Playing sports is a big part of the incredible bond between father and son. Scenes of playing catch in the back yard or throwing around the pigskin on Sunday afternoons are often some of a man’s most cherished memories. Given my disability, you would think that this is a part of life that I would have missed out on, and although my physical limitations did make things more difficult, my father, brother, and I still found a way to share this male rite of passage with each other. To this day, sports are something that brings the males in my family together and helps maintain our close relationships.
Sports have always been a big part of my father’s life. He was a two sport college athlete, and he has coached pretty much every high school sport there is. I am certain when I was born that he had visions of passing down all of his athletic knowledge to his first born son, which were then completely destroyed when I was diagnosed two years later. He has even expressed to me how difficult this was for him at times, especially when he was coaching other people’s sons as I was stuck on the sidelines. Even though he struggled with these feelings, my father was not going to let my disability prevent him from sharing this part of his life with me. He was always finding ways for me to experience the competitive nature and camaraderie of athletics, and as a result of his efforts, some of my fondest childhood memories are of sports.
One of my favorite things to do growing up was playing street hockey in my driveway with my father, brother, and neighborhood kids. We had our own regulation size net, and I had a full set of goaltender gear I would wear. They would all put on their roller blades, pick teams, and we would play for hours, or at least until we lost the ball across the street. My wheelchair was so big, and I understood line of sight and angles so well, that I was actually a pretty good goalie. I loved blocking a hard slapshot with ease and stoning my brother on a breakaway. Trash talking was also a large part of these friendly games that I especially enjoyed. More importantly, I got to experience and enjoy all of the thoughts and emotions that come with playing sports with your friends. Most importantly of all though, my father and I got to share this important part of the male bonding experience.
As hard as he tried to find ways to include me in athletics, sometimes it just was not possible. He didn’t let my inability to participate physically stop me from participating mentally though. He passed on as much of his coaching knowledge as he could to me. He taught me how to pre and post read a defense in football, how to select pitches and keep book in baseball, and how to play a power play in hockey. We would even break down film of his opponents when he coached football. I absorbed as much as I possibly could, and today I am an extremely knowledgeable sports fan. Due to his tutelage and love for sports rubbing off on me, I even coached my dorm’s interhall football team while I was at Notre Dame. He also showed me how to be a good fan. In addition to watching games on television, we have gone to probably a dozen baseball stadiums, an NHL game, and a bunch of Notre Dame football games together. He found a way for me to love sports as much as he did, even though I couldn’t experience it the same way as everyone else, and in doing so forged a bond between us that has lasted a lifetime.
To this day, every email, text message, and phone call between my father and I will have some mention of sports. This is like our own little code for communicating how we feel, even though to the average bystander it would just look like trash talk or boring statistics. No matter what else is going on in our lives, it is always comforting to know that my father and I will always have this incredible bond. I can always count on some friendly banter when my team loses, and I get to return the favor when they win. I will always be thankful that my dad was determined to share this part of his life that he loved so much with me, no matter what my physical capabilities were. He refused to let me miss out on his love for the game, just because my body couldn’t get me on the field. I am so grateful for that, and I guess there is only one thing left to say…Dad, how about them Tigers?