over them, protecting them and doing his job.
That's what a good daddy does.