I’ve written a lot of things about Dad, and y’all have probably figured out that I think he’s about as awesome as a father can get. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without him looking out for me when I was growing up and teaching me things that have served me well for a lifetime…beginning with how to throw and catch a baseball. I wonder where I’d be if we never played that first game of catch in the backyard…
Dad taught me so many other things – that I was as good a football player as I was or that I’m still a good swimmer go back to lessons he gave me when I was a little kid. I reckon he noticed that he had an athletic son and wanted to make sure that I took advantage of what gifts I had. There are a lot of non-athletic things he taught me too (like how to build stuff and win a fight, although I guess that’s pretty athletic), but I thought I’d use Father’s Day this year to tell y’all a little about what was Dad’s greatest failure with his only son.
Some of you may know me well enough to know where this is going.
Like I said, I was always an athletic kid, and took to hitting and throwing a baseball and throwing a football around like a duck to water. And I literally took to swimming like a duck to water: the problem the day of my first swimming lesson was getting me out of the water when it was time to go home. (Come to think of it, that’s still the problem with me in the pool today lol.)
So, given that, you’d naturally think that Dad, who played basketball in high school, would want to pass that on to his son just like all the other valuable things he taught me. Right?
It’s not like he didn’t try.
One day I came home from school and there was a shiny new basketball hoop up over the garage. The kind of thing you saw up and down our street, and the kind of thing you figure should be outside any American house with a boy growing up in it.
I reckon I was about 6 when the hoop went up. Real little kids (Dad said) can’t really learn to shoot baskets, since you do have to be able to get some height on your shot. So that’s why he waited until I was 6. Playing catch with a baseball or a football (provided you got a kid-sized football) were something you could do when you were a little younger.
I was very excited when I saw the hoop and was looking forward to trying it out. Dad had gotten a couple basketballs and was anxious to get me started on my career as a great basketball player too. So we started that very night.
He began by telling me to just try and throw the ball at the hoop and see if I could get it in the net – no technique or anything, just throw it.
So I did.
Swoosh. It went in!
Ok…so Dad was probably having visions of me being a natural at basketball the way I was with the other sports he taught me to play.
Only thing is that was probably the only time I ever got a feeling of satisfaction from a basketball.
Dad says I exaggerate when I tell the story, but, as far as I can remember, I didn’t make another basket that night.
We went out the next day and tried again…and the same thing happened. I was really dejected afterwards, especially as I knew Dad wanted me to succeed and I felt (as much as a 6 year old can) that I was letting him down. Dad finally got out the baseball gear and we went out back and played catch in the dying light so I’d be able to go to bed feeling like I was still a capable jock.
I think Dad gave me a day off, but we were in the driveway again the day after that, and I wasn’t getting any better.
With a lot more practice, I probably could have learned to shoot the ball more accurately – I have good hand-eye coordination, remember – but that’s not what ended my basketball career prematurely.
After a couple days out in the driveway, Dad noticed that I was doing something strange for a basketball player: he’d toss me the ball and I’d shoot it right away. I wasn’t dribbling, in other words, and, well, if you’ve watched anyone shooting baskets, they always bounce the ball a few times before they shoot. I watched enough basketball on TV with Dad to know that was how it was done, but, for some reason, I wasn’t doing it.
So Dad tried to show me how to dribble.
Ok, if I wasn’t good at shooting baskets, I was – as y’all know – a total failure at dribbling. I simply can’t get the rhythm of it – I put my hand out too soon and miss the ball, or I put it out too late and miss the ball that way. I just can’t dribble. Dad tried and tried and tried to show me how to do it, but, like I said, I simply can’t. But there are a lot of kids who could dribble a ball in the driveway and not hit a baseball as hard and accurately as I could.
Of course it wasn’t that easy getting away from basketball, since, especially in elementary school, you’re expected to play a lot of basketball in the schoolyard. I grew to dread basketball days – why did we even have them when our time could be spent better playing something cool like baseball or even football? I was always one of the first kids to get picked for teams growing up, except when the game was basketball. That sucked a lot, but both Dad and Meemaw told me that it would teach me some humility. And I think there’s something to that, which may be serving me well as a baseball tutor, since I know how it feels to get picked close to last for something, and I know that feeling sucks. I’d like to spare other kids from having to have that feeling…and it’s kind of working, even with Matteo, who may not love sports, and who may not be the fastest or the most coordinated of kids, but who can now run, throw, catch and even hit a ball pretty decently. (And he’s growing up into a dang good swimmer.) So Matteo’s days of getting picked last are over.
Later on, it worked out just fine, since Mom made the rule that I couldn’t play three sports, which gave me an excuse to get out of basketball season. (If I could have had a third sport, it would have been swimming, but you can’t swim and play baseball, since they’re both spring sports and baseball was more important than anything. Besides, I noticed that some of the guys who had the best times on the swim team no longer enjoyed being in the water. So I’m real glad to be a very good recreational swimmer you have to pull out of the water because it’s time for dinner lol.)
But, anyway, thanks, Dad for trying to teach me to play basketball. And thanks even more for not making me feel bad that I so totally suck at it.