Mike Bernstein will always remember the last time he spoke to his father.
It wasn’t unusual. In fact, it was a typical conversation he and his father of the same name would have just about every day.
The short talk revolved around baseball. And like always, it showed what a great dad Bernstein had.
“I called him because I needed my helmet, it was in storage,” said Bernstein, a senior centerfielder on the New Foundations Charter High School baseball team. “I knew I needed it because we had a game that day. I talked to him, he said he would bring it and that he was definitely coming. He loved baseball, and he loved coming to my games.”
Mike’s father, a firefighter, passed away after suffering a heart attack while on duty at Engine 78 at Philadelphia International Airport on March 20.
He left behind his wife Catherine, and children Mike, Victoria and Jake.
The close-knit family is devastated about losing the patriarch of the family. But Mike and his family are holding up because they have each other.
“We’re really lucky that we have great parents, we have the best parents,” Mike said. “I really wish I would have had my dad for longer, a lot longer, but he was the best dad. He was so great.
“My mom, she’s really doing great. I had to tell her it’s OK for her to say no to us if we want something. She is sad, but she’s strong and she’s doing everything for us. Just like we had a great dad, we have a great mom. We’re sticking together.”
Mike and his dad always stuck together, and sports were a huge part of their relationship.
At times, they had season tickets to Flyers games and they often went to Phillies games together.
And as much as dad liked seeing the Philly sports teams succeed, he was much happier watching his son star on the field.
Dad was probably a bigger baseball fan than soccer, but Mike was a star striker for the Bulldogs and whenever he scored a goal, his dad was the proudest on the sidelines.
“He liked soccer, but he loved watching me play,” Bernstein said. “He would come to every game he could. Sometimes, he’d be working, but he made most of the games.
“I loved talking sports with him. Every game, no matter how good I would do, he would tell me something I need to work on. But then he’d tell me all the good things I did, too. He wasn’t mean about it, he just loved seeing me play well. He always wanted me to do better. He always wanted what’s best for me.”
Like all great dads, Bernstein had a special bond with all his children.
But his bond with his oldest revolved around sports because both men loved them.
So the two had a great conversation earlier this spring when Mike told his dad he was going to try out for the baseball team once again.
“I mostly focused on soccer, so when I told him I was going back to baseball, he was surprised, but really happy,” Bernstein said. “I know he liked it. He liked coming and watching, and we would always talk about it. Sports was important to him.”
But his family was the most important thing. And he made that no secret to his family.
Now his son is taking over where his dad left off.
Bernstein, who scored 25 goals during the fall when the Bulldogs won the Penn-Jersey Athletic Association championship, had options on where he would play college soccer. He picked Gwynedd Mercy University so he could be close to home.
“I didn’t want to go to a place where I would have to fly home, or drive for hours, I wanted to go close by,” he said. “This is 20 minutes away. I don’t think they’ll ever need me for anything like that, but I don’t want to be far away. If they need me, I can be right there.
“That’s how my dad was. He did so much, but you wouldn’t know it because he made it look so easy. He was there for my mom, he was there for me, for his kids, for anyone who needed it. My dad had a way with his smile that no matter what was going on, when he was there, you knew things were going to be OK. I don’t have that, but I’m trying. He was able to make everything better just by being there. Everybody who knew him said that.”
While his dad might not be there anymore, he’s still always around. The lessons he taught his family stay strong. And even if he’s not there, his son still has a great relationship with him. In reality, he’ll always be there.
“I talk to him, especially when I’m in center field,” Bernstein said. “I really feel close to him playing baseball. I always wear his chain. It has his fire badge with his engine, ladder and Philadelphia. He loved being a firefighter. He had so many buddies there, especially with Ladder 29, he had so many friends there.
“I’m majoring in sports management, I love sports, but I’ve talked to some people about becoming a firefighter. They said if I ever want to do it, just let them know and I can take the test. But I love sports, so I want to do something with that.”
Bernstein is less than two months away from graduating. He has great days ahead and he hopes to be contributing on the soccer field in the fall. But no matter what sport he’s playing, he’ll miss his biggest fan in the stands.
“He really loved sports, it’s something we had, we always had it, no matter what,” he said. “He loved watching me. I’m glad that we won a championship in soccer because he was really happy. I was happier, I think, but he was really happy that we won. He loved it when we were doing great.
“I know he was happy I played baseball this year. He came to every game he could. He liked watching and talking about it after the game.”
But his dad can rest easy knowing that his son is ready to follow in his footsteps and take great care of everyone.
“My mom has been amazing,” he said. “She’s such a good mom. I had a great dad, but I have a great mom, too. They are the best parents anyone could have.
“We were a close family before this, but I think we’re even closer now. I try to take care of my brother and sister. If they need something, I’m there. It’s hard when they both need something at the same time because where do you go first? That’s something my dad did, it was like he could do everything at the same time.
“We’re going to be there for each other. My mom is everything for us, and she’s doing great for us. But we’re there for her. We’re going to be there for each other. It’s what my dad would do.”