death

Lytleisms – Quotes from a Hall of Fame Smart A**

Dad suffered a heart attack and died five years ago today. Anyone that knew him understands this loss. Those that did not missed out on knowing a man who just got it. He understood when to comfort, like when he hugged my sister after she smashed her car into his while learning to drive and never said a word about the damage. And he knew when he needed to deliver a stern warning – in as few words as possible and with a sly smirk across his face – when I showed up for a workout hungover. It worked. We never needed to speak of the message again.

In To Dad, From Kelly, I described Dad as living “somewhere between the innocent and the instigator….he was a father, friend, mentor, and teacher. And he played these roles with a playful, often devious smile spread across his face.” A friend recently relayed with me a memory he has of Dad, and I think it beats at the heart of what made Dad special.

Like several examples in your book he was very good with timing. In tenth grade he pulled me aside after practice and gave me a talk telling me I had “it”. He even called my mom one day when I was skipping practice to tell me to get my ass there. Remember I was such a punk at this time most of school faculty hated me. Deservedly so. Huge in me (slightly) turning around to at least graduate and get it together. He could be very hard on me so when I was ruled ineligible for football in 96 I was mortified and scared to face him expecting him to be livid. When he finally spotted me at a bball game he was the opposite he was very tender because he could tell that’s what I needed. Can’t say enough about how big this was to me because he was so big in my eyes. To a man who grew up without a father these things are immeasurable. Many examples in your book of things I take going forward for my own family learned from great men like your dad.

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The Morning I Started

As promised in my post Revelations, I will from time to time share material originally contained in To Dad: From Kelly.  These stories, the “leftover” writings, will now become part of a separate short story collection. The entry that follows is the original introduction of To Dad: From Kelly.

The Morning I Started

I sat alone at the small, wooden kitchen table in my living room. The clock ticked past 5:00 A.M., too early even for a cup of coffee. Somewhere through the white blinds and outside a fogged window, I pictured the sun debating when it wanted to rise that morning. Soon, I hoped to fill the empty lines of my legal pad with a letter to my dead father. I planned a simple, thankful message; something covering how much I missed him since his death nearly a year earlier. When I first pressed my pen’s blue ink to the yellow pages, I had no idea how the words I spilled that morning would change me.

Through scribbled letters and margin notes without direction, I finished a letter I never expected to write. Although I told my dad that I missed him, during the process my letter became something different. In paragraph after scrawled paragraph, I found myself asking, almost begging, for my dad to answer one question: why was he not fulfilled with everything in his life after he retired from professional football? I couldn’t understand how my father, a man blessed with a loving wife, two adoring children, lifelong friendships, a storied athletic career, and enough money to live comfortably, could feel that everything he had wasn’t enough. The question haunted me like a living, breathing monster snarling at every word I wrote. I wanted to flee the scene, but crumpled balls of discarded yellow paper confined me to my chair, a reminder that until I finished the letter I had nowhere to run.

Beneath the appreciation I felt for my father were words approaching anger and resentment–two emotions I never attached to our relationship. The words felt like a strike across my chest that pushed me against the back of the wooden chair I had now sat in for more than two hours. I idolized my dad and considered him my hero and best friend. How could I feel anything but love for him? This letter, though, proved that all the nuances of our bond escaped me. I needed to understand more about him, about me, and about our twenty-eight years as father and son.

I wanted to know why my dad, an All-American running back for the University of Michigan who finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, and someone who played professional football with the Denver Broncos for seven seasons, never recovered from the sting of retiring from the sport he fell in love with as a young boy. I wondered why my dad, a man who inspired and encouraged the lives of many others, failed to appreciate the importance of his influence. I sought these answers in order to understand the direction of my own life as I coped with his death. Like my dad, I suffered from a burning need for fulfillment. Despite graduating from Princeton University and trying several career routes, including working on Wall Street for three years and in the front office of the Cleveland Browns for one year, I felt purpose missing from my life. In the past, whenever I tried to find this purpose, it only left me more frustrated and confused than before I started my search.

I lacked answers, but this letter helped me finally ask the right question. For the first time, I accepted that in order to define what I wanted and whom I wanted to be, I needed to start by examining my relationship with my father. I would study the lessons that he taught me, the questions that I either never asked him or that he never answered, and the confessions from my own life that compelled me to write this original letter to my father. My goal was to summon my own undiscovered passion–and maybe my father’s spirit–to begin a journey of uncovering personal truths.

Losing Grandpa

My grandfather died on Friday afternoon. Yesterday, we laid him to rest under the protective watch of a military salute and the sound of Taps playing into a wintry, March afternoon. Grandpa lived a full life—he fought in World War II for the U.S. Navy, ran a successful business, raised three children, volunteered for his church, never sat still, and had pristine silver hair through his final day. When he died, he did so in peace, surrounded by all three of his children, a son-in-law, and two of his grandkids.

Grandpa taught me a lesson about love and commitment that I will never forget. Less than 30 minutes before his passing, I finished a short story recounting what I learned from my grandpa. I read this story at his funeral and will now share it here:

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On Thursday evening, around 8:30, my phone call with my sister ended. After hanging up, I turned on the radio for the first time during my 90-minute drive from Cleveland, Ohio, to Fremont, Ohio. A few seconds later, with the country song Great Day to be Alive howling at me through the car’s speakers, I cried. (more…)

To Dad: From Kelly

My father, former NFL running back Rob Lytle, suffered a heart attack and died on November 20, 2010, eight days after his 56th birthday. I was twenty-eight at the time. Nearly one year later, I made a decision to write him a tribute letter. That decision changed my life. To Dad: From Kelly is a memoir that uses my relationship with my dad as the lens to examine the defining moments of my life and, while I overcome my grief, reveal personal truths and long-concealed secrets.

Dad was an All-American running back for the University of Michigan, won the Big Ten Conference’s Most Valuable Player award in 1976, played for the Denver Broncos and scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XII. When he passed away, he died struggling with the idea that his life following football lacked meaning. Despite his accomplishments, nothing filled the twenty-six year void left in him after he retired from the NFL in 1984.

I graduated from Princeton University in 2005 and immediately joined Citigroup’s Corporate and Investment Bank. Despite the makings of a lucrative career, I left Wall Street after three years in search of more professional fulfillment in the front office of the Cleveland Browns football team. When I floundered in this dream job, I found myself questioning why my decision betrayed me and wondering whether I squandered the best of my opportunities. I felt the sting of history repeating itself. Was my life becoming as directionless as my father believed his was?

Almost twelve months after his passing, I chose to write my dad a letter. Several hours and discarded pages later, I finally demanded answers: why was playing professional football, rearing a loving family and inspiring many people somehow never enough. My quest to find these answers overlapped with my own journey of discovery, and forced me to admit my deepest fears and goal of becoming a writer and public speaker.

To Dad: From Kelly tells the story of a son making sense of his bond with his late father, while using that relationship to finally understand himself. Through short stories, personal letters, and family photos, I use the lessons that I learned from my dad, the questions that we left either unanswered or unasked, and my own personal confessions to finally tackle the purpose I’ve sought for many years.