In the summer of 1990, each day the weather and his schedule permitted, my dad and I would leave our rowhouse on Mellon Street and walk four blocks up Hays Street to the basketball courts lurking behind what was then Peabody High School. Once there, we’d park at one of the “good” hoops — either the hoop closest to the east gate or the hoop closest to the oak tree hovering over the court — and for the next two hours, he’d feed me passes and I’d rotate from spot to spot and shoot.
20 shots from the left wing.
25 shots from the foul line extended.
15 shots from the right short corner.
50 foul shots.
The purpose of this exercise was to mature my jump shot from a from-the-chest, appropriate-for-an-11-year-old set shot to a shot released above my head and at the peak of my jump. And so I kept shooting and kept shooting and kept shooting and kept shooting until the enhanced act felt natural and my muscles remembered the motion. Some days we even kept track of how many shots I took and made, marking the results on a poster board.
By the end of the summer, the task was complete. I now was in possession of an actual grown-up jump shot. I wasn’t strong enough yet to shoot one from three—and I wouldn’t be for two more years—but 15 feet and in I was cash money, and I had such a nice looking stroke that flabbergasted oldheads would stop me and ask, “Who taught you how to shoot like that?”
“My dad” I’d reply while trying not to blush.
At some point during the fall—and before basketball season began—I thought it would be a good idea to be proactive and ask my dad what I needed to work on next to continue to get better since I mastered shooting.
He took a beat, squinted his face in a way that communicated performative confusion and bemusement (think the Nick Young meme), and finally spoke.
“Um, everything. Shooting too.”
Four months ago, after moving into my new house, my dad brought over some things he’d been keeping in his basement; pictures and other items he thought would be good additions to my new home—including that now 28-year-old posterboard. Its home right now is the closet attached to the loft space which has become my office. Seeing and holding and even smelling it stirs an obvious nostalgia; reminding me, lest I ever forget, of all the things my dad did for me. The shots. The rebounds. The passes. The modeling. The counting. The tallying. The truth-telling. The teaching. The lying. (Ain’t no way I made 411 out of 500 jumpshots in one day.) The sacrificing. The protecting.
I’m not quite the same age now as my dad was then. (He was 43 that summer. I’ll be 40 in December.) But I’m close enough to perhaps have an idea of what might have been going through his head, then, as a father to a son—what might have inspired him, what might have driven him, what might have terrified him. It’s just an idea, though. I don’t know. I know that he wasn’t perfect. I know that some of those imperfections are articulated in my book. I know that those parts were the hardest for me to write. I know that those parts were even harder for him to read. But I also know what he did. I also know how he made me feel. I felt counted. I felt tallied. I felt taught. I felt sacrificed for. I felt protected. I felt loved. I was loved. I am loved.
Today, the little girl my wife and I brought into the world turns three. She is a miracle, and I am fortunate to be her dad. When I think about her sometimes, and I think about my dad—her granddad—sometimes (she calls him “Peepaw,”) and I think about being a dad sometimes, I think about those rebounds sometimes. I think about those two-hand-chest passes in rhythm that allowed me to catch and position the ball where my hands should be on the seams. I think about those walks up Hays while I’m carrying my basketball and my dad’s carrying our grape Kool-Aid and ice-filled thermoses in a blue plastic Giant Eagle bag. I think about that poster board.
Twenty-eight years from now, my daughter will be 31. Not quite the same age I am now, but close enough. My job, I think, as her dad, is to help her as much I can without sabotaging her. And for her, 28 years from now, to feel the same way I do when I see that poster board. To know that she was counted. That she was tallied. That she was taught. That she was sacrificed for. That she was protected. That she was loved. That she is loved. I think I’m doing an adequate job so far. We’ll see.
Perhaps we will, eventually, have our own posterboard, with shots and makes and percentages and dates tallied and recorded. That depends, of course, on who and what she wants to be.