Happy Birthday, Dad

November 13th is my dad’s birthday, so today’s blog post is about him.

There are a lot of cool things about my dad, but I want to focus on a specific aspect of our relationship: sports.

When it came to sports, my dad was pretty much invincible when I was growing up. I’m guessing this is the case for most dads in the eyes of their 4-year-olds. Dad’s a skinny 5’11”,but he has that immeasurable Dad Strength that confounds physicists to this day.

Dad played football and tennis in high school, and he was a precise basketball player on our home court, but he never pushed me into any of the sports in which he had excelled. We most often played tennis when I was growing up–Dad was the model of consistency and patience on the court. Emphasis on patience. Even though he easily outmatched me until college (and even then I was lucky if I won), he could volley with me for hours. Only now as I discern whether or not I want kids do I truly appreciate the patience that Dad had to meet me at my level on the court instead of playing at the peak of his abilities.

Dad and I would play football in the back yard. I would be Jerry Rice and he would be himself, and he would toss ball after ball to me as I dashed around imaginary defenders in the grass. When I picked up Frisbee, he learned to throw, and to this day he keeps me on my feet when I visit home or join the family at the beach.

There was one sport that I played that he knew nothing about: soccer. I’ve chose soccer as my sport when I was about 5 years old, and I still play to this day. And perhaps the coolest thing about my dad and sports is that even though he had never played soccer, at some point when I was growing up, he decided to learn.

I should point out that soccer is not an easy sport to learn as a 40-year old. The balance and footwork is much different from football, tennis, and basketball, all sports where the ball can’t even touch your foot. The learning curve makes it even more impressive to me that my Dad tried to learn the sport.

Also, I think there’s a level of humility required to learn something from your kin. Fathers generally take the roles of providers and teachers–they impart knowledge to their children and send them out in the world. It takes a big man to see that your son can do something that you can’t.

So over the years, I’ve taught my dad how to play soccer. It was an interesting process from the beginning, because it required me to break down the elements of the game to the core fundamentals: Where do you plant one foot when you use the other to pass? Where should the ball leave your foot? How do you know where to move when someone else on your team has the ball?

Slowly but surely, my dad learned. It was probably frustrating for him at times, because unlike all of those other sports, soccer did not come natural to him. But he caught on. He practiced with my team. He played pickup and adult league games when I went off to college. And we’d play in those games together during summer breaks.

I can’t pinpoint the exact year when Dad really started to feel confident about his game, but in the last few years, whenever I call home and ask about soccer, he almost always has a story to tell. There was the time he scored on a perfect volley. The time he delivered the perfect cross. The time he went shoulder to shoulder with a much bigger man and took the ball away from him. The time he juggled the ball for 50 consecutive bounces after dinner one night.

I am so fortunate that I’m able to share those little moments of joy with him. He probably had the same feeling when he watched me develop as a tennis player over the years. But it’s even more special to me that Dad was willing to learn the sport that I loved the most.

Dad, I love you, and I’m proud of you. I hope someday that I’ll be the type of sports father to my kids that you were to me. And I sure hope you’ll be around to see my son run across the yard as Jerry Rice for the first time.

Happy birthday.

4 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Dad”

  1. My dad tried to bond with me by learning to play Super Mario Brothers. Despite his master’s degree in mathematics, 22 years later the flag on Level 1-1 is yet to be lowered.

  2. thanks, Jamey,
    I’m glad that you appreciate the times we spent playing together as much as I do. One thing you might have mentioned, but which perhaps occurred when you were too young to remember, is that you were quite a t-ball player even before you started playing soccer. You started hitting my pitches with a plastic bat and ball at around the time you started walking. You wanted a real bat, and would pick up any stick and try to use it as one. I don’t think they made a bat small enough for you at the time, so I eventually took a short piece of branch off the wood pile, mounted it on the lathe, and turned a bat about 18 inches long. It was too heavy for you, but you learned to deal with it. I would pitch tennis balls to you and you would smack them all over the yard. Of course, your success as a hitter was in part dependent on my ability to pitch the ball where you were going to swing. Later, when you were about 4 or 5, you would take a couple baseballs, a bat, and the t-ball stand to the back yard and practice for hours, hitting the balls and then retrieving them and repeating the process. This was much like, in later years, how you would endlessly practice your soccer shot on the back of the shed.

    I still have a lot to learn about soccer, but at the rate of a couple hours a week, I’ll probably be getting lost on my way back from the pitch before I learn much more. Still, I’m thankful for what you have taught me, and find that soccer is about as much fun as an old guy could hope to find, and feel blessed to have the ability to keep playing, torn meniscus and all. And, given that there are days when I feel that I just HAVE to kick something–or, someone–the soccer ball has a way of keeping me out of trouble.

    Thanks for the birthday story, and I’ll try to maintain that patience you mentioned while waiting for Jerry Rice, Jr.

    love, DAD

    • Well, Dad, that comment made my night. 🙂

      I don’t remember the baseball bat you made for me, but I do remember t-ball. I didn’t realize I took it so seriously!

      Fortunately for you, perhaps your daughter might have a grandchild on the way long before I do. Emily, how do you feel about the name “Jerry Rice Stegmaier”?


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