What a powerful relationship -- the one between father and son. It is always powerful, and that power can be channeled into something either incredibly beneficial or devastatingly destructive. I'm fortunate to have the former with my dad.
As a child, I seem to recall the physical, rough-house type stuff that he and I would do. It may have been weird for him at first, because his generation was often raised without a lot of physical affection from their own fathers (I'm not saying his was like that). Yet I remember playing keep-away football games with him on the den floor. Riding on his shoulders. Kissing him goodnight while he sat in his rocking chair before I went off to bed. That's what I remember about those years. I was blessed to never experience the "angry father" moments that have hurt so many children. I don't ever recall a childhood time when he yelled at me. Of course, I could have just repressed it. :)
As a teen, we had our awkward times. The physical affection inevitably changed and waned as we felt our way through the transitioning relationship. I am the firstborn, so I'd never seen a teen boy's dynamics with his parents, and my dad had never experienced it either. I don't think I was necessarily a problem teen, but I had my areas of rebellion. It's okay to be intelligent, and it's even okay to know you're intelligent, but it's not a good thing to KNOW you're intelligent. Unfortunately that was me sometimes as a teen. I'm sure it wasn't easy for dad. I remember one time I was cleaning my parents' bedroom (yes, I had chores and am grateful for it) and saw a book on his nightstand about "How to relate to your teen". I thought that was so cool, because he was really making an effort to do his best during that naturally tense time. That's all anybody could ask for.
As an adult, he is one of my most trusted advisers in almost every aspect of life. The physically awkward phase is long gone and we open every meeting with a warm hug. Like what I've written about my brother, my dad and I may not talk much but I feel a very strong bond with him. I think around my mid-20s, as my ego and naivety began to chip away, I realized how special a person he is. And how much I would miss out on by failing to stay close to him.
Here a few stories about my dad:
We moved from northeast Arkansas to Kansas City when I turned 11. We moved at the end of summer, just in time to start at new schools. A few months later the basketball season started, and I joined a local league just like I had always done in Arkansas. It was funny because my age group in Kansas played on goals only 8 and a half feet high, while I had been playing on 10-foot goals in Arkansas for at least two or three years. So that first season was kinda fun and easy in a surprising way.
One way it wasn't easy was our coach. He had a little bit of temper. That was nothing new -- in fact, one of my earlier basketball coaches in Arkansas had been suspended for charging into the stands to confront a parent. Sports sometimes get intense, if you've never noticed.
In this 8.5-foot goal league in Kansas, my coach was the coach for three typical but less-than-optimal reasons: 1) He liked to be in charge 2) His own self-worth was seemingly tied to our wins and losses 3) His son was on the team.
During one game we weren't playing so well. And perhaps his son was playing particularly badly, although I don't remember. What I do remember is the coach using a rolled up magazine to hit his son in our huddle during a timeout. It wasn't a light tap either. It was a hit. There may have been more than one hit, and lots of angry words as well... I don't really remember.
What I do remember is that my dad came over and relieved the coach of duty. In case I forgot to mention it, my dad is a very big, strong guy with a bass voice. He can be quite persuasive, and in this case the coach was persuaded that it was in his best interest to leave the gym. My dad coached the rest of the game, and nobody else got hit or yelled at.
He protected me, he protected my friends, and he gave a powerful example to everybody of what it looks like to stand up against the wrong in life.
Some of you may know that I played college baseball, and even got some attention from pro scouts as a freshman. What you may not know is that I didn't play high school baseball. The coach had something against me that I never discovered, and every summer I would dominate the baseball league, then every spring I would fail to make the high school team against those same players.
Four years in a row I was the last player cut. That meant that I had been practicing with the team for about two weeks, though all the long rounds of tryouts for a 6A school. Every year for four years. And every year I eventually had to leave the team after two weeks, and watch them play without me. They won the state tournament my senior year, with batters who couldn't hit my pitching and pitchers who couldn't get me out. I wasn't popular in high school -- a sport like baseball was really my only ticket to finding a group of friends. And I never got it.
Being cut my senior year was the most painful by far. After three years of not making the team, I was pretty sure I didn't even want to attend tryouts again. But I had grown physically and my play had gone to a new level. After leading the local All-Star team (of which I was the only guy who wasn't on the school team) in the state tournament, another high school coach told me I may be able to get some pro scouting interest already. Surely, I thought, I'm a lock to make the high school team for my senior year. But I didn't.
My dad knew very well how crushed I was. We didn't really talk about it, but one night I went to bed and found an envelope on my pillow, addressed to "Son". It was from dad.
He wrote that in five years nobody would know or care if I had made the high school baseball team. Heck, next year I'd probably be playing college ball. But in five years my character would still be my most important asset, and it would be shaped by my response to the unfair things in life. He assured me that he is proud of me and loves me, and that he was sorry for the pain I was feeling.
It's one of the best letters I've ever received. I've never told anyone about it until now.
Around my 20th birthday my dad decided to upgrade my golf clubs. I was using some super-cheap set of starter clubs and he felt like it was time for the real thing. He'd played with me enough to know my swing and my tendencies, so he took me to a store to get custom measurements and a custom set of brand new clubs. It was a great gift.
My first time on the driving range with them, I broke two of the clubheads clean off the shaft. They literally launched out into the driving range, and I was left holding a metal stick. I fetched the clubheads and went home immediately to show dad. He got on the phone right away with the golf store and they told him all sales were final, and that I must've "abused" the clubs in some way to break them. He simply said, "We'll see. I'm coming there right now" and hung up the phone.
We took the clubs to the store and showed the damage. The store owner initially refused any responsibility for the shabby product. Then he said he would replace the broken clubs. Then he said he'd give us store credit. My dad walked out with a full refund and a promise to never go in that store again.
He took me to another store that had lots of high-quality, slightly used clubs. My left-handed status means that finding used clubs can be difficult, but the prices are low because demand is low. He searched until he found an excellent set of used left-handed clubs that were strong and reliable. I'm still using them 10 years later.
And every time I play golf and see those clubs, I remember how I got them, and who got them for me.
That's my dad.