THE BLOG
06/14/2014 01:43 pm ET Updated Aug 15, 2014

The World Cup Is More Than Just Soccer, It's A Reminder My Dad Once Lived Here

Taryn Hillin

It's four o'clock in the morning on June 21, 2002. The sound of my alarm blares. Rather than hit snooze, as I still have a few hours before school, I actually jump out of bed, excited. My house of course is silent, so I creep down the dark hallway until I see a slight glow from the kitchen. There I see my dad sitting at the table eating some Saltines and peanut butter. While it was typical of my father to be munching on a late-night snack, today was different. He was up for the same reason I was: World Cup!

Germany was about to face the U.S. in the quarterfinals which, if you don't follow soccer, is a really big freaking deal. My father looked at me, mouth half-full, and asked if I wanted some crackers. "Sure" I said, "and hand me some of that peanut butter, too."

So there we were, a junior in high school and 64-year-old English teacher sitting up before the sun to watch the U.S. get robbed half-way around the world, losing to Germany 1-0.

It's hard for me to remember my dad before the hospitals, the psychiatric wards, the 911 calls and hospice care. He was sick for so long, it feels like he was always that way. But there are moments that are clear to me and that Germany-USA match is one of them.

Of course, that match was special for me regardless of who won. Germany is the other team I root for. I'm not German, I've never been to Germany, and I don't speak a lick of the language -- but I love the Germany national football team.

When the U.S. hosted the World Cup back in 1994, a lot of games were played in Los Angeles. My dad, being the soccer fanatic he was, worked with FIFA in some fashion and went to a slew of matches. When he came home from these magical, glorious games (as I imagined them to be) he brought me souvenirs -- and one time he brought me a German national team hat.

I'm not sure if it was the bright yellow and red colors that caught my eye, or the fact that it was a gift from my dad, but I loved that hat so much I still have it in my room to this day. That German hat became such an important moment in my life that every World Cup since then I've rooted for Germany. It may sound silly, but in a world with few reminders of who he once was, it reminds me of him.

The World Cup for some countries is a bonafide religion. For the U.S., not so much, which is truly unfortunate. I have played soccer since I was three, and my father was a coach before I was born -- suffice to say for our family, soccer was life.

My dad made it to all my soccer games, no matter how sick he was. Sadly, as I grew up, he grew more ill. I remember him coaching me, training me, and taking me out to run extra sprints after practice. But, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease when I was five, so I also remember that for my entire life he walked a little funny, his hand shook a little too much and as the years went on his body began to shut down.

The horrible nature of Parkinson's is that it kills you slowly. You don't notice it -- minus the physical day-to-day symptoms -- but over time, like aging, you see the damage it has caused. By the time I was graduating high school, not too long after that 2002 World Cup match, my father's illness turned to severe dementia.

By the time I was a freshman at Yale, he couldn't remember who I was. That first summer home from college, while my friends were taking internships and gallivanting around Europe, my mother and I were placing my dad into an intensive psychiatric care unit because we feared for his safety and ours. I vividly remember watching the nurses take his shoelaces away. This was a man with a PhD, now stripped of his shoelaces.

For the next seven years, he remained in full-time hospice care. I watched him slowly fade away from me. At times he thought I was dead, he would speak to me about his daughter "Taryn." "I'm Taryn daddy," I would say, but it didn't always register and I was met with blank-yet-frightened stares.

His passing was -- still is -- very hard on me. But as World Cup rolls around again this year I watch each game with a great sense of joy and love. Love of the sport. Love of tradition. And love of the opportunity to eat Saltines and peanut butter with my dad at four o'clock in the morning, because that's what you do on World Cup.