I went out to the minivan to get the plastic containers so we could pack up our son’s graduation table. The last of family, friends, and other guests had sauntered off to enjoy the sunny Saturday afternoon. Graduation was still a day away but we held our graduation celebration a day early with two of his friends. Their families were tearing down their sons’ tables. It was a fun morning. We went through almost 300 breakfast burritos. Don’t know how many cups of coffee or slices of coffee cake we went through, but it was a lot.
There were old friends and new. Small moments of conversations. My son (and I’m sure his friends) had to answer the question, So, what are your plans for next year?, a million times. Slide shows were on constant loop, revealing how the boys have grown. A window into their lives in six second intervals.
I placed the container down that held all of his medals; sports, journalism, and science fair. Time to box it up all again. For a week my wife and I looked through boxes for material for the table (my wife more than me, but I had to lift the heavier ones). As I picked up this year’s second place medal and small trophy for basketball, I had to hold my heart together.
Not because I was sad. Just the opposite. No one ever tells you how joy can break your heart. Honestly, that kind of heartbreak is just as painful. Partly because on the edge of the joy is the realization that no moment lasts forever. Yes, we have the memories, the pictures and trophies to draw upon. But when you are in the moment, however big, like a state championship game, or small, like teaching your daughters how to play H.O.R.S.E. on the driveway hoop, is when we know we are living. Fully engaged with who we are, connected to those around us. Living life.
And then those moments pass. Many of them are captured in photos, medals, certificates, and home videos. Others are relived through stories told around the dinner table or at holidays. We laugh, we cry, we feel the moments again. Then we box them up. In our hearts. In plastic containers. In our phones.
I got all the medals, photos, certificates, and trophies packed up. We got the extra plates and cups gathered together. We divided the few breakfast burritos among the three families, and left the conference room to enjoy the sunny Saturday afternoon, ready to experience the next big moment: Graduation.
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.
I learned about the song, “comethru” from a senior for an assignment last semester. I like incorporating music into my lessons. It allows me to see a different aspect of my students. This song was shared during our study of the book, Night. In chapter 6, Juliek plays a last “concert” for the prisoners with his violin. The students had to share a song that lifts their spirits when life gets rough.
Life is rough right now.
This morning the students were allowed into the school to get their stuff and talk to teachers about how their classes would be handled online. They were allowed in by grade every hour. At one point I had about 20 seniors in my class. They were laughing, enjoying the chance to be together… maybe for the last time as seniors.
“Five More Minutes” by Scotty McCreery was a song submitted as a poetic song for our poetry unit.
A classroom, a school, is an intense snapshot of life. Everyday is filled with the full spectrum of emotions. Of victories and heartbreak. Personal growth and steps backwards. Each student has their own journey, yet it is shared with everyone in the classroom. Some of the fears are the same for every student as they walk the path to graduation. But right now, we are all sharing the same fear and anxiety of the present moment.
For a few moments, I felt OK this morning. After everyone left, a senior came back in, hand out toward me. “I need one more,” he said. And we did our handshake that we do everyday in class…
I’m not OK now… But again, I should listen to my students… Another song submitted for an assignment.
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.
“Woman Burning Love Letters Sparks Nebraska Apartment Fire.”
The article stated that a 19 year-old woman was burning love letters from her ex with a butane torch in her bedroom. Some of the pieces that fell to the carpet started the fire.
When I read this, so many thoughts and emotions came to mind.
My first reaction, actually, was happiness. To know that people still write love letters, in this digital world, where we send emoticons as birthday wishes, that the woman’s relationship was so strong that they wrote letters to each other was cool to read. Of course, the pain of ending the relationship is tough to deal with.
Which brought up the next thought. Dealing with pain from relationships and love is a part of our lives. I couldn’t help but think about how many more times she would deal with heartbreak. And not just with relationships. Not getting a job or position, not achieving a goal, there are so many things that can bring us heartache in life. I wish I could tell her I know it hurts but that she will gain strength from this… and that love is still real. She will meet the right person in the future. Life can break our hearts, but love heals it.
Then my poetic side kicked in…
Your words no longer read true
Written in passion
Each letter started with my name in cursive
ended with a heart and your initials
Broken by actions
By trading in our future
for a set of green eyes
I only have this flame
To mirror the heat in my chest
Our future turning into ash
Black, rising in the air
As sections of words
Promises and devotions
Edged with amber flakes
Fall to the floor
My pain ignites the scraps
Flames crawling up the dresser
Consuming the picture of us
Cheek to cheek
Last winter in Colorado
I toss the shoebox holding the last few letters
Into the growing blaze
I grab my phone
and the book I’ve been reading
I close the door
On the burning of our life together
The headline read:
“Woman Burning Love Letters Sparks Nebraska Apartment Fire.”
Do you remember the first time you fell in love? Or had your first serious heartbreak? Both of these moments highlight the second answer to Why Love, and that is Joy.
Without getting too deep, I am going to touch on the magical aspect of love but also reveal the importance of why choosing love allows us to feel joy.
So let’s go back in time to that heart pounding time when that certain someone made you see the world in a whole new light. Falling in love. Do you remember how your priorities changed? How even rainy days were awesome? How you were awestruck by their eyes and totally lost any sense of time when you were with them? Life was so good.
Just for a second, let’s deal with the heartache. How dark and painful it felt. I know the argument that love breaks your heart, but that is wrong. People break your heart, not love.
Falling in love and sadly the pain of heartbreak reveal the strength love has in revealing joy in our life. I use romantic love because many of us have been through this roller coaster of emotion. But joy comes from all aspects of life. My children have brought me to tears of joy as I watched them play with bubbles. I have lost the sense of time sitting on my patio with a cup of coffee. I have jammed out to a favorite song on the way to work. Life has been so good.
And yes, life has beaten me down. I have had serious dark days… but that is the crux of this answer. I believe that when we choose Love, it allows us to see the real beauty of this life. By seeing and acknowledging that beauty leads us to feel joy.
No, Love does not remove the hardships of life. Two years ago I wrote about the strength it takes to feel joy. This reveals how connected the choice of Love is in our life. Love brings us success in our life, it builds strength, it brings us joy. It is a cycle that creates an awesome life that can handle the hardships we encounter. But in the next post I am going to reveal the most important reason to choose Love. And I read it in a book…
Below is the song that I quoted earlier in the post.