Growing up, I had a hard time connecting with my dad.
As a kid, all I could see were the differences between us.
I liked to read comic books.
I loved to draw.
I would play with action figures for hours.
Or make spaceships out of boxes.
I loved TV, and I would anxiously await the arrival of the TV Guide every week in the mailbox.
When I played outside, it always involved some imagined scenario.
I was a detective chasing a criminal on my bicycle.
Or a superhero leaping over our chain-link fence to escape a super villain’s trap.
Or I would bring my hot wheels out and dig roads in the side of a hill, and build houses made of rocks.
My dad was a gifted athlete, who had a history of sports accomplishments.
Growing up, he played on the church softball team so our week usually included time at the ballpark. He seemed so foreign to me.
Then something changed. When I was 12, my mother was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. She died a year later.
Suddenly, two foreigners had to learn how to relate. We stumbled our way through it, but a trust and respect was built. There’s something about survival that knits people together, and changes their relationship.
I didn’t become more athletic. He didn’t start reading comic books. But we found more firm common ground than our interests. We found a way to enjoy each other without having to be like each other.
And in the process, we found some ways that we were surprisingly alike.
Now I consider my dad one of my closest friends.
Kids With Different Interests
But in a great twist of irony, I am now raising three very athletic boys.
And while I see glimpses of my personality in them, it’s wrapped up in three very different packages. Two of them love basketball. One loves lacrosse.
Although I have a basic understanding of both games, the intricacies of each are beyond my comprehension. My brain refuses to get concerned with stats or fouls or penalties, and simply focuses on games won or lost.
My boys know I’m an athletic idiot, so I don’t try to use words I don’t understand.
I say things like, “that was smart how you passed the ball to that other guy,” or “way to score that goal.”
But I try to find ways to get involved in their world. I could never keep stats, or coach, but I can help set up the gym for a game, send out emails about the weekly schedule, update the team website, or serve my allotted time in the concession stand.
What It Takes to Connect
I don’t like to watch sports on TV, but I do love watching my boys play.
I marvel at them. They do things I simply can’t do.
They’re good. But they’re not just good athletes, they are good people on the court or field.
They play well with others.
And while they are not involved in band, or art classes, or drama productions, I’m okay with that.
It’s humbling to be the geek dad in the stands. The one who knows more about comic mythology than lacrosse plays, but I think I am able to discover some of the same things my dad did.
Connection takes humility.
Connection takes work.
And connection takes time, cultivated in many invisible acts.
It took a catastrophic event in our lives to break down the walls between my dad and me, but my hope is that with these small efforts on my part will lead to strong ties with my kids.
Even if they don’t realize it right now.