I waited anxiously for my father to come home. I was 11 years old at the time, and I knew he’d be home in a few minutes. Dad always came home within the same 15-minute window, and he always had the same routine. He would walk through the open door, hug each of his kids, and then go find mom. When he saw her, he engaged in “gooey” talk about how much he loved her.
None of those parts of his routine were of interest to me. My anticipation was directly linked to the fact that after he had finished greeting us, he would change his clothes and we would trot across the street to play basketball. And we did this every day.
I cherished that time with my dad. It wasn’t what he said to me, and it certainly wasn’t the level of basketball training that stands out most. It was the fact that he spent time with me—usually 45 minutes a day, sharing in something that I loved.
When we first began playing together, he would give me a point advantage to keep the score close. He was so much better at the game than I was that I would have been discouraged if he hadn’t. But as the years passed, my skills passed his, and I needed to give him a point advantage. I remember how much it meant to me as he would gush over my improvement during our walk back to the house.
I don’t know when my dad became my hero. Perhaps it was only after I had children myself that I began to realize what he had sacrificed, and what it meant to me. Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought to how my dad showed his love. Here are some of the ways he did this.
Time. Dad gave his time to me. It wasn’t just leftover time. Dad sacrificed his prime time for me. Every day, he gave me 45 special minutes shortly after coming home from work. When I became a dad, I realized what a commitment that was. I knew later that he had just as many work commitments as I have ever had tugging at him to stay “and get the job done.” While those things were important to my dad, they weren’t as important as spending time with me, my two sisters, and my mom.
Sharing something I loved. Dad spent his time with me doing something I loved. Dad enjoyed basketball, but it wasn’t his favorite. He never let me know that. I learned later that his real love was tennis. But he came out to play basketball, night in and night out, because it was what I wanted to do. He loved tennis. I loved basketball. We ended up spending most of our sports time together doing what I loved.
Conversation. Dad spent an enormous amount of time conversing with me. When we were playing ball together, it was easy to discuss the issues of life. This wasn’t lecture time, or some stilted, artificial, “Son, we need to have a talk” type of encounter. It was just part of the basketball game.
I still remember some of the lessons that he taught me on the court. “Son,” he would say, “don’t ever walk an old lady across the street…unless she wants to go.” This was his way of telling me that when people don’t want to do something, I shouldn’t force the issue. Or he might say, “Often wrong, but never in doubt.” This was a shorthand way of saying, “Before you get too dogmatic about something, make sure you have your facts straight.”
Some 40 years after those experiences, my eyes well up with tears thinking about what my dad meant to me. The things he did to become my hero were quite simple and ordinary, but I know it couldn’t have always been easy.
Who are your children’s heroes? You might be surprised. One of them could be you!