For the first time in a while, everyone was around the table for breakfast on Sunday morning. There was only one blueberry muffin left, the eggs and bacon were all gone. And the morning was filled with conversation.
These moments are becoming rare, and I know that next year that having everyone home will be even less frequent. This is what bittersweet feels like. It is a mix of joy, reconnecting, laughter, pride, and knowledge of time running out, that scares me, to be honest.
Even though my word was Miles for this year (and I have traveled some miles this year), I sat thinking about how many miles my children have traveled this year. Especially my three older ones.
One of the things I am most proud of in this life is building a home. It has not been easy at times. But home is the center of our life as a family. Like a wheel, the house is the hub. My children are spokes. Their lives will take them away from the house, but the love we share keeps us connected; the rim that allows us to travel through this life.
As we started to put dishes away, I joked that the kitchen was going to be quiet once everyone was out of the house. My oldest son said, “You still got a long way to go,” as he looked at his youngest sister (age 9). I smiled at him because I knew deep down that I would be a dad for all of them, no matter how many miles they travel to come back home for blueberry muffins.
As many of you know, my word for this year is MILES, and I have fulfilled that word. Roughly, I have traveled 5,000 miles so far this year. I have traveled for sports, college visits, and a small family vacation. What is interesting about all my travels is how I’ve learned more about the idea of HOME.
Home is a house. A building that I start and finish my day at. A building that protects me and the family from storms. A place where we gather to eat dinner and to play Mario Kart. A place where we rest our heads and our feet. This house becomes a home because of the stories we share at the table, the protection we get from the emotional storms in our lives, and the laughter we share as dad comes in last again.
But home is not just this house. Home is our history. I went home this summer to visit my parents. It was just me, a few days to be their son and to walk down memory lane. One night we walked to the letter hill and found that my name, football number, and hand prints were still set in the concrete D on the hill by the high school.
For a few days I was simply their son. We talked about life, family, and recalled funny and emotional stories. The house was basically the same and so was the sense of home, especially the routine of gathering in the kitchen to talk. It was always the place we would gather before we went off on adventures (maybe someday I’ll share how we had to heat up the oil pan in the car with a waffle iron one winter).
Home is a routine. My wife and I make blueberry muffins every Sunday. Growing up we had bacon and eggs almost every Sunday. Home is the traditions we create. When I traveled with my daughter to Atlanta, it was funny how we still followed some of our normal routines, like eating at a certain time.
But what I’ve really come to realize is that home is actually the people we love and have a strong relationship with. One of the best things about the trip home was how easy it felt to talk and be with people that I hadn’t seen in years. It was like being home with them. I sat with my high school guidance counselor on her back step and just talked. Yes, we caught up on life, but there was no awkwardness to bridge because of the years. That is home.
If for some reason we had to move from this house, we would still have our home. You would find us eating dinner (at 6 p.m.) sharing stories at the dinner table. We would be home no matter where we were in this world.
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.