March 8, 2023

My Dad

My father, Aubrey Fuller, passed away on Thursday, February 23. He went to the Emergency Room a week earlier with dizziness and shortness of breath. He was diagnosed with lung cancer. His decline was swift and shocking. I couldn’t believe that, within the span of two weeks, my dad went from being perfectly fine, to feeling weak, to labored breathing, to barely being able to move or speak, to … gone.

I still can’t believe it.

I grew up knowing I wasn’t my dad’s favorite child. My sister, Lori, was the first born. My brother, Chris, was the first son. Dad was obsessed with sports, and Chris was always better than me at baseball and basketball. Some of my dad’s fondest memories were coaching Chris’s teams. Up until the very end, he could recite baseball stories in vivid detail from over forty years ago.

But something changed when we moved to Louisiana shortly before my twelfth birthday. Because they were both adults at the time, Chris and Lori stayed behind in Cincinnati, so it was just me and my parents for those three years in Shreveport. I was a shy kid. Making friends—especially in a new state—was hard for me. So my dad and I became buddies back then. He bought a boat—nicknamed the green weenie because it was small, and well, green—and we fished together on Cross Lake. He bought me a set of golf clubs and we played our first hole together at a par three course. I hit a 5-wood that landed just off the green.

It was the first shot of a hundred thousand that we hit together over the next thirty-four years. The last one came on September 25, 2022 during the annual Fuller Cup golf tournament involving me, my dad, my brother, and my nephew. Dad was 81 years old at the time, so I worried it might be his last Fuller Cup. Still, I was so focused on winning that I didn’t stop to appreciate the moment.

I wish I had.

We moved back to Cincinnati in 1991 so I could attend the same high school my brother graduated from. It wasn’t a prestigious school or anything, but the area felt like home and that’s where I wanted to be. In order to relocate, my dad had to accept a job transfer to Dayton, Ohio. He commuted over two hours every day to work second shift in a General Motors factory.

He did that for me because my dad always chose his family.

I’m sure he hated his job. I’m sure he hated that drive. And I’m sure he complained about it. But I never heard the grumbles. He just worked hard and supported his family and gave his children opportunities that he never had growing up without indoor plumbing in Hazard, Kentucky. The same town where two of his uncles were shot and killed while playing poker.

Sixteen people exist because of my dad (and my mom, of course). Three children, six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Dad’s favorite pastime was bragging about his family. I can’t count how many times I met a complete stranger—one of his waitresses, golfing buddies, or neighbors—who knew my life story because Dad told them all about me. I’m the UC professor. Chris owns a baseball scouting business. Lori went back to school in her forties to become a nurse. He was so proud of us. Not bad for the children of a man whose parents didn’t finish fourth grade.

Of course, he could drive his family crazy. He was stubborn. My dad was never wrong a day in his life. Thankfully, no one else inherited that trait. (Okay, maybe a little.) And even though we had to scream in order for him to hear us, he refused to get a hearing aid. His opinions were problematic in the way that many older white men’s opinions are problematic, but I watched him soften over the years as he learned to embrace people over stereotypes. While so many others in his generation became more hateful in their later years, my dad chose love.

That’s because, for all of his flaws, Dad had a huge heart. Especially for a man from an era when men weren’t encouraged to share their emotions. He adored dogs and cats, treating them like his babies. And he sacrificed so much for his family. Maybe Dad was selfish—everyone is to some degree—but I’m not sure I ever saw him act selfishly. He worked a physically demanding factory job in order to support his family. He worked overtime. Worked second shift. He coached our baseball teams, babysat grandkids, and helped many of us financially, even though he had very little to give. He offered people a place to stay when times were tough, even though Mom and Dad didn’t have the square footage to spare in their small apartment.

And he somehow learned how to be such a good, loving, sacrificial husband, father, and grandfather even though his own dad abandoned him at a very young age.

One quick story: My mom, brother, and I met at the funeral home to make final arrangements. After we exited the building, a woman approached us in the parking lot. Their Frisch’s Big Boy waitress—where my parents ate breakfast nearly every day—heard Dad passed away, tracked us down at the funeral home, and brought my mom flowers and a few of her favorite foods from the restaurant.

Dad made friends wherever he went. He was a character. Truly one of a kind. People loved him.  

Aubrey Fuller loved coaching baseball, playing golf, going to the casino, and rooting for the Cincinnati Bearcats (the last thing he ever did was watch UC’s basketball team beat Temple from his hospital bed).

But, most of all, he loved my mom. And he loved his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all of the pets we had along the way. He sacrificed for us so we could have a better life than he did. My father wasn’t perfect, but he was a good man. And a great dad. A lot of people are going to miss him.

We already do.