From One Storyteller to Another: A Tribute to My Dad

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Alan Van Dyke, second from the right, with the sons he taught to enjoy athletics. Cory is second from the left.

It’s arguably the best time of the year as a sports fan, with March Madness in full swing. The contrast of the pure exhilaration and devastating heartbreak between the winner and loser in the college basketball games at this point in the season is unmatched. However, it just doesn’t feel the same this year.

Because as I sat on the couch watching small conference championships or bubble teams fighting for the tournament, Dad was no longer sitting in the recliner to my left. It’s now been nearly three months since Dad passed away, and to me, the effects of that are never more evident than when watching a sporting event. In the truest sense, a part of me is now missing.

You see, Dad had a love for sports that was unrivaled. It was that love that he transferred to me, my two older brothers Greg and Kyle, and even Mom. It became a part of us.

From the time I could walk, there was a bat and ball in my hand along with a Fisher Price hoop in our kitchen. Instead of being the envy of the neighborhood with a top-notch lawn, Dad converted our backyard to a half-court basketball court, three-point line and all. Meanwhile, the front yard featured home plate and a dirt patch in the middle of the yard for a pitcher’s mound.

It was here where I would go to shoot hoops out back and before you knew it, Dad was stopping whatever he was doing to round the corner and become my personal rebounder for the next 15 minutes. Growing up, I played travel baseball, and before every road trip or single game, he would pitch me batting practice in that front yard, oftentimes chasing a ball down the road if I turned on it too much. In the offseason, he would willingly scuff up his knees to crouch down in a catcher’s stance so I could work on perfecting my new curveball grip.

Looking back on it, Dad lived vicariously through the sports that my brothers and I played once his playing days were done (and trust me, he was an athlete himself. His nickname in softball was “The Vacuum” at shortstop because he never let anything past him, and he could still beat my brothers and me in H-O-R-S-E with that stupid corner jump shot of his). There wasn’t a game of ours that went by where he wasn’t in the stands. From the championship teams that I played for to the teams that only won one game the entire season, Dad NEVER missed a game. That’s part of the reason why I consider him my biggest supporter.

Alan Van Dyke

All this time, though, Dad never really rooted hard for a college team growing up. He attended a small college in New Jersey, so he didn’t have any allegiance as an alumnus … that was, until my oldest brother Greg decided to attend Virginia Tech. As a result, Dad and the rest of our family became die-hard Virginia Tech fans. And just like anyone who’s ever rooted for the Hokies, I’ll always cherish sharing those joys and frustrations with him.

One story involving the Hokies always sticks out in my memory. During the 2013 football season, Virginia Tech was facing Boston College (a game the Hokies would eventually lose 34-27) and the half was winding down. Instead of throwing a Hail Mary, Frank Beamer decided to bring on Cody Journell for a 56-yard field goal. To this day I remember the mutters from Dad in his recliner, questioning if Beamer had dementia, and then declaring, “If Journell makes this, I’ll smear peanut butter on myself and let the squirrels eat it.”

Sure enough, Journell drilled the career-long field goal, and we’re all losing it, pretty much in tears from the belly laughs happening inside our living room. No, Dad did not end up fulfilling his promise, but it’s a memory to reminisce on that encapsulates the insanity of being a Virginia Tech fan.

Over time, I’ve realized that Dad not only passed his love for sports to me, but he also handed down his proficiency as a storyteller to me. Dad always knew that stories wrapped up in the emotions of sports were the best ones to tell to anyone who would lend an ear.

He would always explain how he became a Dallas Cowboys fan by retelling the story of ‘Bullet’ Bob Hayes. When my Dad was a little kid watching football, Hayes was considered the world’s fastest man as an Olympic sprinter, and the Cowboys drafted him in 1964. Dad recalls watching Hayes blow by defenders on go routes. As a result, teams first started instituting zone coverage because no cornerback could keep up with Hayes in man. Dad loved telling this story of how Hayes was the reason why he was a Cowboys fan, and in turn, it’s the reason why I became a Cowboys fan.

Ask any of my brothers what MLB record will never be broken, and all three of us will answer Johnny Vander Meer’s record of two consecutive no-hitters. You hear a lot of talk about Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, but Dad was fascinated with Vander Meer’s record. He would always light up with excitement when talking about it because he noted how no one would EVER pitch the three straight no-hitters needed to break this record.

Out of all the teams that Dad rooted for, none was quite like his love for the New York Mets. (Luckily my older brother Kyle was the only one to follow in Dad’s footsteps rooting for them). I heard all kinds of stories about Dave Kingman, the modern-day equivalent of Adam Dunn, who would either hit a 500-foot bomb or strike out when with the Mets.

Then there were the 1986 Mets, Dad’s pride and joy, the last time the Mets won the World Series. This was Dad’s favorite team of all time and where the majority of his stories originated. When Bill Buckner allowed the ball to roll between his legs for the Mets’ game-winning run in Game 6, Dad never dwelled on this iconic moment, but instead, showed me the value of perspective by explaining how no one would ever talk about that blunder today if the Red Sox had gone on to win Game 7.

These words and the stories that I’ve shared above probably don’t mean a whole lot to someone else, or maybe they do. Either way it’s exactly who Dad was.

Over these past two and half months with Dad gone, I’ve been attempting to channel the inner writer in me to find the right words. I’ve wanted to be raw and honest in what has been the most difficult season of my life.

My mind drifts to areas of my life where there is now a void. I incessantly think about how Christmas will never be the same and how Dad won’t be there for my graduation next year or my wedding in the future. Even now, it’s challenging to do simple everyday functions and be surrounded by people living a normal life when I simply can’t anymore.

Still, every day I put my two feet on the ground to begin the day and that’s a win. I live knowing that Dad was and still is my biggest fan. Even though I’ll never see him on this earth again, I find hope in this dark time knowing that I’ll get to watch the big game with him again in Heaven.

Remember in the beginning when I said a part of me was missing? Well, now when I sit down and write, that missing part is put back together piece by piece. While Dad was a storyteller through the spoken word, every word that I type out on my computer screen is another piece of the puzzle connecting to tell a beautiful story.

A story that I pray continues to make Dad proud.

— Cory Van Dyke


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49 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I can’t reply to everyone, but I just want to thank all who commented. It truly brought a lot of comfort to hear the kind words and stories of everyone’s own Dad. As I’ve learned during this time, I hope it showed everyone to just love your loved ones so well.

  2. Cory, my sympathies. And to everyone who replied. My Dad is 83, still my best friend … i have lost friends but dread the day I get the call about my dad. I truly admire those who keep fighting the good fight through loss after loss.

  3. Cory, your dad is likely looking down right now, proud that you’re quickly becoming a TSL hall-of-famer. You’ve been a great addition to TSL. God bless you & your family. Great piece, Cory.

  4. Great read, Cory. My sympathies. I lost my dad in November 1980 when I was in my mid 20s. Missing him still hurts. He was a great guy, who was adored by me and all of my friends. He instilled in me a lifelong love for sports, and I would not be the person I am today without his influence. We can all carry such lessons and traditions proudly.

  5. Cory, I feel your pain. Mine passed away in October and March Madness was always a favorite of ours. Three weeks of enjoyment talking about the tournament and the brackets always seemed to make the miles that separated us fade away. It isn’t the holidays that make me miss him most … it’s the traditions and routines that we shared all of these years that I’d like to have back.

    I thought I’d lose interest in the tournament this year, but I find that I’m definitely more interested than expected. It has become a time to remember my dad and the fun we had come tournament time. Don’t dread what is to come, Cory. Embrace it as an opportunity to remember your dad and the time you had together.

    God speed my man!

  6. Well done, Cory….your dad is undoubtedly proud of you every day. In all ways but the obvious one, you were a very lucky young man to grow up with a father like him.

    I’m not a Mets fan but he would have been jealous of me….I got to witness Dave Kingman hit 3 HRs in one game for the Mets. 35+ years later, I still remember it vividly.

    Keep telling your stories; you inherited your dad’s knack for it!

  7. Continued prayers for you and your family. May you be ever aware of the ways that your Dad’s love, teaching and influence are still with you every day of your life. And may that awareness bring a smile to your face and thankfulness to your heart. God bless.

  8. Cory, I was deeply moved by your eloquent essay about your Dad. To be human is to realize that we are born, we live our lives and we die. It is the human condition. Even so, the death of a beloved parent is a hard kick in the gut. It is just hard and there is no remedy. Time makes it better but it never goes away and that is probably a good thing in the long run. Most people don’t have the terrific and special relationship you had with your Dad. He has left you and your brothers an enduring legacy of love. God bless, my Hokie friend.

  9. God Bless Corey. I could have written that article (although not as eloquently) about my own dad. All of my childhood memories of my dad revolve around sports..from me tagging along toi the YMCA on Saturdays while he played, very competitively I might add, Handball. That was the root of my gym rat status that lingers all these many years later. It extends to playing baseball EVERY night after dinner..every single night that I didn’t otherwise have practice or a game.

    We capped it off with a glorious 22 year run of going to all Tech home football games (my wife begged off as soon as we got engaged). Those are memories you can’t buy, and memories that are worth everything to I KNOW yours are to you!.

    Remember all that good….He is in heaven and with you every second of every day. I lost my dad and best friend a year ago this St Patty’s day. For me, it is football season that seems a bit hollow…but I’ll go as long as I am humanly able (he will be there every game, right beside me). I know YOUR dad is just as close to you.

    All we can do I enjoy every day we have and hope (in my case) to be half the man our dad’s were. I’m sure your dad is proud of you, and smiling as he looks down. It’s all they would ever ask, I am sure…

    God Bless and Go Hokies!!

  10. Cory
    It is great to hear about your father and his influence on all three of you. I am sure it is hard. Keep this thought in mind. There are those of us who wish we could cry our hearts out when our father passes.
    Mine left me when I was 2. Only seen him a couple of times since. Now my kids are grown and I have tried to be like your father.

  11. Cory- That was a terrific tribute to your father and I’m sure he is looking down with approval! Lost my Dad my Sr. year at VT so I can understand what you are going through. Cherish the great memories and encourage others to talk about your Dad and share their stories. Celebrate his life like you are doing with this great tribute. God bless you and your family.

  12. You will always have great memories of your Dad through the shared love of sports. It sounds like your Dad went out of his way to ensure his kids loved sports and realized how it can bring fathers and sons closer together. Years from now, when you have kids of your own, you’ll do the same thing with your children. Thanks for sharing your personal story.

  13. What a wonderful legacy your father has left. Looks like the acorn fell close to the tree. God bless.

  14. I can relate. My Dad was my best friend and our trips together to Blacksburg after my graduation to watch multiple big sporting events are the very best ever. I continue to put together a list of games to tell Dad about when we are reunited in heaven. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your entire family. May God bless.

  15. Inspiring words, Cory. Thank you for your honesty. I lost my dad four months ago so I can relate to your story.

  16. That was a wonderful tribute. Cherish the memories.
    For the past 54 years, I have attended every Virginia Tech home football game with my dad. He is 91 years old now, and getting up the stairs at Lane Stadium is no longer easy for him. He just made the decision to give up his season tickets. I am grateful to still have him in my life, and I am sure we will be in front of the television continuing to cheer on the Hokies this fall. Each game spent together has strengthened our father/son bond and provided some great memories. One of my favorites memories was sitting in the pouring rain against Georgia Tech when Lee Corso’s car was struck by lightening and the game was eventually cancelled. We still talk about that one.

  17. Thank you for that tribute to a GREAT human being. As a father to a 23 year old girl, I realize my legacy is carried on with her achievements. Your father has more than accomplished this. He is consumed with pride and definitely smiling down on you.

  18. Thanks for sharing and my deepest sympathies. I’m going to see Darryl Strawberry next week when he gives a talk at a men’s conference. I’ll be thinking of you and your Dad.

  19. Beautiful tribute. I think the way that I remember the quote, although I can’t the person who said it, but it goes something like this, When you lose someone at first there are just tears then there will be tears followed by a smile from a memory then a few tears from time to time but most will be replaced by smiles and laughter when your family remembers the stories and good times. God bless you and your family, by the way I loved the peanut butter story.

  20. Thanks Cory and prayers to you and your family for healing. I believe your Dad would be extremely proud that his love and passion for sports continues to live on in the rest of you.

  21. Blessings Cory. Appreciate the thoughts, which reminded me of how my dad did many of the same things as yours.

  22. Well done! Thanks for sharing what must have been a very difficult thing to write. Dads are the best storytellers.

  23. Thanks for sharing some of your dad with your readers. He continues to be proud of you! God Bless you and your family!

  24. Sharing sports with your Dad is such a powerful bond between many of us and our Dads. Thanks for sharing Cory. I hope you continue to heal and cherish your memories. May your story empower us all to be even bettter fathers and sons. I’m going to go call my dad now.

  25. Wonderfully written. A good father is to be cherished, and his son(s) are the evidence of his legacy. May God bless you through tough times Cory!

  26. Know the feeling of the phone call you can’t make now. Cherish every memory & never stop making more with your loved ones!

  27. Thank you for sharing… best wishes to you and your family. I’m truly sorry for your lose.

  28. Thanks for sharing Cory. You will be a great Dad in the future because you had such a great example to learn from. God Bless!

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