The family of Darrin Dawber, offensive coordinator for St. Anthony's High School football team and a former New York City police officer, will reflect Sunday on a decade ago when anguish engulfed their home in East Northport.
They were initially certain he was a victim of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. "I'll cry most of the time," Dawber said of Sunday's remembrances. "But I'll try not to harp on it.''
Dawber 46, retired from the NYPD immediately after the attack to focus on his family and other things, such as his volunteer coaching position at St. Anthony's in South Huntington. "I got to see my son play high school baseball, I got to see him graduate. I got to see him play college baseball. I got to see my daughter grow up.''
And his family has him firmly in their grasp.
"I got home that day and my dad wasn't there,'' former Hofstra baseball player Darrin Jr. said. Earlier that day, Darrin had questioned his mother, Lisa.
"Dad's not coming home, is he?'' she said the young man asked her. "You vacillate between telling them the truth and lying a little bit.''
Truth was, she didn't know.
Officer Dawber, who was assigned to the 25th Precinct in Harlem, was sent to the South Tower to help in the rescue effort. "As we were pulling up,'' he said, his voice cracking, "people were jumping out of the building.''
He and his fellow officers were sent under the tower, he said, where the PATH station was located, to help those who were trying to exit the building.
"The lights flickered, all of a sudden they went out and the building went down,'' he said. "I got thrown in the air. It felt like they planted explosives. I lay on the ground thinking 'I'm never coming out.' ''
After he worked his way through a tunnel toward his escape, he had suffered a broken nose, bruised ribs and injuries to his knee and shoulder. He was taken to a hospital, but couldn't remember his home phone number. His family, which included then 5-year-old daughter Sara, thought the worst.
"A widow at 36,'' Lisa Dawber said. Even when the hospital called and said Dawber was alive, his wife didn't believe it. "I thought it was a lie,'' she said.
That evening, a patrol car pulled up in front of the house. Darrin saw his father emerge. "He was on crutches, his face was all bloody, it was scary. But I was just happy to have my dad home.''
Darrin Jr. never let go of that feeling. "My dad means a lot to me,'' he said. "He's my best friend, he's my hero. He taught me about sports, showed me the right way, how to be a good person. Without him, it would have been tough.''
It is on this anniversary that they all consider the alternative, but more so embrace the future. At this time of the year, Dawber keeps focus on the football team at St. Anthony's. "It's an outlet for me," he said. "It keeps me around people so I don't think about everything that happened.''