I’m better than my dad at basketball.
That’s not much of a feat considering he’s seventy. I was able to beat my dad at basketball when I was fifteen, though. Dad was strong, but not quick, and had a soft touch on his shots. The one move that always used to get me was his hook shot. Where did my dad learn to do a hook shot? Seriously? Cut it out, Kareem.
Once I joined my high school basketball team, it was all over. The “Miller hook” couldn’t shut me down. Dad was fine with that. As a high school freshman I was the superior athlete. And I was okay with that, too. My dad didn’t need to beat me, or even help me grow as a player for him to build me up as a man. Using a few intentional, repetitive statements, Dad shaped the way I viewed whatever game I was playing and shaped my worldview.
“Did you have fun?”
My dad never placed my value on whether I won or lost the game. However, If I wasn’t having fun, there was a problem. Did you know that you can enjoy playing even if you lose? My dad taught me that. If I’m competing with my friends, being a good teammate and sportsman, there’s no reason I should leave demoralized. Playing the game is a win in itself, not just a means to a victorious end. Sure, we celebrated wins together, but Dad celebrated fun more.
“You played hard.”
Dad verbally affirmed strong effort. I didn’t have to take home the championship. I didn’t even have to be the best player on my team. My job was to play hard and not give up. Some days, you can play hard but never score a goal. Dad never replayed stats for me. I never had to relive my bad moments. He’d help me improve where he could, but it was always affirming. Correction and advice always came with smiles, and never immediately after a rough game. Dad liked when I did my best, he affirmed my hustle. If I walked to the car sweaty and tired, I was a winner in his book.
“I’m proud of you.”
I cannot even begin to describe how much I need to hear this even now. Dad always tells me that he’s proud of me. I’ve begun working it into my dialogue with my kids, and my oldest isn’t even two yet. My kids must know that their scoreboard performances never define them. They are loved even if they don’t make the winning shot.
Even if they sit the bench.
Even if they don’t make the team.
I love them deeply and strongly. I felt that from my dad, and I’ll do everything I can to communicate that to my family.
Dad’s don’t need to be all-star athletes to be a hall-of-fame fathers. My dad chose his words intentionally and cared more about the my growth as a man than my growth as a player. At some point, my son will school me on the court. That’s fine, because neither of us are defined by that scoreboard.
We’ll have fun together.
We’ll play hard.
And he’ll know that I’m proud of him every day.