My brother lost his long battle with cancer last week.
I was three years old when my brother Tim was born, and my earliest memories include the excitement about the arrival of a “bicentennial baby” in July 1976. For those who knew him later in life, it might come as a surprise that Tim was a pudgy little kid. He was a playful and loyal younger brother. In 1978 our family moved from New York to Seattle. We settled in the suburb of Renton, and our brother George was born there in 1979. We grew up in a tight-knit suburban neighborhood called Rolling Hills. It was a time when kids spent days playing in the backyard, riding bikes around the neighborhood, playing ball in the cul-de-sac, and wandering through the nearby woods. In most ways, ours was a pretty ordinary 1980s suburban existence. But the hints of the man that Tim would become were there when he was a kid.
Our neighborhood’s signal feature is a competition-length neighborhood pool, and from ages six through eighteen, we were all part of the neighborhood swim team with scores of other kids. George and I were decent swimmers, but Tim outshone us in and out of the pool. Eventually my younger brother broke every one of my records and many others. But far more than a competitor, Tim was a natural leader. Kids of all ages were naturally drawn to his enthusiasm, kindness, and goofy sense of humor. By his teen years, Tim could often be seen at the pool with a half-dozen kids draped all over him in some kind of game. When he became team captain, Tim knew each kid by name and had inside jokes with most. His penchant for industry and enterprise were also evident early on. He rode a paper route on his bicycle every day and socked away the money he earned. So beloved was Tim to the neighborhood kids that they’d often line up on curbs and doorsteps to receive their daily papers or ride along with him for fun. One neighborhood parent called Tim the “Pied Piper of Rolling Hills.”
And indeed, teenage Tim’s almost supernatural way with kids reflected something kind of magical about Tim’s entire life. Children were attracted to Tim for the same reason so many others were. He had natural empathy and an instinct for others. He had the politician’s gift of making every person he met feel important and valued.
Tim’s way of winning easy friendships was a kind of super power that amazed and perplexed me as his stern and socially awkward older brother. Later in life I came to understand the secret to Tim’s interpersonal superpower: Tim made people feel valuable because he genuinely valued them, wanted to know them, and wanted to help them.
Kids understood that about Tim intuitively.
Eventually, so did everyone else.
Those qualities carried through Tim’s teen years. He was a standout two-sport athlete in high school, was band president, homecoming king, and general big man on campus. Like his brothers, Tim eventually went to Seattle University where he graduated with a degree in finance in 1999. He was on the swim team and played varsity soccer at Seattle U. He competed in the national championship swim meet, and played on the soccer team that won Seattle U.’s first national championship in 1997. Tim formed deep and lasting friendships with classmates and teammates in those college years. He spent summers working and coaching youth swimming and soccer, which he continued into his early working life. After graduation, Tim worked in insurance and finance in the Seattle area.
I got married in 1997 while Tim was still in college, and when I became an expectant father I was anxious. Although he was my younger brother and still just a college student, I looked to Tim for confidence. Brother Tim became Uncle Tim in 1998 when my daughter Tess was born. Like every child, Tess adored Tim, and Tim adored her right back. My son Antonio was born two years later and soon was just as smitten.
When we moved from Seattle to Michigan in 2001, Tim sent my kids an Advent Calendar. But instead of angels, or shepherds, or stars, or crosses, or the usual Christmas stuff, each day had a picture of Tim’s face on it. Beneath each picture was a piece of chocolate. “I want the kids to associate me with good things,” he said. Tim’s trademark loving attention and goofy humor endeared them for life.
Following the old Alcoholics Anonymous advice to “fake it till you make it,” I learned to be a father by imitating my younger brother. His silly, playful and patient love for my kids helped me gain confidence as a young father—and presaged his own remarkable fatherhood.
It turns out that making others better was another one of Tim’s superpowers. In the week since his passing, I’ve heard from more and more people stories of how Tim helped them become better human beings.
In 2004 Tim moved to San Diego. When he made the move, he told me that he fell in love with this city years before and felt drawn to it. He learned the joys of fish tacos and took up surfing. He told me once: “The best part of being a surfer is walking up and down the beach looking like a surfer.”
To support his beach lifestyle, Tim first worked at Nordstrom before moving into mortgage banking. His combination of financial acumen and interpersonal grace made him a successful mortgage banker.
While working at Nordstrom he met Lisa. Having fallen in love with this beautiful city, it should be no surprise that Tim fell in love with one of its most beautiful women. They struck up a friendship, and then a romance, and then a marriage in 2012.
In 2013 Tim finally got the chance to fulfill the role that he was meant for when Audrey Grace was born and Tim became a dad. He got to be a dad for the second time when Hannah Faith joined the fun in 2016.
Everything that made Tim the Pied Piper of Rolling Hills, an inspiring youth soccer coach, and beloved Uncle Tim emerged a thousand fold in Tim the silly daddy. Tim was a hands-on dad: reading stories, down on all fours playing with his girls, bouncing them on his knee, and generally being his attentive, affectionate self. Tim would compose silly songs extemporaneously to lend fun to everyday life. He was utterly devoted to his daughters.
Tim became a father and a cancer patient almost simultaneously; it is impossible to appreciate what an extraordinary father he was without the context of that horrible disease.
Tim got his cancer diagnosis at age 36, with his first baby on the way. The cancer was quite advanced by the time it was diagnosed. Physicians gave him little hope after initial treatment, but Tim was determined to find a way to live. For the next seven years, Tim sought every angle and avenue to survive. He read voraciously. He sought second and third and fourth opinions, traveling to specialists in Seattle and Houston to help him fight his disease. At least four times over the past seven years Tim was given grim warnings that he had just months or weeks to live. Each time he defied the odds, seeking out another treatment, another therapy, another surgery, anything to keep himself alive.Through it all he kept an almost unbelievably positive, optimistic attitude. Privately, I know my brother was often plagued by fear and doubt, but to his friends, to me, and to my children, he was cheerful and resilient. For his girls, he was still silly daddy: trips to the beach, pool, playground, and zoo filled their days.
But that resilience carried a terrible cost.
The cancer treatments that Tim received were physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Discomfort, fatigue, pain, and loss of strength and mobility were his daily reality. These were difficult adjustments for a man who had been vigorously athletic for virtually his entire life. It’s impossible to overstate just how much devotion to family kept Tim fighting cancer. As Tim was struggling to recover from another round of treatment, he told me more than once that if he were alone, or in his seventies or eighties, he would never endure the pain and indignities of cancer treatment. But in his daughters he had a reason to keep at it for the chance at another birthday, another silly song, another moment with the family that he loved so much.
Watching him these past seven years, I learned that Tim had yet another super power: an inexhaustible reservoir of courage and will to endure where most others would give up. Paternal love was the wellspring of that courage.
Last September I visited my brother in San Diego for a few days. While I was here, he got some bad news from his oncologist. Tim and I had lunch on the last day of my visit and he told me: “I’ve been dodging bullets for six years. I’m just going to have to dodge another.”
That image stuck with me ever since. Every time someone asked me about how about Tim was doing, I told them he was dodging bullets. Tim was so strong, so resilient, so graceful and athletic—I’d smile as I imagined him dodging, weaving, dancing, almost playfully evading cancer to the squealing delight of his daughters.
Two weeks ago I came to San Diego when Tim had been hospitalized again. This time there were no more therapies, no more surgeries, no more room to dodge or dance.
Among the many cruelties of coronavirus, children were forbidden from visiting the hospital. That made Tim desperate to return home where he could be with Audrey and Hannah, even as he saw the end approaching. Thank God, he was finally given permission to let us care for him at home.
Only when I began to help care for Tim at home did I come to appreciate the true costs of Tim’s devotion. His strong, athletic frame had been decimated. In his prime, Tim was a strapping 200 pounds; in his last days I held him in my arms and he could not have been more than 130. His body was riddled with more than two dozen scars from seven years of surgeries and treatments. The terrible truth became clear: Tim had not been dodging bullets; he’d been taking them.
Martial metaphors are cliché when describing people’s struggles with disease, but seeing, touching, and holding Tim in his last days revealed a man who had indeed been fighting in every way he could with everything he had. He wasn’t dodging or dancing, he was standing and fighting desperately for every moment another moment with his family.
Each scar on Tim’s body was a monument to that devotion.
In his last days, Tim’s only thoughts were for his family. At times he felt like a failure for leaving them behind. In reality, Tim was victorious in creating two precious new lives and building a community, weaving a blanket of love around his family that will care for and sustain them always. In his last hour on this earth, I told him so.
Three days ago we laid my brother Tim to rest in a COVID-era service that gave a strangely sparse sendoff to an intensely social life. He was a son, a brother, a husband, and a friend. He was a leader. He was a courageous father and a silly daddy.
And he was my hero.
Rest easy, brother.