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All the Colors Came Out
A Father, a Daughter, and a Lifetime of Lessons
By Kate Fagan
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Kate Fagan and her father forged their relationship on the basketball court, bonded by sweaty high fives and a dedication to the New York Knicks. But as Kate got older, her love of the sport and her closeness with her father grew complicated. The formerly inseparable pair drifted apart. The lessons that her father instilled in her about the game, and all her memories of sharing the court with him over the years, were a distant memory.
When Chris Fagan was diagnosed with ALS, Kate decided that something had to change. Leaving a high-profile job at ESPN to be closer to her mother and father and take part in his care, Kate Fagan spent the last year of her father’s life determined to return to him the kind of joy they once shared on the court. All the Colors Came Out is Kate Fagan’s completely original reflection on the very specific bond that one father and daughter shared, forged in the love of a sport which over time came to mean so much more.
Studded with unforgettable scenes of humor, pain and hope, Kate Fagan has written a book that plumbs the mysteries of the unique gifts fathers gives daughters, ones that resonate across time and circumstance.
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by Kathy Fagan
My grandson, Henry, with his impish grin and gorgeous blue-gray eyes, has just morphed into a heartbroken banshee. I’m not even sure what’s happened. Sounds like his younger sister Frankie might have taken a bite of his granola bar. Or maybe she stole a Pokémon card out of his deck. There is no identifying what’s caused this precipitous tumble to the depths of despair. A wailing, drawn-out “Nana, it’s not fair” punctuates his sobs. “Oh, Henry.” I lock eyes with my son-in-law, Mike. “About this fair thing. One lesson you need to learn at an early age is that life’s not fair.” He continues crying, ignoring this relevant and well-timed pearl of wisdom offered from grandmother to seven-year-old.
My real thought in the moment: What’s not fair, Henry, is that your grandfather isn’t here to chuckle at your meltdown, tell you it’s not worth crying about, and then distract you with a game of HORSE.
That thought lives alongside others that pop up at random moments. It’s not fair that Chris doesn’t get to enjoy the house at Lake George that we finally splurged on. That Chris doesn’t get to be there as we celebrate Frankie’s fourth birthday, and he can’t rib her for changing into three different outfits just because that’s what she does every day. That Chris didn’t get to see Henry make those baskets during first-grade rec nights and then look over at his mom and dad with gap-toothed smile and unabashed pride. That it’s me who takes him aside and tells him to always remember rule No. 1: Don’t tell people how good you are. Show them.
But those are the thoughts I have when the anger surfaces, along with the cold, stark knowledge of how Chris suffered with ALS. That rage lives alongside my awe at the dignity and humor with which he endured it.
The other thoughts I have focus on fairness’s first cousin (or is it a sibling?): luck. While you could say we got a heavy dose of bad luck, and that is undeniable, my heart tends toward celebrating the abundance of luck in our lives, as a couple and as a family. Chris might frown on this, because like many athletes he wasn’t a big believer in luck, but he’ll have to deal with it.
He loved lists, so I’ll come up with one here (there will be more):
Isn’t it mind-boggling how much beauty and havoc these right time/right place situations, in tandem with our free will, can produce in all our lives? I’m not sure which was at play when I went to a mixer at Theta Chi my third night as a freshman at Colgate University, but it led to being asked to dance by a big, scary-looking guy with a Fu Manchu mustache and a clearly amateur bowl haircut. I guess he found my Rhode Island accent and Ann & Hope blouse alluring. I do remember that I got off the dance floor as soon as I could. We just didn’t seem destined for much of anything, this big lug and me. I felt intimidated and uncomfortable, and we barely managed to make eye contact or even dance through the entirety of “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).” A year and a half later I began to realize that we were destined. It was a sharp turn: from seeing him as a big, scary-looking stranger to appreciating the gentle but powerful forward on the basketball team. (My financial aid job was as a twelve-hour-per-week assistant to the basketball coach, and one of Chris’s jobs was to help the team win.) I started always keeping an eye out for him, even while we dated other people.
I don’t remember the exact moment that translated to “Do you wanna go on a date?” in January of 1976. I do remember the fun we had on that first date, the easiness of the drive from Hamilton, New York, to Auburn along Route 20 to go visit an admired assistant coach who had moved on. It was as we were approaching a major hill that he delivered a bombshell I recall to this day. “Guess what they’re saying is bad for you?” “No idea, what?” “Sugar.” “No way!” Yup, the life-altering moments that stick with you.
There was never a proposal in the classic sense. As a matter of fact, I was pretty much the one who proposed, in a letter written on purple stationery with pink and white flowers at the top. I must have been choosing my words carefully if I looked at the letter long enough to have the design seared into my memory. The pertinent paragraph started along the lines of “So, do you think we should get married?” It was the summer before my senior year. I was doing my summer term and he was a counselor at a camp in the Berkshires before coming back to be a graduate assistant coach for the basketball team. We were both twenty-one. In other words, the old days.
Skipping a lot of our dating experience and scooting right back to our friend luck, I offer the reasons why, at such a tender age, I thought we could make a good couple for the long haul.
- I liked him.
- I liked his big family. We had similar Catholic, lower-middle-class backgrounds.
- He was an athlete (a huge factor, since my entire childhood was marinated in Boston Red Sox baseball and Providence College Friars basketball fandom).
- He treated his mother with respect.
- He was funny.
- He was smart.
- He had straight hair, so if we had girls, maybe they wouldn’t struggle with curly, frizzy hair like I did (yes, this was an actual thought in my head, and we did have girls, who should thank me to this day for my foresight).
I think I loved Chris when I was twenty-one. What exactly is love at that untested, early age? Did I really know? Probably not. I know I did as we aged and struggled together. And yet, still, that’s a pretty good list.
Our life as a couple was a solid one. We cruised along and hit a variety of speed bumps. Some we approached with caution so that the impact was minimal. Some we careened over at the wrong angle, and it felt like we might just fall apart. But we didn’t. We never let it spiral out of control and always came back to each other and to the long view. When it was all over, didn’t we want to look back on what we’d created and not what we’d let go?
And this is where luck and its variations come in again. Not from the perspective of our marriage per se, but from a more far-reaching vantage point. When we were dating and then newly married, we were so focused on us: the newness, the compatibility, the travel, the fun, the navigating of arguments. And then the diapers. Did I ever consciously factor in what kind of a father I thought he’d be? I don’t think I did. My “Why I should marry him” list augured well for this, but you never really know.
Lucky us…our daughters hit the jackpot.
You’ll read lots of stories from Kate. They’re told in a far better way than I could ever muster, but here are a few snippets from my point of view.
- Chris wasn’t the biggest diaper changer and infant caregiver: “I’ll do better when they can talk.”
- Ryan or Kate often rode on his shoulders until it became impossible. What you don’t see from the gorgeous, stylized cover of this book is that the actual photo was taken on the rocky coast of Brittany, France, and that he carried a daughter in each arm. I know that those eyes and that smile are saying “my girls.”
- Drive time had to be filled with games he’d make up—a standard one during the holiday season had the girls taking the left or right side of the car and counting the Christmas lights on their side, the winner declared only once we’d pulled into the driveway. They would probably argue with me, but I swear this lasted into middle school. Another game that worked amazingly for a while when they were little was seeing who could keep quiet for the longest. Diabolical.
- He sat quietly in the stands at Kate’s basketball games. No yelling at the coach, no yelling at the refs, no yelling to or at her. Stoic. (I was a basket case.)
- He was so much louder at Ryan’s meets. The joy he felt at her high school and college events was palpable. He loved watching cross-country—its colorful flags and tents, crisp air, and, above all, individual grit—more than basketball.
- Our Friday nights were always fun because he devised a way to give everyone a stake in the outcome. We gathered four pens and four pieces of paper, and each of us pondered our ideal night’s entertainment. A favorite restaurant, eating at home, movie, bowling, game night, it was all up for grabs. Once we went around the horn and the itineraries were announced, they were all written down (and to the tune of a bit of lobbying). Then came the secret ballot—a simple 1 through 4 ranking. The choice with the lowest score would be the Fagan clan’s evening entertainment. Sometimes this part was more fun than the evening out.
- He suffered more from empty nest syndrome than I did.
We were allowed one last stroke of luck. Chris died on December 4, 2019, three months before the pandemic began to wreak havoc on all of us. We got the gift that none of us will ever take for granted again—the opportunity to say goodbye and hold hands and sit in companionable silence. To cry a bit more and laugh a bit more together. Friends and family came from all over to hug him and tell him what was in their hearts.
Before Kate and her wife, Kathryn, had flown back up to our area in late November for what we thought would be Chris’s life-extending tracheostomy procedure, they purchased colorful bracelets for all of us and proclaimed us “Team Trach” to help Chris through the procedure and its consequences. You’ll learn about how that goal fell apart. But Team Trach didn’t. Once we had moved Chris through the double doors and over to the hospital room where he would die, our purpose was to make sure he felt calm and loved and had enough morphine in his system by the time we took him off life support. The doctors said that given the weakness of his lungs it would take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours until he was gone. But then there’s that indomitable human spirit, especially Chris Fagan’s. We took him off life support at about 8 p.m. on Monday, December 2, still talking to him and telling our stories and holding his hands. A few hours came and went and we tired a bit and took turns sleeping in hospital chairs scattered around his bed.
When Chris was still holding on by the evening of the third we decided Mike and Ryan should head home to be with Henry and Frankie, and Kate and Kathryn needed a few hours of rest in an actual bed. I would call them as soon as anything changed.
That change came a few minutes before 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning with the first warning bell on the monitor. I texted the girls. They didn’t make it in time, but I will forever be grateful for the next minutes. It was just Chris and me, this time the exact opposite of that first dance at Theta Chi. We weren’t an uncomfortable five feet apart, but shared a kaleidoscopic connection, my lips to his ear. The bookends on our life together. “Hey, what an awesome time we had, didn’t we?” Then the snippets that I pray somehow filled his consciousness until 1:11 a.m. and beyond. Corsica…Ryan’s birth and ants on the bottle…the Breton farmhouse…Indy for Super Bowl XLVI…Cape Cod and missing the ferry to Nantucket…Fougères…the party for his fiftieth…Sweet Sixteen in Knoxville…LSU—she was an All-American!…Piana…tear gas…flyin’ Baby Ryan…beating North Carolina during March Madness at Boulder…I love you…11:11…AAU trips…Giants games and soup on the stove…Dartmouth meets…we love you…thank you.
Tears are streaming down my face right now reliving this and at the same time mourning for all the families who’ve been denied it.
What is it we want in the end? Is it to have been deeply loved? By many? By one? I think the ultimate gift, the proof that we were loved and profoundly, is that we’re vividly remembered. Remembered the way Kate does here. Chris’s drive, his devotion, and above all his attention to his daughters’ dreams made our girls who they are.
I hope you enjoy Kate’s love letter to her dad.
Red Suede Pumas
In my closet is a pair of red suede Puma sneakers. They are low-top, the signature shoe of Walter “Clyde” Frazier, who starred for the New York Knicks in the 1960s and ’70s. When I was growing up in Schenectady, New York, in the ’90s, Frazier was the color commentator for the Knicks. His voice became the soundtrack of my youth, and he spoke like he played basketball: smooth, with exciting flourishes. He wore eccentric suits (“When I go to a tailor, I say, ‘Show me something you think nobody would ever wear’”) and peppered the broadcasts with Clydisms: dipping and diving, juking and jiving, abounding and astounding.
Since my family watched every game (all eighty-two in the season) for a string of years, we became accustomed to Frazier’s signature flavor, most of his colloquialisms passing unremarked upon. But at least once a game, my dad would be delighted by Frazier—swishing and dishing!—and he’d imitate the announcer, producing as many Clydisms as he could string together without pause until they became increasingly nonsensical: praying and laying, buying and lying, sighing and frying. I’d add in one or two; my older sister, Ryan, would smile. Then we’d keep watching the game.
My dad’s appreciation for Walt Frazier was always curious to me. The two men couldn’t have been more different. My dad avoided flashiness. In his mind, flashiness was desperation, which revealed insecurity. He believed, and said to me many times, that one goal in life should be for me to quietly go about my business and let people realize, on their own, how awesome I am. “Don’t tell them you’re great. Show them,” he would say to me over and over.
Also, my dad hated suits, and he definitely never went to a tailor. His uniform was basketball shorts and a hoodie. Even at work, a family business he ran with his brother, he wore a coat and tie only on days he had meetings with clients. At six foot five, his physique drew enough attention, and he was content to duck his head and slip into the back of places.
But he loved Frazier. The guy had “put his money where his mouth is”—another thing my dad loved to say about people he admired. Walt Frazier had won an NBA title; he’d done the work. In that way, my dad’s love for Frazier made sense. He respected passion; people who went all out. With them, he felt a kinship.
The red suede Pumas that now sit in my closet arrived at my doorstep about three years ago. I was surprised. I wasn’t expecting a package, but I also knew what it was right away because sneaker boxes have a distinct shape. When I opened it and recognized the Puma logo, I thought, Dad. I mostly wore Nikes, and the only person (other than me) who would buy me kicks was my dad.
After I graduated from college, he started a yearly tradition: I was to select what I believed were the coolest sneakers on the market and buy a pair in his size 13. He’d give me his credit card info, and in exchange for my “fashion sense,” he’d tell me to buy myself a pair, too. Somehow, he framed this ritual as me doing him a favor, and not the other way around. He was good at that. For example, upon leaving a restaurant: “Thanks for letting me buy you dinner, Katie.”
As I got older, I started to notice that sometimes he’d call upon our sneaker custom to bridge a gap between us—if he sensed I was pulling away, or too busy for him, or if he just missed me and wanted to pretend I was a kid again. I’d be trying to get off the phone, anxious to get back to my life, and he’d throw out the lifeline: “Hey, I was thinking, why don’t you find us some sneakers?”
I hated, even as I let it happen, how once I started making more money and a free pair of sneakers didn’t move the needle like it used to, I would forget he had asked me to find us—always us—a pair. A couple weeks later, he would check in about the sneakers, and I could almost hear him wondering if I would ever need him again, not just for sneakers but for anything.
The norm was me sending him a pair. But that day three years ago, he broke protocol. He’d come across a sneaker he thought was cool, one that also represented a bond we shared—Walt “Clyde” Frazier—so he’d bought us each a pair. I lifted the lid and parted the white wrapping paper, pulled one sneaker out of the box, held it in front of me, turned it front to side.
I hated them. Ugh. Goddamn it. I tucked them back into the box, called to thank my dad, and put them in my closet. About five or six months later, when I was up visiting my parents and wearing sneakers that weren’t our red Pumas, my dad said, “You don’t wear the ones I got us, do you?”
(Me: “What? Yes—of course. I mean—I do. I love them!”)
Each time I looked in the closet for a pair of sneakers, I’d consider the red Pumas. A civil war would break out in my mind:
Me: You’re going to regret not wearing them.
Also me: But I don’t like them very much.
Me: Stop hurting Dad’s feelings; shouldn’t nostalgia and love outweigh fashion?
Also me: Yes, of course they should, and maybe next time they will.
When I knew my dad was going to die, and even after, those sneakers became my kryptonite. When I opened my closet, my head would explode with thoughts like little land mines, detonating across my mind. He just wanted to keep sharing things with you: Boom. He just wanted to feel needed by you: Boom, boom. How could you miss out on that moment, seeing his eyes light up when he noticed what sneakers you were wearing? Boom, boom, boom.
The last week of his life, I wore them every day to the hospital. But between steps, I’d look down and think that it was too little, too late. I’d made my decision, set my priorities.
I don’t think my dad cared about the sneakers. But that’s not how this works. The sneakers had come to symbolize our story, almost like how the icon on a desktop computer is just the representation, the interface, for the complicated program it launches.
The sneakers represented so much of what we’d built our relationship upon: him sharing his love of basketball, teaching me the game, imparting wisdom and sharing low fives, sweating and smiling together. And my failure to wear them represented the darker side of that connection: that I’d disappointed him by not loving the game as much as he did; by being gay; and that our shared stubbornness, the belief we each possessed that our ideas were always superior, had driven a wedge between us, starting when I chose a college across the country.
When I told Kathryn, she said, “Oh, I have something like that. When I was little, all I wanted was a Care Bear stuffed animal. My grandma heard that I wanted one, and so she decided to make one for me—handmade. And when she presented me with the toy, I told her that I didn’t want the one she made, I wanted her to buy me one from the store.”
About a year after the red Pumas arrived, when my dad was still alive, my mom and I were out for a walk and I explained my feelings about the sneakers. She said, “When you and your sister were young, my parents built you a dollhouse by hand, down to even painting the small figurines inside the rooms. I know they wanted to connect with you girls because we had moved away, and they felt they weren’t seeing you as much, and they wanted to do something special. They were so excited to give it to us, but they didn’t know you and your sister were interested in other things, and so that dollhouse was almost never played with.”
These stories didn’t make the red Pumas any less radioactive. They just made me realize that most people have their pair of sneakers, or handmade Care Bear, or dollhouse—an item that has come to represent, for them, a complicated relationship dynamic.
I still see these sneakers every day, on the second shelf of my closet. And every morning my chest tightens, and I usually reach out and touch the soft suede along the heel. But I never wear them. The thought of wearing them haunts me. It’s not that I want to keep them pristine; it’s that I don’t want them reminding me, all day long, of the ways in which I failed at living up to the promise of our relationship.
I was the daughter of an athlete. I knew that from the beginning.
Every so often when I was a kid, if a guy didn’t know us very well, he might ask my dad if he wished he had sons. My dad would look at the guy with bewilderment. “Not ever, not once,” he’d say, then look at me and wink. Usually, he’d lean over and whisper to me, “You should hear the answer I give when you’re not here,” grinning while offering a conciliatory, and conspiratorial, low five before I could even scowl.
This was the first lesson he ever taught me: Value your teammates. And my dad and I, we were on the same team. I knew this from the beginning, too, and I knew it especially—given everything we went through along the way—at the very end.
Christopher John Fagan—aka Dad, aka Daddio, aka The Big C—always considered himself an underdog, and he would tell me stories about how he fought his way onto the varsity basketball team at his Catholic high school, then into the starting lineup at Colgate University, and finally onto professional teams across Europe. He was the oldest of six kids—three boys and three girls—who grew up in a small house in Troy, New York, about three hours up the Hudson River from Manhattan. The house had one room for the boys, one for the girls, and visiting my dad’s “cozy” childhood home helped me understand why he seemed addicted to always having someone around.
On the court, he made his dreams happen despite almost dying of kidney failure the summer before his sophomore year of high school, the doctors telling his parents he wouldn’t survive the night, a priest standing over his bed and delivering last rites. Sometimes I’d forget this story, because he had no lasting health issues, but he wore the dialysis scars like a badge of honor, and later I’d occasionally appreciate that he probably believed he could duplicate this result—once again snatch life from the jaws of death.
When I was just a kid, my dad would show me the route he would run in his blue-collar neighborhood, from his childhood home and back. I loved these pilgrimages; like visiting Penny Lane or Strawberry Fields or something. This is where greatness was forged. We’d be in his car, windows down, rolling toward a stop sign, and I could picture my dad, lithe and young, in his floppy Converses. This was the beginning of my education about what dreams actually are. They’re hard work. They’re a shimmering blacktop in the summer heat. I’d stare out at the pavement and wonder if I had what it took, or if maybe there were other dreams that weren’t so daunting to achieve.
Each morning, when he lifted his large body out of bed, he would say aloud, “Power, strength, and mental toughness.” According to this belief system, nothing existed that couldn’t be overcome through willpower and perseverance. I know his morning mantra because my mom heard him say it thousands of times. The two of them met at Colgate, at a frat party. She and her two sisters grew up outside Providence, Rhode Island, in a single-story home on the flight path to T. F. Green Airport. My mom and dad had many things in common, including a love of sports and parents who appreciated the value of a dollar, which shaped their shared belief that they were salt-of-the-earth.
At Colgate, my dad was on the basketball team, and this was the 1970s, so his brown hair sat atop his head like an upside-down bowl, and a Fu Manchu mustache hung from his face. My mom thought he looked like a picture she’d once seen in a history book, a picture of Genghis Khan.
But that comparison isn’t quite right, because my dad was tall, with long legs, and no propensity toward violence—though when you turned his dial just right, his anger could wilt you. She was a foot shorter than he, and their wedding pictures are adorable, with my dad seeming to hunch ever so slightly in each one of them. Or maybe it’s a trick of the eye, because I spent so many years watching him tilt his head to come down the stairs.
My sister, Ryan, was born in 1980 on the island of Corsica, where my dad was playing for a team in Ajaccio. I was born a year later, in Rhode Island, a factoid I could never get over. How did they manage to birth my sister on an exotic island south of France, earning her dual citizenship, while having me in…Rhode Island?
- "I really related personally to this book, and I feel that for a lot of women who grew up playing sports and ended up being gay, it [reflects] this special relationship that you have with your dad, where sport becomes an important point of connection."—Megan Rapinoe, Vogue
- “Fagan has done a remarkable service to her father by telling the story of his life with such generosity and to her fellow caregivers by candidly describing the circumstances under which that life came to an end.” —The Washington Post
- “A heartfelt meditation on what matters.” —The Boston Globe summer reading feature
- “The author’s singular talent for relating her internal struggles and growth shines in this exquisite tribute to her father and family, and to the game of basketball.”—Library Journal (starred review)
"While the world screams for our attention, Kate Fagan arrives, quietly hands us All The Colors Came Out, and we remember what matters. Fagan is an artist, so I knew this book would be brilliant. What I didn’t expect was her gut wrenching and soul cleansing honesty about the complications and confusions of familial love. I finished feeling understood, less alone, and committed to being braver with my own father. This book will help heal relationships and hearts. All the Colors Came Out is a love story for the ages."
—Glennon Doyle, author of the #1 Bestseller Untamed and the founder of Together Rising
- “All the Colors Came Out is one of those books that will make you cry on one page and feel like you’ve learned something to improve your life on the next.”—Joyce Bassett, Albany Times Union
- “This book. I read it straight through, barely moving until the last word on the last page. Here is a deeply affecting story about a father and daughter, human failings and human forgiveness, and finding an unflinching heart when you need it most. It is written with such love and honesty you won’t soon forget it.” —Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Book of Longings
- “This is a book about basketball, yes, and fandom and home, and about fathers and daughters, to be sure—about all parents and children, really—but most of all it is a story about the fierce and redemptive power of love.”—Wright Thompson, author of Pappyland
- "Once again, in a story of pain and loss, Kate Fagan manages to find beauty and humanity and write a book that teaches us a great deal about our own lives." —Ryan Holiday, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Daily Stoic
"Like many women in my field, I inherited my love for sports from my dad, and the parallels between our bond and the one Fagan recounts here jumped off the page. But All the Colors Came Out isn't just about fathers and daughters--it's about the ways in which human connection shapes identity, and how those ties can be quietly frayed, and then, in the face of devastating adversity, repaired. It's a story of heartbreak and healing, and one that will sit with me for a long time."
—Mina Kimes, Senior Writer at ESPN and co-host of NFL Live
- On Sale
- Jun 14, 2022
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Back Bay Books