“My whole life, I’ve always considered myself a fixer. It’s just part of what I do,” he said. “I dealt with a lot of adversity, and I was able to fix things. My wife wanted me to fix it. She’d say, ’This needs to be fixed. Fix this.’”
Dawson and his family — wife, Julie, and daughter, Jennifer — have struggled with the death of Timothy Dawson Jr. for the last two months. As Concord High School’s football coach and dean of students, he has spent decades helping guide career paths and molding students, but he’s been forced to seek out his own counseling and healing.
Two weeks ago, Dawson’s confident smile was all but gone, his eyes were filled with loss and his voice tempered by exhaustion. Anger, guilt and sadness each have taken turns in a revolving lineup of emotions.
“When you’re in this profession, you deal with it and you influence all of these other kids and you coach these kids and you hear all these great things — how parents tell you how much you’ve done for their child,” Dawson said, his voice fading to a whisper. “That’s tough.”
“It can happen to anybody. It does happen to anybody,” Dawson said. “It’s difficult for all of us because we’re a very close family.”
Dawson’s played the “how are you going to rebound from adversity?” card on his players his entire career. All coaches do it. But taking one’s own advice is never easy, he said. His family has remained strong at home, and now Dawson is turning to his football family for more spiritual help.
“I need this, to be around something I’ve loved my whole life,” Dawson said at the time. “But I won’t lie. You’re hoping there’s that fire in your belly and right now, there’s not much there. That concerns me a bit.”
But Dawson is finding a path to personal recovery during a one-week stint as head coach of the Indiana North All-Stars and this week’s CHS summer team camp.
ADDICTIONS AND ILLNESS
Dawson’s challenges began long before Timothy, 28, passed away on May 9 from a combination of blood clots in his lungs and a methadone overdose. A 2004 Concord graduate, Timothy left home for college like many students, but stints at St. Joseph’s University in Renssaelaer and Ivy Tech never panned out.
The last seven years of his life included time spent in California and Nashville, Tenn., where he crafted music mixing skills. During that period of his life, Timothy battled illness and injury, developed a myriad of addiction issues, encountered two minor arrests and had stays at two rehabilitation centers — one in Indianapolis and one in Utah.
Health problems began in 2007 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He endured chemotherapy treatments and beat the disease. Two years later, he required back surgery after getting hurt at work.
Following the illness and injury, dependency on prescription pain medication eventually led to use of marijuana, synthetic marijuana, alcohol, heroin and, finally, methadone.
Dawson said he saw the warning signs of addiction in 2007, but even after suffering relapses twice by 2010, Timothy struggled to come to terms with his problems.
“He had a lot of anxiety and stress,” Dawson said. “He was 27 years old, he’s still living with mom and dad, he doesn’t have a job, financially, he’s putting pressure on his parents. He was feeling a lot of guilt.
"We told him, we’re family ... whatever we’ve got to do. Obviously, it wasn’t enough. To learn about addiction, you have to learn to be a willing participant. That was the hardest part for Tim.“
A CHILD HURTING
Dawson said his son’s last days were filled with recurring chest pains — pain to the point where a walk up the basement stairs at home was taxing and to where he had to stop and rest while leaving a voting center on May 6.
“I thought to myself, ’This is crazy,’” Dawson said. “The night before he died, we were watching the NFL Draft in the basement and he was hunched over. I said, ’You’re in a lot of pain. If it’s not any better by morning, we’re going to the hospital.’ He said, ’OK, dad.’’’
The next morning, Dawson told Timothy he had to do a few things at the high school in the morning, but that he’d be back home by 10:30 to go to the hospital.
Early that morning, Timothy called his dad at school and told his dad he’d been feeling more pain and said he’d been chewing gum to help break his smoking habit.
”I said, ’Tim, that’s not going to take your breath away and cause pain. I’ll be right there,’” Dawson said. It was the last conversation Dawson had with his son. When he went home, he found his son had died.
"What’s sad is that he was coming off at least three months of really, really good progress,“ Dawson said. ”There were high and lows. In reality, he was really a great person, but he had some serious addictions.”
DEALING WITH LOSS
As Concord’s dean of students, Dawson has spent countless hours working through academic, athletic and social issues with students and parents, all while setting aside his own personal hurdles. Dealing with the pain has taken an obvious toll on a proud-but-private man and his family.
Dawson’s “fix it” way of life has also taken a hit.
"I’m still in the process,“ Dawson said. ”That’s the million-dollar question.“
But he’s still trying.
“I’ve told kids ’don’t make bad decisions’ and I’ve shared a little bit about Tim’s story. I’ve talked a lot about those things,” he said. "I’ve also stood up and told parents that you can’t stick your head in the sand, don’t think your child can’t get involved in those things. Tim was a genuine kid. It happens.”
And because of Timothy’s kind, sensitive heart, Dawson has vowed to live, learn and educate even more.
“You want to take life’s adversity and use it to help other people and I’ll do the same thing here,” Dawson said. “We want to honor Tim and his memory for what he stood for. People out there will say, ’Oh, he was a drug addict.’
“Yes, but in reality, he’s still a great person. There’s a lot of working alcoholics and addicts who haven’t been exposed yet.”
HEALING THROUGH FOOTBALL
Before Dawson joined his North All-Star assistants and players in Indianapolis on July 13, he had no idea how he truly felt and that unknown was unsettling. As the week unfolded, he found peace in his surroundings and his spirit found new life.
He needed an uplifting week and his Concord colleagues and players wanted one for him. Assistant Sam Vaughan was on the North staff and Minutemen graduates Adam Glanders and Mike McQueen competed in the contest.
“Getting back in the groove has been good for him,” said Vaughan, who’s been with Dawson for 21 seasons. “I noticed it on the way down here. We talked a lot about Timothy, opened up a bit more. I could see the emotion is not gone, but hopefully he’s moved on a little bit.
"We need Tim Dawson. I want Tim Dawson around Concord High School. It means a lot to be by him because I know it’s been rough on him.”
“He said he needed this week and that football was his safe haven,” Glanders said. “You could see the real Coach Dawson.”
Dawson was upbeat at All-Star game warm-ups, chomping energetically on his chewing gum, talking to kids and pacing at midfield. Minutes before kickoff in the locker room, Dawson offered up fiery, passionate words of encouragement as well as his own appreciation for the players and their dedication throughout the week.
“It was such a good experience to see him happy, being here with us and being able to enjoy himself instead of being sad,” McQueen said. “I know it was really hard on him.”
Dawson knows healing never ends and that there will be highs and lows as days and weeks pass. His love of football was one of the bonds he had with Timothy.
As a memorial to their coach’s son, the North All-Stars sported decals with “TJD” — Timothy Joseph Dawson — on their helmets. Dawson also shared to his players that he had to start practicing what he’s always preached.
“I told them what we were going to do (with the decals and), that Tim had played in this game and that my son loved football,” Dawson said. “Things happen in life and this is adversity. It’s not the crisis, it’s how you respond to it. I know Tim would kick me in the ass if I didn’t. He’d say ’Dad, remember all those times you said ...’
“It’s been great therapy. The one thing we had a strong connection with is Concord football, football in any sense,” he added. “My wife made a great point. She said maybe God had another plan for Timothy. He wanted to do things but maybe he could not do them here on earth and maybe God knew that.
“We know he’s in a better place. And I have a wife and daughter to think about and take care of.”