It’s cliche`, but my father and I have bonded over sports. I wouldn’t say my dad was ever a diehard sports fan, but growing up, we always seemed to be in the basement watching a game of some sort. As a kid, I played sports, my dad making it clear that athletics wasn’t my strong suit and that my future had more to do with GPAs and not RBIs. The important thing was that he was always there, always in the stands to cheer me on. He made sure that I was a good winner and a good loser. He made sure that I was a good teammate and always played my very best.
Most of the most important conversations I had with my dad growing up occurred during an old fashioned game of catch or with sports in the background. Sports became a reference point for life. He would tell stories about the great Oscar Robertson coming to town when the Cincinnati Bearcats would play the UL Cardinals. My dad, without reservation, has always believed that Jim Brown is the best running back and football player ever. He told me about how he felt as a youngster reading and hearing about Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier. Like an Aesop fable, almost all of his stories had some underlying meaning, whether it was perseverance, standing up to injustice or just doing your best against all odds.
I suppose, like most sons, I didn’t really pay attention to all the stories my dad told. As a teenager, the lessons my dad was trying to teach me didn’t seem all that applicable to my life at the time. Now that a few years have passed since we’ve really talked over sports and I got married and have kids of my own, barely a day goes by that I don’t think about those stories my dad used to tell.
For the last few years, my dad has been dealing with early onset dementia, the same affliction that forced legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summit away from the bench and also affects retired North Carolina coach Dean Smith. His short term memory isn’t what it once was and his recall of specifics of his stories has begun to fail him as well. Every few weeks, I bring him a stack of my old issues of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine. And we talk sports. He still tongue-in-cheek teases me about rooting those “racist” Kentucky Wildcats. And he’s also still shocked that the Colts are in Indianapolis and not in Baltimore.
Sports aren’t all that important, yet they are. Sports can be reference points for our lives. A father can use sports stories and cliche’s to teach his son much bigger life lessons. A son can use sports to remind him of good times spent with the greatest man he’ll ever know. Fathers, sons and sports: Some things just go together.