By SCOTT M. JOHNSON
KIRKLAND – If things happened the way they are supposed to happen, Kerry Joseph and his father would have spent Thanksgiving Day talking football. Donald “Duck” Joseph would have been taking time between bites of turkey to tell family members for the thousandth time that he knew all along his son would be the Seattle Seahawks’ starting strong safety.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that well. Kerry Joseph fulfilled a promise of becoming an NFL starter, but not until three months after his father’s death.
“It’s something you could write a book about,” said Joseph, who was given the starting job six weeks ago at Reggie Tongue’s expense. “I still think about my dad a lot. I just wish he could be here to see me out there starting like he always wanted me to. But I know he’s smiling down on me right now.”
If Joseph’s thoughts ever stray from his father’s memory, they won’t drift far. Inside his locker at the team’s eastside facility is a program from Duck’s funeral as well as a poem written by one of Duck’s sisters.
The theme of the poem, entitled “Don’t,” is that Duck Joseph’s family should move on without him:
Don’t spend too much time mourning, tears are for the sad.
I left to be with Jesus, and this should make you glad.
If Kerry Joseph ever seeks inspiration, he needs look no further than the words taped to the back of his locker. His father’s memory provides all the motivation Joseph needs to get through the ups and downs of NFL football.
Kerry credits a sort of divine intervention from his father for earning a full-time starting job for the first time in his career. As his father lay in a hospital bed last summer, Joseph promised him that he would eventually become an NFL starter.
“I knew he could hear me because I asked him to wink for me, and he was able to wink,” Kerry said. “I know he heard.”
The spirit of Duck Joseph goes much deeper than that. Kerry’s father spent his entire life with a heart condition that caused him to have surgery three times before any of his three sons were born.
“I didn’t know anything until one day I saw him without a shirt and he had a bunch of scars on him,” said Kerry, the middle son. “Just curious, as a (5-year-old) kid, I asked him what it was, and he talked to us a little bit. But he never did go into much detail about it. He just kept living, kept doing what he wanted to do.
“When times would get tough for me, I think back on the tough times he went through as a kid. He had three heart surgeries as a youngster. It can’t get any worse. I look at him and the way he led his life, and it lifts me up, it motivates me to go out there and do the best I can do.”
The severity of Duck Joseph’s heart condition became much more apparent in recent years. No longer could the father attend all of his son’s football games. No longer could he go back home to Louisiana and brag about the way Kerry had played on special teams and vow that one day his son would be a starter for the Seahawks. No longer could he walk around town telling the story of how his son bucked all the odds, going from a third-string quarterback with the Bengals to a training camp running back with the Redskins to a Seahawks safety.
In July, the heart condition finally took Duck’s life at the age of 56.
“For him, bragging and always wanting to see me start, and then to have the opportunity once he’s gone, it’s almost like God had a plan for us,” Kerry Joseph said. “It’s all working out. I wish he could have been here, but at the same time it’s going real well.”
Maybe his father did not live to see him fulfill the promise, but the spirit of Duck Joseph is all around. Sometimes, even in the midst of a game, Kerry hears his father’s voice and thinks back to the days of his childhood, when his father pushed him to be the best player he could be.
“You put your hands on your hips when you’re tired,” Duck would tell his son. “You’re not tired, so what are your hands on your hips for?”
Now 27 years old, Kerry Joseph sometimes finds himself on the practice field suddenly letting his arms fall to his side, smiling to himself at the thought of it.
“I can feel him at times,” Joseph said. “A breeze might blow or something, and I think of him, like he’s watching over me. It’s a weird feeling. It’s my first time losing a parent, and it’s definitely weird.”
In some respects, he hasn’t really lost his father at all.
Don’t fret because my leaving came in such a way.
We’ll have another meeting on God’s eternal day.
The words of inspiration help Kerry Joseph keep going. Having already fulfilled his promise, Joseph is trying to live life the way Duck would have wanted.
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