Every now and then, I write a different column. And while it is personal, my hope is that it strikes something in the reader, because I know they have people in their lives similar to the ones I’m writing about.
The picture is a bit yellowed and it’s definitely old. A tiny baby with a head full of jet-black hair sticking up all over his head and large eyes rests on his father’s chest. The dad also with a head full of jet-black hair and glasses is looking at his baby boy. The baby’s ear is pressed against his dad. I imagine the infant is listening to the deep rumble of his dad’s voice.
In mid-October, my dad will celebrate his 70th birthday. Crazily enough, it will come exactly one week after I turn 46. So, I guess it means my father has to be about 24 in the photo.
Thinking about it now, I wonder what my dad was thinking. I wonder if he had a vision for my future.
The funny thing about it is I can never remember a time in my life that my dad wasn’t there.
I remember him teaching me how to hit and catch a fly ball and serving as an assistant coach for the baseball team I played on.
My dad knew baseball, football and basketball. He had played all three. He was ambidextrous, so he could shoot well with his right or his left hand. Playing horse against him was terrible, because he’d switch hands to shoot and quickly put a slew of letters on you.
When soccer came to the East Tennessee town we lived in, I joined a team that promptly lost every game. My dad complained to the league coordinator, and she asked him if he was volunteering to coach.
My dad knew next to nothing about soccer, but he wanted to make sure I had the best experience possible. So he coached my team for a few seasons. Our team was never great, but we worked hard and even managed to finish second in the league a couple of times.
I loved soccer, but when it came time for me to choose between distance running and soccer, my dad stayed out of it. He knew the right choice; at least as far as my ability to do the sport in college went. A few years later he told me he stayed out of it, because I needed to make the right choice for me.
It’s kind of funny. I was a faster runner than my dad by the time I was in fifth or sixth grade. But he could kick my butt at basketball just about whenever he wanted even giving away four inches. His balky knees did catch up, but I’m pretty sure if he had healthy knees, he’d still take me to town.
During my senior year of high school my debate coach was unable to take us to several tournaments. I was being recruited by a couple of college programs and needed to go to the tournaments. Yes. That’s right. I was a distance runner and a debater, so you can imagine I was a big hit with the ladies.
In order for my high school team to compete at the tournaments, we had to bring someone who could judge debates. So I sat down and taught my dad how to judge. Most people would have gone through the motions. Not my dad. When he had a tough debate to judge, he kept his notes and brought them to me. I would read over them and then tell him whom I would have voted for. Each time, he smiled and nodded.
He had voted for the right team.
I know we butted heads probably far more times than can be counted. Even when we were at odds, we could always talk sports. Whether it was the Atlanta Braves, Auburn or anything else, sports remained that topic that allowed us to get away from whatever we disagreed on and just talk.
And there was fishing. My dad taught me how to fish and helped me land my first big catfish. After dad hooked him, I think it took 11-year-old me a good 15 minutes to reel it in. However, a lot of our fishing trips turned out to be more about talking than catching fish. In fact, many family members have joked on more than one occasion about my lack of luck when it comes to fishing.
When I became a sportswriter, I oftentimes remembered the conversations my father and I had. We always delved a bit deeper into the games or sports. I decided to do this same thing in my writing, looking and digging for something that other writers might not see. Honestly, I knew I might have a future as a sportswriter early on when my dad complimented me on my writing.
During my time in Southwest Florida, I befriended some fishing boat captains and got to go out in the Gulf with my dad. One particular captain put us on top of a grouper hole and my dad and I caught too many fish to count. We were done after three hours and our arms and back were sore for several days after. There is a photo of us each holding a large grouper and wearing ear-to-ear smiles that always brings a smile to my face. That day might have been the best fishing day either of us has ever had.
And don’t get me started about my dad and my kids. I’m pretty sure he’s allowed both of my daughters to do anything they want. Not in a bad way but in that way that grandparents always seem to have. Spoil the grandkids rotten and then hand them back to their parents when they get tired and cranky.
At a class reunion several years ago, a long-time friend told me I looked exactly like my father. When I relayed this to my dad the next day he laughed and said something along the lines of, “Poor you.”
Everyone has people we look up to and hope we can emulate. I always wanted to be Bo Jackson. Yep, that didn’t happen.
I also wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Not even close. Instead, I’ve had the opportunity to be like a man I respect and admire far more than words can say.
My hope is that I not only look like my dad but that I have been able to live up to example he set for me. And if I happen to look like my dad as well, it’s not poor me. It’s lucky me.