The following is a transcript for Episode 2 of Season 3. Click on the embed above to listen to, or you can subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app.
Season 3 of Razed Sports is brought to you in partnership with the Dominic Fouts Memorial Cancer Fund, which helps patients and family members pay for cancer treatments. For information on how to help, go to DomFoutsFund.org.
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Katie Hancock: “Our personalities are completely different. … He’s calm. He’s kind to everybody no matter what. Definitely not me. (laughs) But I’m competitive like he is, for sure.”
In April of 2020, my father, Tim Harkins, died of cancer. This is a tribute to him.
Episode 2: Grace
[MUSIC TRANSITION: Esther Abrami, No. 9 Esther’s Waltz]
Anyone who played sports as a kid probably remembers, as I do, the big cheer you’d do at the end of every game. You’d gather into a huddle, everyone puts their hands in the middle and you cheer, win or lose, for your opponent. 2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate? And then you name the team you just played and you go shake hands.
Now what happens if the kids get a little full of themselves, and they decide to alter this cheer? If your coach happened to be my grandfather, it was a problem.
[JOE STAEHELI: We were a pretty good basketball team so we didn’t lose many games. And we were just a little bit of a cocky bunch because your grandpa coached a pretty good team.]
This is Joe Staeheli, a childhood friend of my Dad’s. They played on a lot of teams together growing up, including a 6th grade team for St. Patrick’s Catholic School that was coached by my grandfather. This team was a pretty talented bunch. Unfortunately, they knew it.
[JOE: And I don’t know how that happened to come about, but several of us, and your dad wasn’t one of the instigators. Several of us said ‘hey this time let’s do the cheer 2-4-6-9, better luck next time.’ I mean we were sixth graders (laughs). It didn’t seem like it was gonna be that big a deal, but it turned out to be a pretty big deal.]
My Uncle Vern, one year younger than my Dad, remembers the incident — and how grandpa reacted — very well.
[VERN HARKINS: And my dad just got pissed. I mean to him that violated good sportsmanship and all of this stuff. And he got angry and he called them together and he said “I’m really upset with what you guys have done, and because of it I’m resigning as your coach. I’m not going to coach anymore.”]
[JOE: We all had our tails between our legs as we left the gym. And we were trying to,,, ‘what do we do now?’ That’s just when you’re starting to show a little independence and creativity and we got squashed. Mr. Harkins, and we always called him Mr. Harkins, he squished us pretty good.]
[VERN: So they had their own little team meeting in the aftermath and they wrote up an apology in a card and they all signed it and gave it to him and hoped that he would come back and coach.]
[JOE: But he came back and coached us, but we all learned, there isn’t any of us that don’t remember that, you know. How to be good sportsmanship, you know. Once a game is over, it’s over. You don’t rub it in someone’s face.]
Grandpa quit, at least momentarily, as a matter of principle, to prove a point. Kinda like my Dad did when he quit his high school basketball team. The difference between my Dad and my Grandpa though, is that bullheadedness — as we talked about in episode 1 — was rare with Dad. While Grandpa was often inflexible, Dad was not. He learned and he grew. He was able to self-reflect. He was able to take a measured approach to examine a situation from all sides. My Dad had patience. He had grace.
[MUSIC TRANSITION: Steve Adams, Dulcinea]
Episode 1 was all about Dad’s determination, his competitiveness. And that is a quality he definitely had, a quality he instilled in all of us to some degree. Here is my sister, Katie.
[KATIE HANCOCK: I definitely I would say a strong trait of his that I have is being competitive and wanting to push yourself. Our personalities are completely different. … He’s calm. He’s kind to everybody no matter what. Definitely not me. (laughs) But I’m competitive like he is, for sure.]
To be honest, I didn’t know what to call this episode. I thought about calmness, which Katie touched on here. Then I thought the quality I wanted to focus on was kindness. Then I thought about some other characteristics that were related to these. He was non-judgmental. He was likable. He was, at his essence, good. That’s how I ended up with “grace.” Not in the physical sense. When it came to sports, Dad was much more of a bull than he was a deer. But in the sense of demeanor. He usually handled himself with a disposition toward kindness, understanding, compassion and thoughtfulness – or in summary, grace.
And it was no different when he came home from the hospital this spring.
It was Wednesday, April 8 when Dad came home. A worker brought a hospital bed and set it up in his bedroom, near the window, with a beautiful view of the southern edge of Spokane. A nurse came to show us the ropes of home hospice care. How to navigate the dizzying collection of medications – give him this for nausea, this for constipation, and this for pain – how to operate the morphine drip, and to give him an extra bump when he needed it, how to arrange the bed and the pillows, to move him every so often so he didn’t get bed sores. And so many other things you would never imagine go into it until it is staring you in the face. The nurse would come twice a week to check in, an aid weekly to give Dad a bath. And we could call whenever we needed something. But for the most part we were on our own.
And honestly, that was fine with us. This is the way we wanted it. Us with him. We knew we could handle it – strength in numbers. And we wanted all the time with Dad that we could get.
Pretty soon after Dad came home, the well-wishers started coming. The ringing telephone provided a consistent soundtrack in the house. Close friends who lived nearby would come wearing masks and bringing gifts. They’d come alone or in groups of two or three, eager to spend some time by the bed sharing stories, to say goodbye. Father Mike, our family friend and the Catholic priest we grew up with as kids, came by for a visit too — to talk to Dad and to administer the Sacrament of the Sick.
We also started working on getting each of Dad’s seven siblings a chance to talk to him on Facetime. We started with Kathleen, Dad’s older sister, and worked our way through the list, from oldest to youngest – Vern, Mary, Cecilia, Joe, Shannon and Kelly.
These calls could be entertaining and funny, they could be touching and sad. Sometimes Dad just didn’t seem able to really engage, or comprehend what was going on, probably due to the medications. Sometimes he was just really tired and needed to rest.
But when he was alert, you could tell there was an effort on his part to handle these calls with a sense of normalcy and composure. Or maybe it didn’t actually require effort on his part. Maybe it was just the nature of his personality.
I remember when Uncle Vern called there was that immediate good-natured brotherly banter. Vern said “I’m still faster than you Timmy.” Dad replied that Vern had “no talent.”
There was also a lot of reminiscing. Including a story I had never heard before – about Dad’s apparent love for – of all things — fruit cocktail. It involved Dad as a kid raiding what they called the “fruit room,” in the basement. This was where Grandma kept her supply of store-bought canned goods, as well as an assortment of fruits she had canned herself.
My Aunt Kathleen tells the story:
[KATHLEEN KEENEY: And he’d bring them upstairs so that he could eat without Mom and Dad seeing that he was eating. And he would usually do it in my bedroom where he could throw the cans out the window into the Carters’ vegetable garden. They were berry bushes as I recall right below the window. He would throw them down there and I don’t know if his thought process was ‘I’ll go down and get those cans in the morning and throw them in the garbage so nobody will ever know’ or ‘nobody’s ever going to find them down there.’ But Mr. Carter eventually did find them and I think pointed them out to my father (laughs) and so brought an end to sneaking cans of fruit out of the fruit room.]
So, Kathleen was among the people giving Dad a hard time about this story during one of the Facetime calls. And Dad, while he clearly wasn’t feeling himself, you can hear him on the call slip so easily into that sibling banter that was so common:
[KATHLEEN: I hear you like fruit cocktail.]
[DAD: Oh yeah. Geez.]
[KATHLEEN: You know where that started …]
[KATHLEEN: When you used to sneak the cans out of the fruit room. … go up in the bedroom and eat ‘em and throw em in the Carters’ yard?]
[DAD: Never did it. Never touched a can.]
[KATHLEEN (laughing): You lie.]
[DAD: You make up stories. Can’t believe it.]
[KATHLEEN: There are some things I can remember from our young days and that’s one of them.]
I love hearing old stories about Dad from his childhood. And one common thread that kept popping up in many of the tales is how he tended to handle things so calmly. He had a way of analyzing a situation and figuring out the most prudent course of action. Not that he couldn’t be silly or get into mischief – he certainly did a lot of that. But he recognized limits. One of my favorite examples of this involved Uncle Vern and a run-in with one of the toughest kids in the neighborhood. A kid named Denny Brennan.
[MUSIC TRANSITION: Kwon, Beatbox Lighter]
[JOE: Denny Brennan was known as a brawler. You know guys from other schools would come up to look for Brennan to fight him.]
So this was Denny Brennan. One time, Vern says they were 11 or 12 years old, and a bunch of kids had gathered at Jefferson Park for a pick-up baseball game. It was one of many days Vern tagged along with Tim, his big brother, whose friends were two grades ahead of Vern in school. When they would pick teams Vern would typically be the last player chosen, the team captains deciding “who got Little Harkins.” Brennan was there, and as the game unfolded, he started verbally picking on Vern, being a bit of a bully.
[VERN: I don’t remember what but I you know he was just really teasing me hard. You know, giving me a raft of shit. And I had a bit of a temper back in those days, so I was kind of getting to the point where I’m getting really tired of this. And so at a certain point something was said, and I started to go towards him.]
And my Dad was watching this, and when he saw what was about to happen, he intervened, saving Vern from more than just some teasing.
[VERN: Your Dad steps in front and says ‘this would not be a good idea.’]
Another story was told by Joe Staeheli, and it fits in with this whole “not a good idea” concept. Joe says they were in high school at Bellarmine Prep. And somebody came up with an idea that might have seemed fun in the moment, but really wasn’t well thought out.
[JOE: One night … we went down, we were gonna jump a train and take it up to Seattle. Going down to Tacoma down in the train yards. We went down there and it was just a dumb thing. But we said ‘ah let’s get on a train and see where it takes us.’]
They barely knew what direction Seattle was, let alone which freight train would take them there. But they picked one out and they hopped into a train car. Well, not all of them did.
[JOE: We got in one of those box cars and we were there, and your Dad was standing on the side and he says ‘hey you guys, get down here. We’re not doing this.’ We all got off. We obeyed him. That wasn’t usually who he was. He usually wasn’t like that. I remember that very distinctly, looking down and him looking up and saying ‘guys, get down here we’re not doing this.’ So we all jumped down and thought ‘you know, one of us has some good sense’ you know.]
There is one more story I want to share that fits in with all of this. And this is one that I personally witnessed. It came during Hoopfest, which is a huge 3-on-3 basketball tournament that is held in Spokane every year.
[HOOPFEST NEWS CLIP FROM KHQ]
It’s this massive thing … Spokane loves big community events like this and it really is cool. They block off the downtown area and play in the streets. I played in it many times myself. So did my brother and many of my cousins.
[SOUND: STREET BASKETBALL]
So one year, the family is there and we’re watching my brother Paul play. And he’s playing against a kid who, well, here’s how Paul describes him ….
[PAUL: This guy, from what I remember, he was, I feel like he was just the epitome of everybody’s favorite hated player in HoopFest, the guy calls BS fouls, the guy who complains about everything, and then the guy who gets in your face and complains when you call a foul when he hammers on you.]
At one point, Paul drives to the basket, and this kid sticks his knee out, and basically, he takes Paul down to the pavement.
[PAUL: Like and I went down, you know like took my legs out from underneath me. And I got up ready to kill him. (laughs).]
So Paul gets up, mad, wants to fight this kid. I remember people reacting. It was tense. Somebody holds my brother back, they separate the two players. Paul goes to the free throw line, and the other team takes this kid out of the game. And he comes over and sits down on the curb right in front of us. And Dad walks over to this kid …
[PAUL: And then Dad went and sat down next to him.]
And I remember thinking, oh no what is going to happen here? And I’m ready to jump in there if things escalate. And this kid, still upset, turns to Dad, very confrontational and says “What’s up homie?” And Dad says …
[PAUL: And Dad goes “What’s a homie?”]
And that … was it.
I don’t know how Dad knew to say that – What’s a homie? — but talk about taking the starch out of this kid. The whole thing instantly de-escalated. This was a skill Dad had. He could call somebody out, without making the situation worse.
[PAUL: That’s the thing, people aren’t, don’t totally expect that type of confrontation and Dad wasn’t afraid to confront somebody. Even if … you know he wouldn’t do it in a jerky way or anything. But he wasn’t going to let anybody get away with something like that if he knew what was going on.]
I call this grace.
[MUSIC TRANSITION: Steve Adams, Dulcinea]
Back to Spokane in the spring of 2020. Dad was home. He was in and out – sometimes really alert and talkative, sometimes less so. But there were some really amazing moments in those first few days. Sometimes his room was filled with us sitting by the bed or wandering in and out, seeing if anything needed to be done, having conversations, providing background noise. Other times it was quiet and one of us could sit beside him and chat with him. At night us kids – as well as Katie’s husband Jesse – took turns sitting up with Dad with the hope that Mom could get some rest. We’d monitor Dad, make sure he was OK. Mostly just watch him sleep. We’d do two-hour shifts, then hand it over to the next person.
Meanwhile we kept arranging video calls with Dad’s siblings, making sure they got a chance to spend some time with him and to say goodbye. Plenty of stories were shared, humorous tales of fruit cocktail and beyond. And of course, there were a lot of tears.
COVID made it unwise for them to travel to see him in person, and I know this hurt them. For some, video calls weren’t enough, though, even during a pandemic. Dad’s youngest sister Shannon drove over from Seattle, 4 ½ hours away. She went out on the deck to wave to him through the glass, but Dad coaxed her inside and so she came in, wearing a mask. They talked for a few minutes, then she hopped back in the car and drove all the way home.
There were moments during this period where Dad almost seemed like his old self. In those moments, it could be easy to forget that neither the cancer nor the infection were being treated. It could be easy to forget that he was dying.
One of those nights Dad wanted something sweet to drink, root beer or Dr. Pepper, and somebody gave him some and he just sucked it down. That night he was very alert. He was talkative and engaging. People were milling about the room, and the mood was good.
And then there was this moment where I looked and I saw that there were a lot of people around, but nobody was by the bed. So I went and sat down by Dad and we just chatted for a while. And I told him how my wife Michelle and our kids sent their love, they were thinking about him, and they wished they could have been there — but because of work and school and whatever — they couldn’t.
And Dad lifted his hand and gestured at my phone, and he said “well … Where are they?” As if to tell me to stop making excuses and just call them already.
And so I made a video call. And luckily they answered. And Dad got to see them all, and they got to see him. And they talked a bit. And he and my kids made silly faces at each other. And it was beautiful.
And this was Dad. Here he was in this difficult, horrifying time and even then he didn’t make it about himself, he made it about all of us.
And I realized that this was why the phone had been ringing off the hook, and why his kids had come from across the country, and why his friends paraded to the house, and why his sister drove 4½ hours for a 10-minute conversation.
Katie sums it up:
[KATIE: it just wasn’t a thought. Because I think ultimately he fostered such good relationships with each of us and our family. That there is no hesitation to be there for him. And I think I could probably speak for all of us when I say we regret that we didn’t have more time with him throughout the years. I’m not saying once he was dying, I’m just saying generally, in hindsight, is 20-20. You just look back and go, damn I wish we had saw him 10 times a year, or I wish those times I saw him we didn’t laugh when he rambled on a story, because that’s what Dad did.
So I think it’s important you know? Everyone wanted to be there. He was such a good guy. It wasn’t even just me. All his friends wanted to call. All his friends wanted to see him. I mean everybody liked him. I don’t even think there was a thought.]
This episode was written and produced by me, Bob Harkins. Special thanks to Katie Hancock, Joe Staeheli, Vern Harkins, Kathleen Keeney and Paul Harkins, for taking part in this episode … and also to my Mom, Patty Harkins, for everything. The theme song comes from Corbyn Kites, other music by Esther Abrami, Steve Adams and Kwon. This season of Razed Sports comes to you in partnership with the Dominic Fouts Cancer Fund. For more information, go to DomFoutsFund.org. Razed Sports is a proud member of the Story Hangar podcast network.
*** *** ***
Written and produced by Bob Harkins.
Theme song: “Orbit” — Corbyn Kites
Esther Abrami — “No.9 Esther’s Waltz”
Steve Adams — “Dulcinea”
Kwon — “Beatbox Lighter”
(All music edited for time purposes)
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