Thursday, March 13, 2014

Basketball Dad

Recently I blogged about the nonfiction writing class I'm taking. Here's a flash nonfiction piece I wrote for a class assignment in imitation of an essay by Brian Doyle.

For twelve years I watched two sons play competitive basketball, and here is what I learned about being a basketball dad.

There are moments of unbelievable exhilaration. Like when your son splits two defenders in the post and glances the ball off the backboard and sweetly through the net at a critical moment in the playoff game. There are moments of incredible disappointment and sadness. Like when your son’s team makes the state finals against an opponent it’s defeated handily three times during the regular season, and the other team plays the game of its life while your son’s team plays the worst of its and loses by a single point. The moments of disappointment after a loss last much longer than the moments of unbelievable exhilaration.
When a dad watches his son play his first competitive game in the fourth grade and his son receives his first pass only to hold the ball and look panicked and glance wildly around, the dad wants to yell “Pass the ball” to his son but knows he shouldn’t and really wants to run out on the court and help him but knows he can’t. When the son finally snaps out of his paralysis and dribbles the ball and plays well for the rest of the game, the dad breathes a sigh of relief and knows life can go on.

When the basketball dad's son plays in one of those elementary school leagues that don’t keep score, the dad still keeps score in his head and knows exactly how many points his son has scored.

Dads who believe they can watch their sons play sports without investing themselves too heavily and, you know, just watch the game for the pure joy of it and not care whether the son performs well or not are deluding themselves.

It is a very bad idea to engage in conversation about a high school game with parents of the opposing team’s players while the game is in progress. It’s an even worse idea to make a comment to an opposing player as he returns to the bench, even when said player has just wrestled your son to the floor using a headlock move worthy of the WWF.

The bleachers in high school gyms are among the most uncomfortable accommodations known to humankind, especially after four hours of sitting through the boy’s junior varsity game then the girl’s varsity game, then the boy’s varsity game.

Most referees at the small high school level have serious deficiencies in eyesight. Dads who yell instructions and helpful admonitions to these referees fail to benefit their son’s team and only end up making themselves look foolish. Some (so I’ve heard) even get disapproving glances from the principal’s wife.

When your wife suggests you take anxiety medication prior to viewing high school basketball games, it could be a sign that you’re taking all this a bit too seriously.

During the years your wife and you are spending every Tuesday and Friday driving to small, out of the way high schools and sitting on those rock hard bleachers for four hours, you may complain about the time it takes. But when the last son graduates from high school, and basketball season rolls around in the fall, you recognize the gaping hole in your life and wonder what you’ll ever do with all that free time on Tuesday and Friday nights.

There are online forums where a high school team’s fans can talk basketball. These forums would contain more civil discourse if basketball dads did not participate and get into debates with other basketball dads about the relative merits of their own son’s basketball skills. Basketball dads, however, seldom heed this advice, preferring to try to relive their former basketball achievements, or lack of same, vicariously through their children.

In spite of how ridiculous basketball dads can be, some are lucky enough to have sons who gracefully accept their dad’s fumbling attempts to be supportive and who see through the childish and irresponsible behavior of the dad at their basketball games, understanding that on some level the dad is attempting to show love for the son, partly because the dad loves the game and it’s not really that the dad loves the son because he plays the game—even though it might appear that way.