Anthony and Francine Tate had been married for three years when they learned she was pregnant with their first son, Anthony, Jr.
Even before he was born, he had a nickname that stuck.
“One day I was rubbing her stomach and I said, ‘this boy’s gonna to be built like a tank yet hard to hit,” recalls his dad. “That’s a rap song, an Ice Cube song. Everybody in the family started calling him Tank.”
A gifted football player since the age of eight, it wasn’t long before Anthony Jr. was living up to his name – first at Pope John Paul II High School, and then at Hendersonville High.
By the time he was in the eighth grade, the affable athlete was bench pressing 300 pounds. In 2013 the defensive lineman helped Hendersonville win a bid to the state championship. And still today, after graduating from HHS in 2014, he still holds the school’s overall weight-lifting record.
Reconciling the accomplished and popular athlete with what came in May of 2017 is nearly impossible, his father admits.
“We just thought he had way more sense to fool with heroin or anything like that,” he said. “He weighed 280 pounds, he was a muscular, thick guy. You would think that I’d be able to tell. But you couldn’t tell that he was using.”
It was the Wednesday after Mother’s Day when the couple received a call from Anthony Jr.’s girlfriend in Knoxville. Their son was unconscious and headed to the hospital.
They later learned that he died of an accidental drug overdose – a lethal combination of heroin and fentanyl. He had just turned 21.
‘A story to tell’
Eighteen months after losing their son to an addiction they didn’t know he had, the Tates say they want to help prevent other parents from feeling their same pain.
Anthony Tate will share his son’s story this Saturday at a community drug forum hosted by Luna Lane Church of Christ.
“He has a story to tell that can help a lot of people,” said Luna Lane minister Nick Rapheal, whose son Brent played football with Anthony, Jr.
“So many people in our community – in our country – are being adversely affected by the use of drugs. It just seems like every family has been affected in some way. We wanted to bring attention to how the problem is growing by leaps and bounds.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, drug overdose deaths rose from 1,263 in 2014 to 1,451 in 2015 - an increased rate of 22.1 per 100,000 Tennessee residents. In 2017, Anthony Jr.’s death was one of 1,776 overdose deaths reported. Of those, 1,268 were attributed to opioids.
Raphael said he hopes the forum hosted by his church will persuade at least one person to think twice before trying drugs – even marijuana.
“We’re just trying to tell the truth about what happens to people who become addicted,” he said. “It touches their families, their health, their jobs, their circle of friends – all of those who are involved.”
The forum will also feature Tommie Sanders, who served on the Tennessee Army National Guard Counter Drug Task Force for 12 years. She’ll lead three of the five sessions, discussing marijuana, synthetic drugs and opioid abuse.
Michelle Bauer, who serves on the National Guard Suicide Prevention Hotline, will lead a final session entitled, “The Truth About Suicide,” pointing out how suicide is often linked to drug abuse.
Francine Tate says she’s not much of a public speaker herself, but she supports her husband sharing their story.
“I don’t want to see any more children die,” she said. “I just wish there was more awareness about what’s really happening. No one is really talking about this… How it’s not anything to play with at all. That you shouldn’t even touch it.”
The two said they knew their son had tried marijuana, and that he had even had some “scrapes” with police.
“But he was so poised they would always let him go,” said his dad.
That their son would be using heroin never entered into their minds.
Anthony says he wants other parents to be more aware.
“It could be anybody’s kid,” he said. “We just don’t want others to go through what we’ve been through.”
Still the couple who will celebrate 25years of marriage this week say they will keep moving forward.
“We have strength,” added Francine. “Anthony Jr. wouldn’t want me to ball up and continue to be miserable. I can’t afford to be negative. I can’t allow negativity to take over.”
Added her husband with a smile much like his late son’s, “You might as well hit a ditto on that.”
“The Truth About Drugs” free community drug forum will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10 at Luna Lane Church of Christ, 177 Luna Lane. For more details and to register, go to www.TheTruthAboutDrugs.info. Seating is limited so pre-registration is recommended.