Tennis with my oldest son tonight 1 and 1. (He won the regular set, I won the shortened one)
Disc Golf with both my sons 0 and who knows.
Lightsaber battles with my second daughter 0 and like 28.
Pool basketball? 1 and too many to count.
Regular basketball? Against my sons? Haven’t won any serious games in years.
Chutes and Ladders (and other games)? I win sometimes. I’m a pretty good Pitch player.
Lately, I have been defeated in lots of different activities. And it is a bitter but mostly sweet feeling. These defeats are milestones for my children and for me. They are important for a number of reasons.
For my children they gage where they are in life regarding their mental and physical stages. I am, as a father, a measuring stick for them. There is a special joy they feel when they win against me. I see it in their faces, the way their eyes shine. I also see their frustration when I win. Either way, they are building strength, discovering what they are capable of. And not just physically. They have to handle their emotions, win or lose. Playing against dad (and mom sometimes with tennis) gives my children a space to develop who they are.
The second factor is that we build memories, win or lose, great shots are made, awesome hands are dealt, funny jokes shared, and sometimes bandages are needed (driveway basketball is not forgiving). Playing allows us to live life fully. The moments get retold at the dinner table. The disc golf shot on the first hole. The 9 bid because I didn’t have the 2. Switching to the other color of lightsaber but still losing.
As a father, I get to see my children grow. I get to teach them, through playing, life lessons that I know will be needed in their efforts to reach their goals. Yes, sometimes in the activity (like basketball) but also in the hardships that life has. I influence how they handle winning and losing. My children get tested playing with me before they are tested by life, tested by an opponent, tested by their own doubt and fear. They build their strength by defeating me.
And I love it.
I may never win a basketball game again. Or a lightsaber battle. But you better believe that I will be up to playing with my kids, no matter their age or my record. I’m their father, that’s what I do.
On Saturday I pulled into the garage after returning from Lincoln. The odometer read 171,201 miles. And that was just for this minivan, which we purchased in 2014 when we found out that we were having our sixth child. At the time it was the only minivan that had 8 seats. Our first minivan had over 80,000 miles on it.
My heart was full of memories driving home from watching my son’s basketball team play in the state title game. The team earned the runner-up trophy, but the hardest part of the day was knowing that my son’s career was over and that we wouldn’t be traveling for his basketball games. My wife and I talked about how many times we traveled I-80 to Lincoln, or Omaha, or Minneapolis, or Chicago, because of basketball.
But those 171,201 miles represent more than basketball trips. They represent college visits two years ago, traveling on mini family vacations to the Omaha zoo. My wife and I have traveled to marching band competitions, honor band performances, and art award ceremonies.
Yes, part of parenthood is spending time on the road to support your children’s activities, and we have spent a lot of time on the road. But many of the miles also represent our Saturday trips to the library where we would play games before we checked out books. We rack up miles every weekend grocery shopping. There are miles on the odometer that are from simple date nights of DQ treats and parking at the lake to talk.
Over the last seven years, the minivan has taken us 171,201 miles. What that number doesn’t show is the memories of the places we have been. You can’t feel the panic of driving in all the different weather conditions, or the near miss of an accident in Chicago. The miles can’t show the funny view of every child asleep with their heads at odd angles in the back, or see us all jamming out to the song playing before a basketball game. Every season there was a new song.
The miles don’t express the love between me and my wife. We have traveled most of the 171,201 miles together. We have laughed, cried, and been exhausted as we’ve traveled these roads, but we have driven them together.
I wanted to say a few things to you today as a basketball parent. I am writing this letter the day after my son’s last game. His career ended with the runner-up trophy at state. A bittersweet moment for sure. But I’ll come back to the ending later.
First, thank you, for so many things. See, I’m a football guy. I played basketball in junior high and my sophomore year in high school, but football is my game. Yes, I thought my sons would play the game I loved. But they found you instead, especially Dante. Basketball became a central part of our family for the last 10 years, and our family is stronger because of it. Let me explain.
Both of my sons started playing basketball in elementary school. In fact, they played together on the YMCA’s 3 / 4 grade team. My oldest son stopped playing after junior high because he found his passion on the stage, but basketball became a part of Dante’s journey of becoming a young man. And what a journey it was for him and us. As I write this through the flood of memories, I have to laugh because my son was at the top of the zone on that first team, and would be the main player at the top of his high school’s 1-3-1 zone. (He ended this season with over 70 steals.)
But, this letter is about what you gave to use as a family. Basketball, you gave us moments together. From heartbreaking last second losses to incredibly joyful wins. You showed us the best in people, and sadly the worst sides of people. You brought friends into our lives, and revealed how connected our own personal journeys are.
It started with Saturday morning trips to get coffee and then to a local gym, sometimes with good seating, other times parents would be shoulder to shoulder standing against the wall trying to keep little ones from stepping onto the floor.
As my sons got older we traveled to elementary tournaments. We would pack snacks, drinks, try to plan when we could eat. By this time, the boys were on separate teams, and we would sometimes have to decide who went to watch who, let alone timing the games because we only had one car. My wife and I would send game updates and pictures to each other. We strengthened our communication skills for sure.
Then, when Dante earned a spot on the Bison team (Nebraska Basketball Development Association) in junior high, you took our family to another level. In fact, I am a better father because I messed up during a summer tournament.
The tournament was in Omaha. We traveled back and forth from home to Omaha like we usually did, I was tired. Any parent who travels for AAU knows the bone weariness that comes with traveling. It was an early Sunday morning game and I did something uncharacteristic. I yelled at my son during the game.
OK, basketball, you know that fans and parents, especially, can be harsh and disrespectful. We have always tried to be respectful of the game, teams, and officials. In fact, except for this year, I was pretty quiet for a sports dad. This year, I just had to cheer loud! But back to that Sunday morning, Dante committed a turnover, and I hollered something in frustration. Honestly, I can’t remember what I said exactly, but it hurt my son. I knew it right away, too. After the game it took him 30 minutes to come to us and he gave me the cold shoulder. He wouldn’t walk with us to the car. I apologized to him, but it took awhile for him to forgive me. I have never crossed that line since then. Even though it was one of the toughest lessons to learn, I have to thank you for it.
You are also responsible for another tough lesson as a father, maybe not a lesson but a milestone all fathers have; that moment when a son is better than their father. I don’t know how many hours we have spent playing basketball on our driveway. When the boys were young it was them against me. As they got older, the games became tougher to win for me, so we would play Red, White, and Blue (One-on-one where the person who makes a basket stays and the other player rotates in). Then came the day Dante straight-up beat me, you can read the poem about it here: Driveway Basketball.
Again, as memories flood my heart, our driveway hoop had a hand in building Dante’s other passion, photography. He would experiment with creating cool images of him shooting. He would set his smartphone on the concrete and make shots, then blend them together. Basketball, you have been an inspiration, even for art, for my family.
The biggest thank you, though, is for all the awesome memories, and not just on the court. As mentioned before, you have given our family opportunities to be a part of other families’ lives. On Championship Saturday we got to share in the victories and defeats of former Bison teammates. We understood their basketball journeys on a level the casual fan couldn’t. We appreciated their game because we knew their life off the court. Because of basketball, our lives are richer with friendships and stories we can share when our paths cross in the future.
And some of those stories are just for our dinner table. Because of the opportunity to play basketball, our family has created our own memories, from grandpa meeting us to drop off forgotten shoes, to having our engine basically rebuilt in two days while in Chicago. (Thank you, Brett!) You have strengthened my family by allowing us to experience life, both on the court and off. Thank you, basketball, even as my son’s career ends and I feel the pain of never watching him drive to the basket again, my heart is filled with joy for being the father of a basketball player.
P.S. My elementary daughters have enjoyed the game, too. My second daughter plans on playing next year in junior high.
Like almost every Sunday morning, we made blueberry muffins for breakfast. I brewed a cup of coffee, set the oven to 410 degrees, started some music on my phone and got the paper cups into the muffin pan. For new readers, making blueberry muffins is a foundational part of my family’s life and a running metaphor for this blog.
Today is also Father’s Day. As my playlist switched to the song “Wild Horses” by Gino Vanelli, I thought about how music and specific songs defined moments for me as a father. I thought it would be fun to share some of those moments and music as a celebration for Father’s Day. Grab some headphones as I share some good vibes about being a father.
“Arms Wide Open” was a staple on radio when my first child was born. Once I held my son for the first time, I understood this song, completely. The feeling of wonder and responsibility never faded for any of my children’s births. Fatherhood is not easy, but it is the greatest gift I’ve received in my life. Honestly, I believe the world can change from the home. I want this post to be a celebration, so I will simply say that I can not fathom how anyone, father or mother, can treat their children in so many horrible ways… Anyway, this song captures an honest view of the start of fatherhood.
There could be a number of songs here, in fact the song “Wild Horses” could be placed here, but this is a song my daughters like to dance to during our dance parties. Which we have done for about 20 years. On any random night we might have a dance party. We play music and dance. The fun part has been the change in music over the years. The boys had The Wiggles and “Jessie’s Girl.” Now, the girls have Imagine Dragons, Minecraft parody songs like, “Skelly Heart,” and SpongeBob. But the dance party has stayed, filled with music, laughter, and sweet dad moves.
This song started our family’s connection to the stage. My oldest son was 10 years old when he wanted to try out for Charlie in the musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for our youth community theater production. To audition he had to sing and dance to a song of his choice. He decided on “Cave In.” He decided to dance literally to the lyrics. He was auditioning against older kids who had been in theater for a while. Did I mention he had never performed in a play or musical before? He got the part. Watching my son on stage was my first taste of fatherly pride.
That moment when your child finds a place in the world and you get to experience it. But also help foster it and be there through the rough spots. I will admit it is hard to not get caught up in that feeling. My children’s talents are theirs to develop and to reap the rewards from them. I am there to support them and enjoy the ride.
My oldest son isn’t the only one to enjoy the spotlight on the stage. My youngest daughters have been involved in our youth community theater program, too. Not to mention my adventure last year on the stage (What I am Learning). But it all started with my son using this song for his audition. And honestly, his last performance in high school as Tevye in The Fiddler on the Roof, was my first taste of knowing how much it hurts to let them grow.
We are also a basketball family. Yes, my youngest daughters play basketball, and also volleyball and tennis. My oldest son played basketball through junior high. But basketball has been an area for my second son (who did do some summer theater when he was younger). My second son started playing when he was nine years old. We have traveled thousands of miles to tournaments and practices. Each season my son would have a song or two we would listen to before we arrived at the gym. Those songs changed every season, but “The Show Goes On” has been a staple for him through the years. The message rings true for me as a dad as I continue to drive miles for him and his sisters now.
This song is one of my oldest daughter’s favorite songs from the show Good Omens. She is the artist, the wild soul in this world. Her taste in music, art, literature, and other forms of media is different, and that is awesome. I remember sitting in her room listening to this song and others from the soundtrack. Something I would do as a teen with my friends. She has influenced her younger sisters in some of the shows they watch, but she has taught me the importance of allowing my kids to have their own interests, to foster their own views in this world. She brings a beauty and wider lens to my world. The depth of fatherhood is found in the uniqueness of each child and the path they follow.
For the last song, I wanted to find a song that came the closest to my view of what it means to be a dad. My view of fatherhood has changed as my children have grown. Each age brings a new understanding of what it means to be a father. The needs and demands change with each year and each child. The joys and pains are unique for each of my kids. I know that they have their own battles in this world, and it only gets harder for them as they become adults. But I will be there for them, for as long as I can.
And if they ever come home, blueberry muffins will be ready for them on Sunday morning.
Earlier this morning the scene in our kitchen was the same as it is most Sundays. The family eating blueberry muffins, eggs, and sausage. Except we were eating at 8:10 a.m. We usually eat around 7 a.m. so that we can attend church at 9 a.m. Today, we are watching the service on TV.
Our oldest son was not at the table, he was heading back to college to get stuff from his dorm because his college was going online only in a week.
The mood in the kitchen was joyful and tired. We were less than 24 hours from watching our second son win the consolation game for state basketball. We were tired from all the emotions we experienced during the tournament. From winning the first round game, losing in the semifinals (a tied game with 6 minutes left), and winning the third place game. But only family was allowed to watch the games.
In a time when we are supposed to be practicing ‘social distancing’, I saw sons hugged by fathers and mothers after the semifinal loss. Hugged for minutes. Tears shared by all. And I saw the same after the team’s victory yesterday, just with a different emotion. Of course the senior parents held their sons the longest during the celebration.
This morning life felt normal while outside our doors things are crazy. Uncertainty fills the air as we wait to see what changes come next. What I do know is that next Sunday we will have blueberry muffins as a family, no matter the changes that occur in the world.
Or maybe have read about how two horses can pull three times the weight of one horse. If you add in the factor that the horses were raised together, they can pull four times the weight. This is the example many people use to show the power of synergy.
But synergy is not just for horses, it is an important element to our lives. There are a few aspects to understand about the synergy concept to gain the most from it.
One, the idea of synergy is often renamed depending on the environment. In sports we call it team. In life it is family and friends. In business it has been labeled tribe and team. At the heart of the matter, it is the idea of everyone working together. Working together for a common goal. That is the second aspect.
Horses don’t just pull 30,000 pounds around the field for fun. It is work and there is a destination for the load. No matter the situation: a basketball season, a happy family, reaching a sales goal, there has to be a unifying destination for the work. A WHY. Simon Senik’s book, Start with Why, is a great resource for diving deeper into this part of synergy. At the surface, though, it means everyone working toward a common goal.
A hard truth here, synergy has always been used to highlight the positive. The truth is that synergy can also destroy. In real life you can have a group of people who build momentum in their negative attitude and destroy a team. Destroy the culture of a business. So called friends that bring you down from accomplishing your goals. Synergy is about how much a group can accomplish together. That means both positive and negative outcomes. This truth highlights the importance of the destination. It also explains the importance of the third factor, the right team.
The example of how much weight horses can pull has an interesting twist. As the story goes, a single Belgian draft horse can pull 8,000 pounds. Two Belgian draft horses that are “strangers” can pull over 20,000 pounds. But a pair of horses that are raised and trained together can pull over 30,000. Consider that idea for a moment.
A team that has been together over time, who have gone through the same training or life experiences, has the greatest outcome. I hate to bring it up again, but that means both positive and negative outcomes. It is important to remember as we deal with changing things for the better. Back to the idea of a team that has grown together and the work they can accomplish.
This is powerful. This is a factor in an outstanding life. At the moment of writing this blog it is state basketball time. Eight teams in each class have made it to the state tournament. Teams have grown together over the season to reach this goal. You will hear the word “team” in the interviews, from both the winning and losing coaches. It might be a cliche in a way, but it is true. It takes a team to get to this level. A group coming together for a common goal. Synergy in action.
The same happens in our personal lives. Our friends, our family, are part of our personal synergy. The difficult part is that there is not always an end goal with these relationships. Sometimes the reason, or the why, of our relationships is lost. Then we feel like we are drifting. Relationships feel shallow. Understanding and working for the WHY of our relationships is paramount. A strong marriage or friendship takes work. There are many ways to do that work. One example from my life is our tradition as a family for each person to choose a word of the year, then displaying that word in a unique way in our home (Living by One Word). Throughout the year we check-in on how we are doing with our words. We grow together.
Creating positive synergy is a powerful element for any team. No matter what type of team you are on; basketball, sales team, or family.
In 2018 I wrote a blog about twenty years of marriage based on songs. I enjoyed writing that blog, so I thought it would be fun to revisit 2019 through music. So, grab your headphones and travel with me as I share 2019 through songs.
One of the biggest moments in 2019 was when I decided to audition for the musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. And I did because I got the part of Vice Principal Douglas Panch. I had a blast. (Here is the blog post about that experience: What I am Learning.)
His name is Brett, and he is a service tech at the Honda dealership in Joliet, Illinois. Long story short; he got us home after our mini van broke down during a basketball tournament in Chicago this summer. Brett is a good person.
Staying with the basketball theme, this is one of the songs my second son likes to listen to to get ready for basketball. After the Chicago trip, his team went undefeated for the rest of the summer. Through all the miles and hotel rooms, ponds, and fruit smiles, the show goes on… and as a dad, I couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishments.
My oldest son ended his high school acting career playing Tevye from the play, Fiddler on the Roof. I cried. As a father, there is nothing that breaks your heart more than the joy of seeing your children shine doing what they love. My oldest son has been acting since he was 9 years old. Watching his last performance was one of the best moments I’ve had as a dad.
I’ll end with this song from Macklemore… Even though it was released in 2017, this was a major song for me in 2019.
Share the song that best represents 2019 for you in the comments…
To reinforce the importance of doing the right thing. My wife and I spent the weekend at a youth basketball tournament with our two middle daughters. As you can imagine, there was all kinds of people and craziness. Youth basketball tournaments have a unique chaos to them.
First, understand we do enjoy seeing our kids play. We are thankful for the hard work it takes to run these tournaments. This post is not about that. It’s about people.
I’m not going to rant about all the stuff that goes on. From the yelling at refs, yelling at their own kids as they head to the car, or the way people disregard others around them. One child throwing popcorn all over everyone while his parents did nothing.
I’m going to use one situation, parking, to ask the question: When is it the right time to do the right thing?
If you have ever attended an event like this, you know that parking is difficult. There is never enough parking. Plus it is the middle of winter. But what is worse is the cars that blatantly take two spots by parking their cars so that the car is over both yellow lines. Or the person who parks so that the handicap spots can not be accessed. How about the cars that park away from the curbs so far it is hard for others to drive between the parked cars and the car six feet away from the curb.
My favorite is the glare you get because someone is driving the wrong way for the entry drive to the parking lot and you had the audacity to drive correctly and they have to pull their car to the side.
So, when is it the right time to do the right thing?
When no one is looking?
When we are all dealing with the same situation?
When there is an emergency?
I believe we should do the right thing every time.
We attended a wedding for my niece. They dated for over four years.
This past week was filled with stories: heartbreak, new beginnings, happiness, and history. It is incredible to think about all the stories being written right at this moment. Some filled with joy, while others are experiencing pain and heartache. Someone right now is trying to fight off doubt and fear, while at the same time a couple is welcoming a new child into the world.
A great story is not without pain or without love. I don’t know what words you are writing right now for your story. But I do know that your story is important, that the words are yours and they need to be written by you. There will always be plot twists that surprise us, but remember, you get to write the next scene… write from your heart.
Before you watch the following video of Gina Auriemma talking about athletes he tries to recruit, pay attention to his use of the word Love.
“Recruiting kids that are like really upbeat and loving life and love the game and have this tremendous appreciation for when their teammates do something well..”
I recently blogged about how my sons have felt the sting of failure, but also how it was important to feel that pain because it meant their heart was in it and that they would eventually have success in their activities (Losing Hurts and that is Good).
That is the first reason or answer to the question: Why Love? As I mentioned in my blog, and if you follow the UConn Women’s Basketball team this year, you know that you can still lose even if you play with heart. But that ability to play or live from Love gives you the strength to handle setbacks.
There are two ways Love helps us succeed.
Is the foundation to successful characteristics (for next post).
Let’s do a mind experiment. Think back to a time you were frustrated, angry, or felt lost or sad. There are a million ways we handle these emotions, but at the base of these emotions was a sense that the situation and feelings were imposed on you. That you had limited control or choice. I what you are thinking, and yes, I’ll quote the cliche: You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you… (Brian Tracy).
And I use the word cliche because we have all heard this before. But which attitude should we choose? I can choose anger, or fear, or any attitude I want. But when you choose Love you are building strength to become successful.
OK, stay with me as we take this a step deeper. Go back to the mind experiment and the negative reactions. Now think about control with the idea of strength. An easy example, have you ever said something in anger that you really didn’t mean? Or at least thought it? Yes, we all have. How does that happen? We lose control because we are not centered (or strong enough at that moment) from a stance of Love (the choice to care about a person, thing or idea, and to act accordingly). So we internally, or worse, externally say something we don’t really feel. Yes, at the moment we do because those emotions are controlling our hearts and therefor our minds and mouth. Love gives us the strength to choose a different outcome.
It takes time and practice to operate from Love. Each time you do, you become stronger, you become more in control of your life. Nothing… Nothing stops the pain and tragedy of life. Love is the factor that helps us move past those moments to build a successful life. We will still lose games on last second shots, that’s life. But who wouldn’t want to be a part of a team with 11 championships or a 111 win streak? Or better yet, laughter at the dinner table, friends and family at Christmas, and Love.
The next post will look at the second part of success, how love is the foundation of successful characteristics.