I will begin with a list of things my father taught me.
Ride a bike. Bait a hook and cast a line. Catch a baseball. A football. A wave. Throw a spiral. Throw a curveball. Throw overhand. Throw sidearm, in order to skip stones and turn double plays.
Hit a baseball. From both sides of the plate. Not because he wanted me to be a switch-hitter, but because it was questionable for a while which way I’d have more success, or less failure.
Hit a golf ball. Especially an iron. Down and into the back of the ball. He did not teach me how to chip or putt. He knows his limits. Which is why he taught me, in golf, not to worry so much about being a good player, but to be a player others will want to play with. Great advice.
As I’ve gotten older, he’s moved on from sports. Taught me how to save and invest. How to grill a steak medium rare. How to keep my shrubs from dying. How to be tough but fair.
But sports is what I remember most. And it would be easy for someone from the outside to think my dad had a grand sports plan for his sons, envisioned raising a college soccer player (my brother Bob), who would become the coach of two national teams, and a major league catcher (my brother Scott) who would go on to coach at Princeton for almost two decades (and counting). Or even that he’d have a son (me) who’d fail as an athlete, but live and breathe sports for the rest of his life, literally never earning a single paycheck doing anything but sports things.
But that wasn’t it.
No, my dad just loved being around his sons. And my dad loved sports, and just so happened to be a really good athlete. So sports became something we did together. The four of us.
There was batting practice. A lot of it. My dad could throw strikes all day and somehow manage to avoid getting hit with comebackers, even as they were hit by my college-aged brother with the same aluminum bat that once produced a line drive that broke the jaw of an opposing pitcher.
It was understood that batting practice meant shagging. We never hit in a cage. Ever. And it’s funny now when I see dads all decked out in fancy gear when they drop their sons off at some baseball facility for paid, private lessons. I remember my dad throwing strikes in the khakis and golf shirts he wore to his job as a sales rep in the construction industry.
There was basketball shooting practice. My dad under the rim to catch and feed. And to suggest we put more “arch” on our shots. It never got much more technical than that. Put more arch on it.
My dad backed off in the sports he didn’t really understand, like soccer and hockey, but he was always there, watching in the stands. His opinions on how we played in those sports were typically related to the effort, the scrappiness, he saw. Or didn’t see. Never made a big deal out of it. But if he didn’t think we’d stuck our nose in on enough plays, he had a way of letting us know.
Our love for sports might have happened without him, because we grew up in a time when kids met in parks and played pickup games on their own without parents. But because of the way my father shared his love and knowledge of sports, my brothers and I were given the greatest gift.
Six grandsons have been the benefactors of my dad’s teachings. And one great grandson, too.
I remember seeing my brother Bob allowing a young, maybe two year-old Michael Bradley to kick a soccer ball as hard as he could, and knock over the recycling can. Over and over again. Bob would refill the can and allow Michael to knock it over. Why? Because it made Michael laugh.
I have seen my brother Scott with his three sons, throwing that same, impeccable BP (Scott is smart enough to stand behind an L-screen), with no regard for his own elbow.
And I’ve seen my nephew Michael with his son, running in the yard with a ball, giggling.
That’s my dad.
As for me, well, both Bob and Scott say with a smile on their faces, “You are the most like dad.” That statement has many meanings, not all related to sports, but to things like my penchant for telling really bad jokes. And for laughing at my own really bad jokes.
But more for the way I’ve tried—as my dad tried—to be there to share it all with my sons. My wife is a huge part of it, too. Thankfully, my sons’ athleticism comes from her. And she’s right there, day after day, game after game, watching them play alongside me.
My sons’ love of sports, however, I think comes mostly from my dad, who taught me, while sharing his love of the games he played as a kid ...
Be a dad.