Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Dad is Awesome




As some of you know (or have inferred), the last couple months have been pretty rough. Thankfully, God blessed me with a wonderful mother and father who’ve both put me on their shoulders while helping me to push through it.

As bad as the timing of my life implosion was (i.e. the week before State Concert Festival), it did give me the benefit of having both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to reflect and publically thank them on this here blog page.

I’ve already gushed about how awesome my mom is. Today, it’s all about Dad.

***

Going through elementary, middle, and high school, I played on a team in my church’s youth basketball league. This was for a couple reasons:

- I loved basketball.
- I wasn’t good enough to make the high school team.

That being said, there were quite a few good players in the league every year, including kids who actually DID make the JV/Varsity school teams. We also had a head coach and assistant coach who were fairly knowledgeable about player development and X’s and O’s…

…and then there was my dad, who once described his primary coaching duties as “grabbing rebounds and passing the ball back out.” He’d played neighborhood basketball as a kid, but didn’t have any formal/organized background with the game. His only reason for signing on as a second assistant was to be involved in something I was doing.

Then, one fateful day, both coaches above him realized they had to be out of town for one of our practices along with game that followed it. When they told my dad about this, he politely explained that he had absolutely no idea how to coach a basketball team or draw up plays (never mind the fact that the team in question was filled with hormonal/unruly preteen boys). The coaches responded by informing him that if he didn’t at least step in as coach for the game, we would forfeit.

As you can probably guess, Dad wasn’t about to let that happen.

That night, he went home, popped in our VHS tape of Hoosiers, and proceeded to take copious notes as Gene Hackman ran a bunch of actors through 1950’s era basketball drills. The night of our practice, he ran us through those same drills at a blistering pace. When one of the players complained that doing drills wasn’t as fun as scrimmaging (which normally took up the the bulk of our time), my dad gave the exact the same response Gene Hackman did to the little snot who made the same complaint in Hoosiers.




He didn’t scream (like Hackman did). He also didn’t cuss or insult anyone (also like Hackman did). What he did do was refuse to let us devolve into our usual half-assed shenanigans. It was by far the hardest—and best—practice of the year. Parents sitting in the stands actually put down their books and watched in disbelief as their children showed remarkable mental and physical focus long after their respective medicines had worn off.

That weekend, we played one of the best teams in the league...and absolutely wiped the floor with them. Our group of mediocre ballplayers knifed through our opponent with cold, near-surgical efficiency (as much as can be expected from 12-year-olds, anyway).

When the other coaches returned, they couldn’t believe how well things had gone. They also joked that my dad had been holding out on them about his secret coaching skills. In reality, he was simply doing what he’d done his entire life: Relentlessly adjust to any obstacle until success is achieved. It’s a mentality he's always tried to impart on me—not through shouting or pushing too hard, but by never losing faith in what’s possible if you care about something enough to put your heart into it.

***

When my father was little, his mother (my yia yia) sent him to school without being able to speak any English. When the school called to inform her that this would be a major issue, her response was “I taught him to speak Greek, you teach him to speak English” followed by the click of the phone hanging up.

From there, my father somehow managed to successfully master both the English language and the American school system. After graduating high school, he went on to the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University. From graduating from there, he attended George Washington University for law school, which he graduated from with honors. This led him into a career as a legendary prosecuting attorney for the now defunct Interstate Commerce Commission.

In his “spare” time, he also ran a large portion of a family real estate business and managed his own stock portfolio along with those of many of our family members. He’s one of those no nonsense type of people who is objectively smarter than most and will handily outwork the rest.

And then there was me—his slightly neurotic, definitively right brained son.

The left side is grey because its dead from lack of use.


In addition to being the poster child for why Attention Deficient Disorder is a real thing, I could be (and still often am) frustratingly disorganized. I was also the type of kid who didn’t enjoy subjects like math, preferring instead to focus my academic efforts on writing stories or learning to play an instrument. And when it came to time management, I would often fail to realize the folly of focusing on one minor/shiny detail until it was at least fifteen minutes too late.

If this were a Hallmark movie, my dad and I would have been written to be comically tragic antagonists with each other. But to my great benefit and enjoyment, we’ve always had a great relationship. Part of this is due to our many shared interests that I talked about in my last blog post.

If it’s scary or features some type of grotesque monster, we’re all in. If it’s food that can be grilled and/or a breakfast buffet, we will devour it. Give us a heavily modified paintball gun and a wooded battled field and we’re in heaven*

*Side note: At almost 70 years old, my dad takes out opponents on the paintball field at a level that is simultaneously impressive, inspiring, and disturbing.


Even when he was still using rental equipment and rocking a
purple sweatshirt, my dad's opponents were dropping like flies.


And pray you are never in the room when he and I decide to start ragging on someone. My mom can attest to this. One time, she made the mistake of describing our shared behavior/immaturity at dinner one night with one of her fancy psychology terms.

Our response:

Me: “Mom, I believe you are exhibiting symptoms of the disorder known as badus moodus.”

 Dad: “Actually son, the correct way to say that disorder’s Latin name would be moodus badus.”

That was almost 20 years ago and we still haven’t let it die.

But aside from all that fun stuff, my dad also utilized his ‘Adjust Until Success is Achieved’ mentally on my varied/artistic interests--along with being a great father.

When it became clear that I loved high school band—something my dad had virtually no knowledge of or experience with—it wasn’t enough for him to simply go to concerts/games and support me with silent observation. If I was all in on this, then he going to be, too. In addition to his constant support and encouragement, he also joined the equipment crew, going from “just a grunt” to heading up the team. In fact, he ended up staying on a year after I graduated to help guide and train a large incoming class of new equipment crew parents.

When I fell in love with writing, he helped provide feedback on my short stories while also proving to be an amazing/knowledgable source of various horror media I should be reading and watching.

When I was offered a scholarship to the University of Kentucky, (a school neither my family nor me had on the radar until halfway through my senior year of high school), he drove me straight from an honor band concert through the night (in the snow) to my scholarship audition. When I got the scholarship (and subsequently decided to go to school 360 miles away from home), he became a full-fledged UK Wildcat, living and dying with the sports teams right along with me. 


Being a Kentucky Football fan isn't
a calling that everyone can take.

He also provided constant support and encouragement, especially during the first year when homesicknesses often made me want to give up.

When I was offered a band director position in Charleston, which would have me moving away from home for good, he definitely wasn’t happy about it. But he also knew how good an opportunity this was and how important it was to me. A few days after I arrived in the Holy City, my father came to help me buy/build furniture and set up for the beginning of a new phase in my life.

Throughout these moments—and many others—my dad managed to be both a best friend and a wonderful mentor. In between watching the Atlanta Braves during their miracle 1991 worst-to-first season, he made sure I understood that a commitment to hard work can not only supplement talent, but also help overcome a lack of interest/inspiration. When we weren’t binge watching episodes of Angel, he would patiently explain how to properly invest and save money for the future. And on our many long drives between Kentucky, Atlanta, and Charleston, he spoke to me about the importance being kind, being honest, and cherishing the people you love.

That last one might sound redundant, but my dad is the type of guy who has no qualms about randomly (and often) telling my mom or me how much he loves us. I guess that might seem weird to some folks, but it wasn’t odd to us. It’s exactly what you’d expect from man who goes all out on everything—including how he loves and cares for his family.

A few weeks ago, my father came down to be here with me during Nick's Life Implosion 2017 after my mom had to leave. In between watching our favorite movies/TV shows and debating the potential direction of the Alien film franchise, he also made sure I stayed focused and didn't give up.

***

…but back to basketball.

After the game mentioned at the beginning of this post, my dad took on a bigger role coaching our team, which made us start to play significantly better. The next year, he was talked into being a head coach. Despite his initial reluctance, my dad went on to be the most successful coach in the league. His teams consistently finished in first place despite often not being the most talented.

He even managed to use another great Gene Hackman line. One year, we had a game that took place during a church youth group trip, which left us with only five players…and we were playing the best team in the league…and they had their full roster.

In the fourth quarter, our best player fouled out, leaving us with 4 players on the court (as opposed to the five we were supposed to have). The ref came over and asked my dad if he wanted to forfeit. He responded in one of the most awesome ways imaginable.





Despite being shorthanded against formidable competition, we somehow took the lead after that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep it. When the final buzzer sounded, my dad called us over and said “Don’t worry. We’ll get them next time.”

Sure enough, our full roster demolished the supposedly unbeatable first place team at our next meeting, cementing my dad’s status as a legend in our church’s youth basketball program.

More important than wins and losses, he made the players he coached believe in themselves no matter what their talent level was. Players who hadn’t been on one of his teams in years would still make time to see and thank him for their time under his command. They even still called him coach.

And I am so, so lucky to get to call him Dad.