Love and basketball: A father, a daughter, and the bonds of the game

I’ve always loved basketball. Luckily, my daughter loves it just as much. June 21, 2015 | 9:46 AM

COMMENTARY

The author’s daughter, Leah, and her basketball team.
Sketch by Matt Tavares

On the side wall of my home office, to the immediate right of a “Brawl in Beantown” Pedro vs. Rocket poster and surrounded by mementos collected during a fortunate, fast-aging man’s lifelong immersion in sports, hangs one of my most prized and personal possessions. When it catches my eye, it jostles my heart and my funny bone at once. It lingers there on the heart.

It was presented to me with a he’s-gonna-love-this smile and a bounding hug by my daughter Leah four years ago. She was seven years old then, a first-grader at Wells Elementary School, and she was eager to reveal her masterwork, a framed piece of parchment that was among my Father’s Day gifts. Headlined “The 10 Best Things About My Dad” in a typeface only Dan Gilbert might find appealing, it’s a basic template, one her teacher probably still rolls out each year.

It could not be more personal. This is how my daughter saw me—how she saw us—then:

10. We plays soccer together

9. He plays baseball with me.

8. He takes me to the bookstor.

7. He likes to tickl me

6. He takes me to the skop deck. (The Scoop Deck is a local ice-cream joint. An institution, really, with lines winding from the counter, through the door, down a set of stairs, and out to the fringe of the street during peak summer hours. I recommend the peppermint stick.)

5. He brings me to the beach.

4. He play out side with me.

3. He Go’s to pizza Hut with me. (Sheesh, hire a fact-checker, child. I Go’d to Pat’s Pizza with her. Huge difference.)

2. my Dad and I play ball.

And the # 1 best thing about my Dad is:

That my dad love me.

The innovative liberties with the spelling? That is her in all of her first-grade phonetic glory.

The sentimental pangs that rattle around in my chest every time I read this? Those are mine forever.

The four years since she gave me this gift have gone in a blink, a blip. Leah is 11 now, a fifth-grader, which in our town is the first year of middle school, a term that sounds less far terrifying than the images of dark and menacing hallways conjured by the synonym: junior high. Her teachers confirm what our eyes, instincts and anecdotal evidence tell me and my wife: She’s adjusting with no apparent turbulence.

That’s reassuring, but for her sentimental dad, there have been a few bumps in clouds, especially after this realization: Her childhood isn’t passing her by. She’s living it in real time, well and happily and at just the right pace. Her childhood is passing me by. My bittersweet bewilderment at her rapid metamorphosis has more than once sent me searching for a favorite quote from the final episode of Cheers: “You know something? I hate change,’’ says Woody. “I mean, you know, every day you wake up, something’s changed. Everything’s just changing so fast. I like things to stay the way they are. Things you can count on.”

Increasingly, I find myself searching for things to count on, or clinging to so many little moments that are already gone. When she was in second grade, she was intrigued by the microphone app I’d use to record interviews. One day, when I was distracted in another room, she commandeered my phone, opened the app, and jabbed the red record button, where she began a monologue about something she’d apparently been itching to get off her chest. “Hi, I’m Leah Finn,’’ she begins, casually chomping her bubble gum, “and I’m here to talk about my cats.”

I still have it, hidden under an alias in my iTunes library. She yells and covers her ears when it comes on shuffle in the car. But I’ll listen to it when she’s not around, laughing and longing for those days.

As time zips by in the fast lane, here I am, over here on the right, desperately tapping the brakes. The deliberate and conscious appreciation of the moment within the moment helps; I know not to wish away a single day. But it doesn’t always work. I find myself looking at pictures from her first couple of years, when she was the little girl with blue eyes and bouncing curls from that Chesney song, and I’m hit head-on with a guilty melancholy when I can’t always remember her looking precisely the same way.

We have Leah’s first steps and babbles and shrieks on video, but we do require the film as confirmation; some of the memories have faded and waned, and sometimes I feel like I remember less than I should. The pictures, they don’t so much remind you of what happened but taunt you about what you’ve forgotten, what’s gone, what you miss, what you wish you could have again but cannot. Memories are essential, sure, but memories aren’t enough, because our memories habitually lie to us, providing faulty and incomplete recreations of the true experience.

I wish we’d recorded every moment, to hear that sweet and cheerful chirp of her toddler-age voice again, to notice what I was too weary or oblivious to notice then. How I miss when she was portable, when she climbed me like a favorite pierce of furniture, her personal love seat, plunking down on my gut as I sprawled on the couch. Now she’s 5 foot 1, damn near looking her mother in the eye and increasingly rolling her own blue eyes at me.

If I attempted to fling her over my shoulder and dangle her upside-down by her feet now, a daddy-sneak-attack that used to be met with unbridled, heaving laughter, medical journals would end up naming new strains of hernias after me. The bounding-into-my-arms hug of four years ago has become a lean-in half-hug in the morning scramble to get out the door.

I cling to that moment, and if she leaves without deigning it upon me, it’s an oversight of a rushed and absent mind. But I fear someday soon she may climb into the car without even a glance back. The car rolls out of sight, and I’m left looking through the screen door, asking myself for one more morning: How did we get from there to here so soon? And where is she going without me?

I’ve been awash in these waves of sentimentality since the winter, when I realized this was our first year without a father/daughter dance to attend. This is an annual event at the elementary school, one fathers bemoaned to each other while clustered talking about Tom Brady’s latest masterpiece. I cannot be the only one who misses the dance, though I suspect I am on a fairly short list of dads who actually cop to missing it.

Father and daughter on the TD Garden parquet.

In Leah’s kindergarten year, she stood by my side all night, gripping my hand save for an occasional disengagement to shyly wave to a friend, who was standing across from us holding her dad’s hand. Each year, Leah’s grip loosened, and eventually she slipped from sight for most of the night. Last year, I barely saw her in between the car ride to the school and back, other than when I spotted her fronting the conga line to one of Pitbull’s crimes against audio. The dads got in a lot of Patriots talk last year.

The dances with dad are now in her past tense. Her childhood in full is not, not yet, but I could not lie to myself if I tried: I know the days are waning. The harbingers and symptoms of pending teenagerdom have become increasingly evident. A couple of times a day she’ll give me the side-eye and say, “Really?” and “Whatever” in that condescending way a pre-teen practices relentlessly and a teenager masters. Pretty soon, I know it, it will be a couple of times per hour. Minimum.

Sometimes I mistake her silence for solemnity or sullenness, as scarce as silence may be. Other times it’s not a mistake at all. She snarls like a grizzly with a toothache and moves like a particularly unmotivated tree sloth in the mornings. Twenty minutes and increasingly agitated tones of voice are required to get her to swing her feet down to the floor. I cannot help but recognize her a.m. grouchiness as a reflection of my worst moods and mannerisms.

There’s a boy now, too. We learned, via means of parental sleuthing that may or may not rival how the Cardinals hacked the Astros, that he asked her through a friend whether she liked him. She did the worst thing this side of no. She did not reply, leaving the poor sweet boy hanging. Soon, though, we caught her Googling “50 things to talk about when you’re getting to know someone,” and we knew then he eventually got the answer he dared hope for. Soon enough they were playing Words With Friends online and texting about their weekends and classmates and teachers and other middle-school minutiae that shapes their world. Sources indicate Leah and the boy even acknowledge each other at school from time to time. I suppose I should get used to it. I have no choice.

Still, the naivete of childhood remains in charming, often amusing ways. She still believes in the Easter Bunny. She does not, however, entirely trust him, leaving with his gift plate of assorted baby carrots a serious and pointed note that implies that if he comes upstairs and anywhere near her bedroom, his hindquarters are liable to end up on a cheap keychain at the neighborhood convenience store. Little does she know a similar plan will be unsparingly wrought on any boy who dares to carelessly dent her heart and spirit along the way.

What’s especially jarring is that I’m 30-something years removed from fifth-grade, and yet I remember fragments of it vividly, such as the day we were supposed to dress up like a character from a favorite work of non-fiction. With my No. 14 Chargers jersey purchased from the Sears catalogue, eye black that was recast from its usual role as mascara, and a woolly fake beard, I dare say I was a dead-ringer for Dan Fouts, star of that enduring literary masterpiece “Great Quarterbacks of the NFL.” I remember boyhood hero Fred Lynn’s 1981 Topps baseball card, his last as a Red Sox, the breakup of those beloved ‘70s Red Sox an unrecognizable harbinger of the pending sunset of my own childhood. I remember those innocent joys and new complications, and how they collided so pathetically when I tipped off my mom to the identity of my own crush by not-so-covertly skipping her while identifying every other kid in my class picture.

Fifth grade is when you begin to get a clue about not just who you like, but what you like and where it might take you. I remember buying Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall record at the Reny’s in downtown Bath, Maine. The handsome black kid with glowing socks and a cool Afro was a juxtaposed marvel to this dorky white kid whose hair alternated seasonally between an abstract mess of brown straw and a bowl-cut Emo Phillips disaster.

That was the year I discovered music, and I recognize the same happening with my daughter now. Iggy Azalea songs started showing up on our iCloud recently, and I figure the PG-13 bleatings-to-a-beat are harmless enough … right up until I flash back to when I was her age, to what I knew and, worse, what I thought I knew. I remember covertly listening to AC/DC’s Big Balls on my buddy Johnny McLean’s clunky tape recorder at recess, and suddenly here I am back in the now, resisting the temptation to wash down a couple of Advil with a Sam and trying to get to my happy place. God, what does she know? And what does she think she knows? Actually, forget it – I don’t want to know. Just leave me alone over here in the corner. I’ve got my headphones on, and I’m listening to Michael Jackson and reading about Dan Fouts, and I’m kidding myself that time or anything else is in my control.

***

I do have a master plan for making sure the bond between us remains strong even as the teen years beckon and I am obligated to spend several years cast in the part of the dopiest lifeform she has ever encountered: Ever since she was small, I’ve systematically introduced her to and shared with her the things I loved, and I don’t just mean coconut donuts. I know that makes me an ironic punchline, The Onion’s proverbial Cool Dad Raising Daughter on Media That Will Put Her Hopelessly Out of Touch With Her Generation. Guess what? I do not care. Don’t. Care. It must be done. Until she finds her own hobbies and passions and invites me to savor them with her, there’s no more apparent way I know to sustain our bond as her years grow more complicated.

Plus, she digs some of my stuff. Not all of it. But some, which is plenty enough. When she first became mobile and was practically pulsating with joy, she would yell, “The Beables! The Beables!” and run high-speed laps around the kitchen table whenever I Wanna Hold Your Hand mysteriously began playing on the CD player. To my disappointment, Calvin and Hobbes didn’t take, but I may dig out those books Santa brought her for Christmas one year and give it one more shot. She liked the Princess Bride, but that’s more her little brother’s thing – he trudges off to the school bus each morning with the parting words, “Have fun storming the castle!” She gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to Field of Dreams, but then I might have made her relocate to the garage if she didn’t. Ferris Bueller and The Office were hits, too. Hoosiers is scheduled for its household premiere tonight.

Perhaps you deduced from the references to soccer and baseball on that aforementioned Father’s Day scroll that sports are a significant part of her immersion. Well, hell, of course they are – you expected this simple old sports writer to immerse her in dinner theatre and nightly games of canasta? I started her young, and I started her right. When she was 2, I would point to a photo in my office of the Celtics and Lakers tipping off before one of their epic mid-‘80s matchups and ask her a simple question: Where’s Larry Bird? Her percentage of identifying him correctly was roughly equal to Larry Legend’s free-throw percentage. All New England kids should be taught about Larry as soon as possible, agreed? It’s our obligation. He’s in our cultural scripture.

I took her to her first Red Sox game at 4. I know. Early. Maybe too early. The ideal age for that first journey to Fenway is probably 7 if you want the full awestruck effects of the size of the wall and the hues of green and all of those enduring, perfect clichés. But I couldn’t wait any longer, and I’m glad we timed it that way, though there’s a distinct possibility she had no idea there was a game being played. She spent many of the innings eyeballing the cotton candy vendor as he trudged up and down the aisles, and seems to have emerged without any emotional scars despite having to do her business – or as she put it sometime in the middle innings, DADDY I GOTTA POOP THEY HAVE BATHROOMS HERE RIGHT? – in the men’s bathroom.

Nine years later, we had the accidental fortune of having tickets the night the Red Sox clinched the American League East title. We slipped down from our grandstand seats for a better view of the celebration. Jon Lester, holding his little boy, sprayed champagne in the neighborhood of where we stood, and while I’m still not sure she understands why they were rejoicing when they hadn’t even won the World Series yet, the look of wonderment on her face will never depart my mind. I can promise you that is the only time in at least the first 21 years of her life that she will get away with coming home smelling vaguely like booze.

***

I want Leah to love some of the same things I do. Do not mistake that for wanting her to be so much like me, or how I was at her age. The near-opposite is true. I don’t want paralyzing shyness to prevent participation and the construction of good memories, to allow regret to metastasize. I can report that there is no indication I should worry. But I do, because it happened to me in junior high. I never saw the inside of a locker, but I got bounced off a few and, sometimes, wanted to crawl into one and hide until the bell rang and everyone was gone. In the ‘80s, bullying was not deterred as much as it was tolerated so long as it happened in the shadows. It was a lousy kind of normal then, the kids in higher social strata (or weight class) doing it to you, then you advancing the twisted cycle by tormenting the unfortunate few you perceived as weaker and worse than even you.

The physical effects of getting your head pounded into a snow bank by a half-dozen snickering, jean-jacketed oafs who look like Kiefer Sutherland in Stand By Me weren’t even the worst of it. After the bruises faded, the emotional wounds remained. If you don’t understand why this is happening to you – and you never, ever do – then everything about you becomes why. You learn to loathe yourself from so many different angles, and the idea of sticking up for yourself becomes more terrifying than the numbing reality of getting your ass kicked every time you turned down the wrong hallway.

The byproduct – chronic timidity—banishes you to the mediocre middle, too scared to befriend the people you wish to befriend, too scared to pledge with the outcasts and rebels. Even today, some of my classmates, many of whom I adore, are fond of saying our class had no cliques. There were. They just didn’t notice who was excluded from the ones they belonged to. You’re just there, and you’re not there at all.

* * *

Basketball isn’t just a passion, the one personal joy above all others that I most want to share with my daughter. It was my salvation. But that did not happen early or easily. I was cut from the school team in eighth grade and again in ninth. But it happened. In ninth grade, my gym teacher, Mr. Burnham, took me aside after I dominated a basketball game in class and said he could tell I loved the sport and would give me a workout plan than would help me improve my strength and quickness. I suppose this is where I should note that the game I dominated was a boys vs. girls matchup in which the boys’ handicap was that we had to wear gloves or mittens. Because I played in my driveway so often in the winter with gloves on, I had honed a particularly deft shooting touch for someone wearing Freezy Freakies.

I made the Morse High junior varsity as a sophomore and even found some success without my trusty mittens. With seconds remaining in one game, I hit a tying layup and drew the foul. We won the game, if I recall, but not on my free throw. The wobbling legs and swallowed tongue apparently affected my shooting eye, and thus the rim acquired a new dent. “That free throw wasn’t within a row of corn,’’ my coach said the next day. A row of corn. Hell of a synonym for a brick. I loved that turn of phrase.

As, a senior, I scored in double figures. Not in a single game, mind you. I didn’t average double figures. Double figures, see, would be the sum of the whole season. I had 40 points all year, maybe 50. But probably closer to 40, maybe 35. I wore goggles that Kurt Rambis would have shunned. I shot hook shots – not trendy baby-hooks like Dwight Howard, but actual Kareem sky-hook stuff.

Turns out chicks in Bath, Maine weren’t that into sky hooks in the late ‘80s. Fortunately, I had many other silky-smooth attributes. Accidental self-harm, for instance. I bit through my tongue during one practice, suffered a cut from my glasses a fraction of an inch from my eye during another, and suffered and dealt out so many stitch-requiring injuries that my coach awarded a football helmet with my name taped across the top to any player to suffer a head wound. I was once ordered to purchase a new clipboard for my coach – he had shattered the previous one spiking it to the hardwood while yelling at me to run a play right. In retrospect, it’s surprising I was not gored with a clipboard shard.

Back then, I played in fear of screwing up, a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one. I wasn’t good enough to stay on the court without being fundamentally perfect. I was not fundamentally perfect, though apparently I came farther than I even realized. Check this out. Dug it up a few days ago. It’s from the writeup on me in the 1988 game program.

“[Chad] is a great example to younger players that shows what [sic] hard work and making a commitment does bring success. As a sophomore he was not a very good player. He did not understand the game, could not shoot, and knew nothing of footwork and defense.”

Jeez, coach, be a little more blunt. All that’s missing is, “Also sucked at passing and rebounding, rarely wore his Nikes on the correct feet, and shot a sky hook for some friggin’ ridiculous reason. Likely to be an undrafted free-agent at prom time.” So yeah, I apparently wasn’t pegged for enshrinement in Springfield. But laugh at me rather than with me at your own risk.

The reason I didn’t play was not that I couldn’t – it’s that everyone ahead of me could. Really well. Not to get too lost in the yearbook here, but my high school team won three straight state titles, going 21-0 in my junior year and 19-2 in my senior season. I played for current Hornets coach Steve Clifford at a basketball camp in which just-hired Nuggets coach Mike Malone was a teammate. I played against former Syracuse star Dave Johnson, a former Chicago Bulls first-rounder, and star-crossed would-be Syracuse star Karlton Hines, who was stabbed to death. It wasn’t until I got to the University of Maine and spent the entire fall ’88 semester playing pickup ball (I made the Freshman All-Academic Probation Team with a a 0.9375 GPA) that I realized I was a damn capable player, just not by the standards of my powerhouse high school.

* * *

I want Leah to love basketball, and I want basketball to love Leah. So far, so good. She was transfixed by the NCAA Tournament – I never realized it until this year, but the one-and-done bracket concept is a brilliant if unintentional way to interest kids. (Wait until they find out about gambling.) In the final moments of March Madness, not long after Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow finished cutting down the nets, she asked a question that was prettier music to my ears than One Shining Moment has ever been: “Hey, is there an NBA Tournament? And: “Are the Celtics going to get in?”

I love the NBA and always have, even when the Knicks were good, but this season I enjoyed the league as a whole more than I have since the Bird/Magic heyday. Part of that is the quality of the superstars, not only in terms of ability but appeal. Part of it is the great substance but diversity in style among the league’s best teams. Part of it is that LeBron came home and the Warriors emerged as one of the most watchable teams ever.

Story continues after photo gallery

The Greatest Boston Celtics of All Time

But the biggest part of it? My daughter was into the league, and so on a nightly basis, particularly when the playoffs came around I had to be ready to provide a full report on what she missed. She’s too young to stay up for the late games and some nights I need a halftime nap to make it to the final buzzer, but when her first coherent words in those tree-sloth mornings is, “Who won, Warriors or Cavaliers?” you better be damn sure I’m going to have my scores ready, my facts straight, and maybe even a Steph Curry 27-footer queued up and ready to go on the DVR.

Her interest in watching basketball came only after she began playing. This is her fourth year of organized basketball and her third on a competitive travel/tournament team, a five-month, 30-35 game commitment, and it was her first year of complete comfort with the expectations, techniques, competition and pace. At first, it was the ancillary stuff that appealed to her, the gear and protocol – wearing her warmup jersey to school on game days, getting new kicks, being part of something that felt like a big deal. Being part of something that felt like it mattered.

Leah Finn playing the sport she has grown to love.
Chad Finn

She had friends who were so adept so early that I would not be surprised to learn they were spider-dribbling in the crib and running three-man weaves in preschool. Leah was not. She’d occasionally slip into a defensive stance on offense. She passed the ball so hurriedly that you wondered if the Spalding was preheated and scalding to the touch. When she’d make a good play and was aware of it, she’d always look over to the bench to check for approval when she should have been hustling back on defense. She’s a dependable starting forward nowadays – we decided that if she were a Golden State Warrior rather than a Wells Warrior, she’d be Draymond Green, because no decent dad tells his daughter she’s a clone of Festus Ezeli – but even now, she’ll lapse into Random Pivoting Mode for no apparent reason.

I’ve been one of her travel coaches for the past two years. More accurately, or at least as I see it, I’m the occasionally helpful assistant to two people who actually coach. My wife believes that truly gifted people find their way to what they’re born to do. Jerry Seinfeld was never going to be an insurance salesman, according to her theory. I don’t always agree – I figure there are some pretty hilarious insurance salesmen who never caught a break at the Comedy Store, you know? – but the notion is confirmed spectacularly by my two fellow coaches. They are so good at this, so talented and dedicated, that it must be both their passion and their destiny.

Coach Pete has the cadence, patience, and organizational skills of schoolteacher, which is just what he happens to be when he’s not drawing up clever offshoots of a read-and-react offense. He emphasizes the fundamentals but never leaves out the fun, teaching them how to play the game seriously and well but also to always enjoy themselves. Coach Marty coaches everything – my daughter has also played for her in lacrosse and soccer – and she’s everything you’d want in a coach. She’s animated, competitive, vocal and encouraging, a perfect role model of athletic self-confidence for girls at this age. She’s been one of the biggest influences in Leah’s life outside of her family. Every young athlete should have a Marty.

Me, I yell box out a lot, keep the scorebook on occasion, maybe suggest a substitution or run a rebounding drill here and there. I’m really good at handing out oranges at halftime. And I’ve absolutely mastered that old coach’s trick of heaving in a halfcourt shot once in a while in practice, then acting all casual, like, yeah, I hit 37-footers all the time. That plants the seed in their heads that, hmmm, maybe old, slow Coach Chad over there with the oranges actually could play way back when. Maybe he does know what he’s talking about. Maybe I should box out.

(You know when they were really, truly impressed with me? Actually, I think it’s the point when they realized, hey, Coach Chad is actually employed: When they found out I spoke to Larry Bird for a story earlier this year. I was impressed a bunch of 11-year-olds knew it was damn cool to talk to Larry Bird.)

It’s not why I coach, but coaching does allow me to be a subtle kind of helicopter parent—more like one prone to the occasional flyover with a deft knack for eavesdropping. It’s a highly effective way to gather intelligence on how things are really going in your kid’s school and social life, to find out when they are anxious, when they are at ease, and how their friends and cohorts behave when they know you’re watching—and especially when they don’t. You can learn a lot shepherding kids from one tournament to another, especially when they think you’re actually listening to the idiots shouting about sports through the car radio.

What I’ve learned is that there is incredible satisfaction to be found in helping others fall for something you love. I recognize the confidence that comes from basketball, the camaraderie and sustainable connection, because I lived it, and yet I’m also amazed by how quickly the girls grasp concepts and how much they retain. They must truly love it to learn it the way they do.

Every youth coach wants to have a team to remember. Me, Pete and Marty agreed that had one this year, not so much because that we succeeded – though we won many more than we lost – but because of how hard the girls tried to succeed. There was Grace R., our best player and an even better teammate, and Ruby, who never left the court without a new floorburn, and sweet-shooting Riley and versatile Libby and polished Grace B.… and my Leah, doing her Draymond thing even with the occasional Random Pivot, and so many more.

What we did not have is a triumphant coda. In our final game in our final tournament, we lost by a single point to a team that had beaten us four times previously. In the immediate aftermath, I couldn’t find a silver lining, at least one I cared to hear or share. Losing stinks and sometimes even the most thrilling comebacks – we were down 11-2 at one point—go unfulfilled. The girls were glum, but only temporarily. Before you knew it, they were dancing in unison in the corner to some ubiquitous Taylor Swift song on the loudspeaker. No, not that ubiquitous one. The other ubiquitous one.

That’s how it should have been. That’s what they should have done. Dance to Taylor Swift, win or lose. Shake it off, indeed.

They shouldn’t have been affectingly disappointed once the moment was gone and the scoreboard lights blinked off. Second-place trophies are quite nice these days, and they’ve got many seasons and successes in front of them if life doesn’t interfere. But us coaches, we’re not so lucky. We know how time accelerates and zips right by you, even if you’re aware of it. Travel basketball goes on for just one more year, then they’ll play for the junior high, and for different coaches.

No, it’s not so much that we lost that last game. It’s that another season was over, another year fast gone, and there were no more games to play.

***

It begins again soon. There’s a 3-on-3 tournament next weekend, a week-long summer camp in July, and November is never that far away in New England. I’m already looking forward to confirming that the lessons from our last season have carried over to the next one and beyond.

They are basketball lessons, sure. But they are lessons, if properly taught and absorbed, that are carried for life. Fire up an occasional heat check, just to see if it goes. Know the plays, but trust your instincts to amend them. Fight for the ball. Share it too. Extend a hand to someone who is down. Box out. Always box out. Pivot whenever you’re in the mood. Take your shot when it’s there. Even if it doesn’t end up being within a row of corn. Take an orange when it’s offered, dammit.

And dance when you hear the music. Even if it eventually means letting go of your old dad’s hand.

This long and winding ode to love and basketball seemed appropriate for father’s day, but that’s also the trick and the beauty: It didn’t have to be. When you have a little girl, every day is father’s day. Even as you notice, with pride and sadness at once, that she’s a little less little every day, growing up but hopefully never growing away.

To stave off the melancholy, I’ve found the following steps and ploys to be effective. Turn on the game and know that she will soon plunk down on the couch alongside; grab a basketball and challenge her to a game of H-O-R-S-E; or simply head in to the home office and stare at the wall, where the parlance of her seventh year comforts me with the reminder that she does know:

Her dad love her, always.

Advertisement