“He’s here! He’s here! Paula’s date is here!”
Our voices rang out like a trumpet fanfare. My father had already pushed the furniture to the walls, clearing a path through our living room to the front entrance hall.
The announcement preceded my tumbling run of back handsprings – just a fun way to herald the arrival of my teenaged sister’s date. (Why in the world did she let us get away with this!?)
It was the kind of gig my dad arranged soon after my competitive gymnastics career officially ended – at the ripe, old age of ten. He was truly amazed that I could flip and twist and fly through the air with the greatest of ease. The youngest of his six kids, I was also the biggest daredevil, the most likely to end up in the ER, and perhaps the fiercest competitor. Like my father, I was a sports lover. I was also a big fish in a small pond a looooong time ago. So long ago, that apparently other children were completely devoid of athletic ability. That’s one way to explain how I was able to compete in so many different organized sports growing up back in the day.
Or I could give the credit to my dad.
He was, after all, the world’s greatest sports fan – in the world! And he passed the love of the game, most any game, on to me. Whether I was pitching softballs in the backyard, bumping volleyballs in the front yard, or flipping through the family room, it was my father who encouraged me.
He was there when I laid out my plan to realize my Olympic dream in gymnastics. He was there when I admitted that fear was sucking the fun out of the sport I once loved. He was there with a basketball, a volleyball, hockey skates, or an invitation to watch Wide World of Sports on a lazy Saturday afternoon – whatever it might have taken to get me moving in a new direction.
Over the years, both of my parents attended countless competitions: football, basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, gymnastics, and cheerleading. With five daughters, my dad in particular sat through more girls’ basketball games in the eighties than any hoops lover should have had to endure. For over four years, he truly believed cheerleading was a sport. He was always my biggest cheerleader.
I never heard him barking orders from the sidelines like other dads did. Oh, he had plenty to say, but he saved his insight for after the game, delivered in private conversation between father and daughter.
My dad taught me how to set a volleyball and throw a perfect spiral. He convinced me that quickness provided more of an advantage than height; that knowledge of the game and hustle could earn you a spot on any roster. Through sports, he helped me believe in myself and see the potential in others.
When he died late last summer, our family was absolutely devastated. Anyone who has said farewell to someone special, knows that the grieving and healing are as unique as the person taken from their midst. Of course, faith and time play crucial roles in the healing process. But what about sports?
For us, every season – football, baseball, basketball, soccer – is a gift, an opportunity to celebrate my father’s life and love. The memories connect all of us; the games lift us up. Lay-ups, touchdowns, and corner kicks offer solace; there is comfort in every cartwheel.
When I look around, I see this healing power at work. I am blessed with children who play and watch sports, and who absolutely adore their father. I have my own family of sports lovers now, and I have my dad to thank.