Father's Day, they say, changes forever for you when you graduate from mere son to your own fatherhood.
And that's undeniably true.
Yet I'd like to propose an addendum to that old maxim.
I would humbly submit that, at least for me, Father's Day will never be the same after Father's Day 2014.
Which was the last day on this Earth for my father: Reuven Vasile Stein.
History is far more likely to remember it as the day that the San Antonio Spurs completed a five-game dismissal of LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals. Especially the historians I consort with.
Not me, though. I will remember it as the farewell to a life that started for him and ended for him in pure hell, but a life that was truly miraculous and inspiring despite bookends so horrific you wouldn't wish them on your worst Lex Luthor.
My family just commemorated the one-year anniversary of his passing Monday, between Game 5 and Game 6 of the just-completed Finals, so I've been telling and retelling the story to myself all week.
The last seven years of his life were consumed by a withering battle against Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He certainly deserved better after essentially spending the first six years of his life either in a concentration camp or on the run after my genius grandmother and her little boy somehow escaped the clutches of the Nazis who came to their door in Bucharest, Romania, when he was 9 months old and transported them to a killing field called Transnistria on what was then Ukranian soil. "The Romanian Auschwitz," they called it.
Having survived that ordeal by incomprehensible means that were never fully detailed to me -- no matter how many years I spent pressing them for a more complete picture -- he made it back to Bucharest for the right to grow up largely masking his Jewish identity in communist Romania. Then, at the age of 20, his mother and father -- who impossibly survived his own captivity in a separate camp -- arranged for an illegal escape by sea to Israel.
All so I could spend the bulk of my childhood within a half-hour's ride to Disneyland and live out sports dream after sports dream.
I promise you that, most of the time, I do maintain some semblance of perspective to understand how fortunate my brother Orren and I are. Most of the time I'm smart enough to remember that blessed can't even begin to describe the childhood my father made possible for us. He did it through his survival skills, his crazy journey, his ambition and ultimately, his excellence as a mechanical engineer, which had a company called Philadelphia Gear itching to draft him in as an overseas import in the mid-1960s.
In December, I'll celebrate the 30th anniversary of my first byline in a professional newspaper: The now-defunct Saddleback Valley News. In three decades' worth of personal fairy tales since -- with my full-time coverage of the NBA starting in February 1994 and leading all the way up to the privilege of sitting down with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and their dads Dell and Mychal for a SportsCenter Father's Day convo that'll be airing all day -- I'm not sure I've ever heard a story better than Reuven's.
He wasn't the biggest basketball man, truth be told, which is rather understandable for someone who grew up in a country whose hoops tradition starts and ends with Gheorghe Muresan. The biggest lasting quarrel we ever had was his refusal to drive the 70-odd miles from our house in Olean, New York, to Buffalo to go see the Braves in the (super) snowy '70s when I, even as a little kid, knew the weather was realistically unfit for any car.
I'm so like him it's scary.
Meticulous. Stubborn. Obsessed with my children. Lover of soccer and tennis. Trying too hard to do things too perfectly ... with a dash of neat-freakiness.
A year ago, all I wanted was for him to survive one more day. Not just because I was scheming to rush back to his bedside after the Spurs' clinching victory, but more because his mother -- Esther Stein, who we all called Fira -- was both born and passed away on June 16. I thought it would be the most fitting honor for my father to share one more thing with the amazing warrior of a woman who helped keep him alive.
But I've changed my whole perspective on it. I really don't want to wallow in grief today because cancer took my father away on Father's Day. I'd rather try to convince myself that it just makes the day his even more.
Maybe that's because he so loved the word father. I always called him Aba, which is the Hebrew word for dad, but he loved to be called and to call himself Father.
Why don't you call your father?
Will any of this crazy NBA traveling allow you to stop and see your father?
Have you told your colleagues about your father?
Don't worry, Reuvs.
I will be telling them your story until I run out of voice.