There’s a special bond between dads and their kids that only comes through sports. It’s different than almost anything else. Whether it’s being at a sporting event as spectators or as competitors, that bond is created by watching and learning.
At a sporting event from the stands, dads show their kids how they act in public, how to deal with victory and defeat and sometimes even how to deal with the heckling from your opponents.
As coaches, and sometimes players, dads show their kids how to prepare, how success comes from the work put in before the start of any game. And again, how to win and how to lose.
There are a lot of things I learned from my mom as the eldest of her four children. She schooled me in leadership and bolstered my confidence as a kid, mostly at the kitchen table.
But my bond with my dad was formed looking under the hood of cars, splitting wood in the backyard and talking about the Orioles, Colts and the Bullets.
I’m lucky to have witnessed so much of this with my father, and doubly fortunate that he, and my mother, are still around. At eighty-eight, much of his time now is filled taking care of my eighty-seven-year-old mother. Some of my friends never knew their dads; others lost them when they were young. I’ve had a relationship with my Dad as a kid, and as an adult. His business advice has been sage, his personal words wise.
And all of that started through sports.
The youngest son of immigrant parents, my father and his brother (who in very Greek fashion lived across the street from us) were the only siblings born in the United States. Sports weren’t much a part of their childhood and maybe that’s why my dad was glad to fuel my interest in all games.
Like a million other young boys, I waited for my Dad to come home from work. After school and finished working my paper route, I’d while away the time in the front yard, depending on the season, playing curb ball or throwing footballs at the six short bushy pines that guarded the front of the house.
He’d drive up, the catcher’s mitt or the football would already be laid out near where his car door would open.
My Dad throws like a catcher. Kind of a short stroke, not much follow through. I have been on the receiving end of his throws many times. Mostly baseballs, but footballs too, the occasional Frisbee or nerf ball, all thrown with that short stroke.
In the front yard I’d fire my best fastball and hear the occasional, “you’ve got to back up, you’re hurting my hand!” Which, of course, would make me throw all that much harder.
In IBM standard white shirt and tie, dark pants and wingtips, my dad caught my first curveball, saw my first failed attempt at a knuckler, and laughed at my imitations of Jim Palmer, Luis Tiant and Juan Marichal.
“Let me go see what you’re mother’s doing,” usually signaled the end of our session, but never before an encouraging “I think you’re going to win the Heisman,” or “you’ll take over when Brooks retires” as he bounced up the front steps.
My father learned a lot of lessons from his dad early on.
They didn’t speak English in the house, and everybody in the neighborhood was Greek. “Two eggs and a bacon,” was the extent of my grandfather’s English, although he never had any trouble communicating. When my father came home from school with a vocabulary test in the first grade, he had no idea what the words meant since he spoke no English.
“What should I do?” my grade school Dad asked. Rather than march to the school and demand he be taught in Greek, my Grandfather (Popou in Greek) logically responded, “Learn English fast.”
Understanding the power of an education, my father kept his nose to the grindstone (mostly) and eventually, at the urging of my mother, he was graduated from Johns Hopkins University using the GI bill.
Like any kid, I learned from my dad by watching. But most of my knowledge of his escapades as a kid and his relationship with his father, I know from stories my Dad told me.
He’s the best storyteller I know. With a bent toward hyperbole, he takes poetic license, as all good storytellers do, but never deviates from the truth. Many times, I’ve heard stories about my grandfather fighting the Turks and the Nazi’s. About the first time he met my mother (on an ice-skating rink) and about the day I was born.
No matter how many times he tells me that one, it’s always with the same emotion, the same passion. How he decided to name me after himself, (my mother’s idea) and not after his father (his dad’s idea.) And how it was one of the four best days of his life (I have two sisters and a brother.) I never really understood that story until I had children of my own, and now the passion and emotion he tells it with makes complete sense to me.
Having been a dad for nearly forty years, it’s the most gratifying thing that’s ever happened to me. And sports are one of the things that helped build my relationship with all three of my children.
Being totally unbiased, I’m lucky all of my children are smart, athletic and good-looking. As I’m told often, most of that they got from their mother. But there are some things they’ve gotten from their relationship through sports from their dad.
Since my daughters are my two eldest children, I was a “Girl Dad” first. There is something special about dads and daughters sharing the bond of athletic competition. Maybe because it’s the thing they most often come to you for when they have a question.
When your kids are growing up, there are lots of questions about studying and socializing, about what to wear and how to act in public. All things girls ask their moms about.
But when they want some help with their mechanics, or some competitive advice, Dad is the resource.
I know those things transfer to something else as they get older. I’ve seen it with my daughters as our relationship has shifted and grown.
But there’s something about that stolen glance from the court up into the stands after a particularly good play that I’ll always miss. That little acknowledgement of thousands of conversations, demonstrations, admonitions and words of encouragement all flashing by in the turned-up corner of a smile in front of a bouncing ponytail. If there’s anything better than that, I’ve never heard of it.
Equal to that is any dad’s bond with their sons. I know mine with my son, my youngest, was cemented through hours and hours of driving to practices, games, and tournaments in and out of town. Often talks about the daily and the mundane and many times the important and life-affirming topics that sons and fathers share, happened in cars and vans driving to and from wins and losses.
Kevin Costner captured some of that in his movie “Field of Dreams.” The final line of the film “Dad, wanna have a catch,” makes dads and sons misty eyed every time. The actor who played Costner’s dad, Dwier Brown says to this day, people stop him on the street to talk about their relationship with their dads, good and bad.
I’ve often thought Bill Murray’s character Bob Harris described it best in the movie “Lost in Translation” when he said about being a dad,
“The most terrifying day of your life is the day the first one is born. Your life, as you know it, is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk, and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.”
If Bill Murray actually said that, he’d have included “and learn how putt” or something sports related.
Happy Father’s Day to my Dad, and to all the dad’s out there enjoying, or remembering times with their own dads and kids.
My kids laugh at my answer when they ask me what I want for Father’s Day. I always say the same thing: “Let’s play some catch.”