Dick and Joan

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On November 19, 2015, Dick and Joan Flutie, the parents of former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie, died within an hour of each other, both from heart attacks.

 

***

In the 60s, my dad played organ in a 12-piece big band group, so growing up there was always a keyboard of some kind in our house. Right away, my brothers and I got into music. I play the drums now, but also played the trumpet as a kid and can fool around a little on the piano. Not that they loved the music we played, but when my younger brother Darren and I put a band together, it gave dad a lot of satisfaction. He’d sit with mom, getting blown out in the back of the house because it was too loud … but he loved it.

In the 90s, dad decided to recruit some of the top high school musicians around Melbourne Beach, Florida, and form another big band. They went out and played a bunch of gigs, and even recorded a CD. One time, Darren and I told him we’d come down and play with the group. He couldn’t do enough coordinating and publicity for the event. He wanted everything to be just right.

For us, this was a nice moment. Something fun we could do for him. But for dad, it was really special — one of his all-time favorite days. You could see it in his face.

Dad may have enjoyed seeing us play music even more than sports. Music was one of his true passions. So much more personal for him. In the back of his mind, I think dad’s dream when we were young was to have a family band.

But growing up in Florida, being outdoors all the time, sports was our interest. And whatever our interest was, he and my mom were going to dive in full bore with us.

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In the spring of 1976, my family moved from Melbourne Beach to Natick, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. They had already held tryouts for Babe Ruth Baseball. Still, dad wanted a spot for his boys to play. They said no, because teams are already set, and blah, blah, blah. So dad said to give him all the kids that were cut. He would put them on a team with me and my older brother Bill, and he’d coach. Basically, he was granting the opportunity to 15 kids who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to play.

We almost won a championship.

The following fall, we wanted a chance to play football, but Natick had no Pop Warner program. So dad teamed up with a friend and started one.

He had no real background in sports. He played on the golf team in high school, but his athleticism was practically nothing. So dad read up and taught himself about the sports we loved. I remember him studying “The Science of Hitting,” by Ted Williams. How to hit. How to throw. When it came time to coach, he made himself more knowledgeable than the other guys in the league. Dad had this amazing ability to be obsessive about one thing at a time. To get locked in, poring over the smallest details to try and master them, whether with music, photography, or learning a sport inside-out.

Mom’s athleticism and strength transcended sports. They were part of an energy and determination that were amazing.

I get my drive from him. My athleticism, however, comes from mom.

The only organized thing she played when she was young was high school basketball, back when they made the girls play 6-on-6, you were only allowed two dribbles before passing, and half the team couldn’t cross halfcourt. (The first time she described it to me, I didn’t believe her.) But she was nonetheless an amazing athlete.

Let me put it to you this way: Our house was towards the bottom of a hill. About three-fourths of the way up, one of our friends had a half-court basketball blacktop. We were playing 3-on-3, right around dinnertime. Mom came up the street to get us. This is in high school — I was probably a freshman or sophomore, and Bill a year older. She challenged us to a race back down the hill to our house. She’s got her jeans on, and is barefoot.

She kicked our asses.

Mom’s athleticism and strength transcended sports. They were part of an energy and determination that were amazing. When she was in her mid-50s, mom and dad lived on a big lot with a steep downhill slope towards the lake in back. It was all brush, with big pine trees. You couldn’t even walk through it. She cleared the entire hill. She chopped up the trees, cleared it out for firewood, then planted grass seed. Mom bought railroad ties and made a winding pathway to the water. After the landscapers she hired said they wouldn’t cut the grass anymore because the grade was too steep, mom was out there in her golf spikes, lowering the lawn mower, then pulling in back up.

I think it was for her 68th birthday that we bought her a new chainsaw.

Mom was as instrumental in our sports as dad. She coached my sister Denise’s softball team, and started a cheerleading program at Pop Warner. For years, she was in charge of the concession stand at the ball field, always running across town to pick up ice, or candy to sell. She would be the first one there and the last one to leave at night, closing everything out. It was like a full-time job.

As a kid, you take for granted the sacrifices your parents make to be so involved. Looking back, it wasn’t until college that I realized that what they did was not typical. The battles they fought for our opportunities. How they arranged their lives around our interests. How during my junior year of high school, dad was offered a promotion that would have moved us back to Florida, away from my town and teammates. He left the decision up to me, and I wanted to stay in Natick. So we did. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. Where we were living in Melbourne Beach, you had to pay for trash collection. Mom used to go and spread out our trash amongst the neighbors’, then come back with a broken chair and fix it. We didn’t have a dime and bills were sometimes paid late, but we always had a new baseball glove or bat if we needed it.

But it wasn’t just about me and my siblings. My parents always advocated for other kids to have their chance. Beyond starting up and then managing different leagues (most of which still exist today), if kids needed a ride to the field, they’d go get them make sure the team had enough players to play. As a coach, dad loved and appreciated the kids who weren’t stars. He didn’t need to spend hours with the top hitters on the team, like some coaches do. Every little league team has three or four guys who just aren’t ballplayers, just going up to the plate hoping for the walk. Dad spent more time with those kids so they could just get the bat on the ball and be part of the team.

We didn’t have a dime and bills were sometimes paid late, but we always had a new baseball glove or bat if we needed it.

When those kids had success, he celebrated like they were his own.

It’s a quality they helped pass to my children.

My son Dougie has autism. He is low functioning and different. When my daughter Alexa would bring friends to the house, she would bring them straight to Dougie, make them introduce themselves and interact with him. Her teachers always said that when Alexa went to class, she would go out of her way to make the kids who were outcasts feel part of the group. It’s something I’ve tried to do all my life. First with kids on teams I played on, and then with my son.

As you get older, you understand who taught you those lessons.

Dad could never have gone on without my mom, if she had passed before him. He adored her. Even at 70 years old, he thought she was sexier than any woman alive. He’s always been that way with mom. But while dad’s health was failing from diabetes and kidney issues, mom was healthy. She was strong, still playing tennis three times a week, still hitting a golf ball, still cutting down trees in the yard. We saw how hard she worked to take care of him — 24-hours a day, wrapping his legs, helping him get in and out of the car — so we thought maybe when dad’s time came, she’d have a better quality of life on her own.

But that’s not what mom wanted. The way things happened, it was pretty obvious that she couldn’t have gone on without him, either. Even though it’s hard for me to wrap my head around, you’ve got to go with the philosophy that she wanted to be with dad, taking care of him.

But it’s still something that I’m struggling with.

More than a little bit.

***

Bill and I are in our 50s, still playing baseball just for fun. Mom and dad would show up to every game. I would always joke, “You guys got your season tickets early this year. You got the good seats, sitting right up front!”

There was nobody else in the stands.

Dad wasn’t as mobile as he used to be, so he’d bring an electric scooter right to the edge of the bleachers. Mom would set her folding chair next to him, and they’d just watch. It could be a cold, drizzly night, it could be a warm sunny morning. They were always there. They’d been there, really, all the way back to the 70s. In that spot, always together, as they had been since high school, and through 56 years of marriage.

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I remember a game where Bill was hit by a pitch. The ball was going maybe 50 miles an hour. He could have caught it and thrown it back. Still, mom got upset. Dad let out a scream and was yelling at the pitcher. Another time, one of the guys wanted to play second base. My position. In these adult leagues — “old man baseball,” we call it — guys substitute freely and rotate positions. Really, it’s just about everyone getting out and playing. So I jumped to the outfield.

Then I heard it.

“Doug is not an outfielder! He’s a second baseman!”

“Mom,” I yelled, “Relax! We’re 50 years old, for crying out loud!”

It didn’t matter how old we were. Our parents never stopped fighting for us or protecting us.

And we will never stop missing them.

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Off Duty

Doug Flutie hung up his helmet years ago, but at 52 years old, he's more active than ever. Doug spends his winter days on Melbourne Beach in Florida playing baseball, shooting hoops and paddleboarding. We recently spent the day with Doug, who is living proof that some athletes never slow down.

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