It was early March and Tristan (my six-year-old) and I were in the front yard playing soccer between Oregon rainstorms. We were in the driveway, me next to the road, and Tristan next to the garage door. We were passing the ball back and forth, something we often did.
I don’t know much about soccer, or ball sports in general for that matter, but the summer before Tristan had taken an interest in the sport, so I tried to be supportive by attending practices and then repeating much of what the coach had been saying.
Tristan passed me the ball, and I passed it back. I commented on his form, and then I said, “Soccer practice begins in a few weeks. Are you excited to play with your team mates?”
“I don’t like soccer anymore. I hate it!” Tristan said. “I want to play basketball.” He yelled this at me, a fire in his eyes.
I was a little confused by his comment. Tristan went on, saying that he expected me to take him out of soccer, a sport we had already paid for, and find him a basketball team.
And as he spoke, all I could think about was my fear of him wanting to play basketball. It’s my most hated sport.
Because of two reasons:
The first time I tried to play basketball I got beat up. You can read about it here.
Second, I am a stocky 5’ 7”, and basketball tends to be dominated by tall lanky people. Just thinking about basketball makes me feel inferior, sub-par, not up to the task. It makes me feel like a failure because I was born too far from the hoop.
Honestly, I didn’t like the idea of Tristan playing basketball because I knew that, much like soccer, I’d have to be supportive. And being supportive meant that I’d have to teach him how to play. And teaching him how to play, meant me entering a basketball court and looking like a short stocky ass of a man trying to play basketball.
Tall men out there reading this are probably thinking, “Stop being a bitch about your height.” Well my friends… you made me this way with all your hobbit jokes and “why don’t you live in a tree and make fudge” jokes, and “basketball isn’t a sport for guys like you” comments. And for you short men who have overcome all this torment, strapped on a pair of size seven Air Jordans and a sweat band, and entered the court, taken a few elbows to the face, but got up again and kept playing because of your love for the game, God bless you.
Tristan and I went back and forth for a while. I told him that there was no way I was going to take him out of soccer after I’d already paid for the season. He told me that I was a mean dad. Eventually he kicked the ball into the road and went into the house.
Mel and I talked about what happened latter that day. She told me that Tristan had some cool friend in school that played basketball. He’d been teaching Tristan how to shoot and pass at recess. “This boy told Tristan that he will probably grow to be the tallest kid in school because his Dad told him a story about a short kid he knew growing up that went on to be really tall.”
Tristan is, in fact, the shortest kid in his class. Mel and I are both short. Tristan’s only chance of making this prediction comes true is if he gets the freakish tall gene from Mel’s side of the family (her sister and brother are over 6 foot while the rest of the family comes in around 5’ 5”). But one look at Tristan and you will quickly see that he got his stature from the long line of Welsh coal miners on my mother’s side of the family. Generations of men that lived their lives like dwarfs in small underground caves.
“That kid is really giving Tristan a lot of false hope,” I said. Then I reminded Mel about my hatred of basketball. I told her how I was embarrassed to play it.
“You’re 31-years-old, Clint. Don’t you think it’s time to get over that?” Mel said.
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I don’t.”
We went back and forth for a while. And eventually, like Mel often does, she came up with a compromise. “How about we buy Tristan one of those portable hoops, put it out in the driveway, and then you won’t have to be embarrassed playing in front of other men.”
I wasn’t in love with the idea, but I didn’t hate it either.
We found a cheap hoop on Craigslist. It was old and a little rusty, but it worked. We got Tristan a new green basketball, and a new blue soccer ball, and we gave it all to him under one condition. He had to finish out the soccer season.
Not surprisingly, he graciously accepted.
I placed the hoop next to the driveway and set it on the lowest level, so that Tristan could easily make a shot. It was low enough that I could reach up and touch the hoop.
Tristan and I passed the ball a little bit. We each took a few shots. And it really felt natural to be out there, playing basketball with my son. I’d always felt uncomfortable on a court, but in this case I felt right at home. And compared to Tristan, I was pretty damn good with the ball. I could dribble the ball with one hand, I didn’t throw granny shots, and I never once tripped over the ball.
It was getting dark, and was almost an hour past his bedtime when Tristan said, “Dad. Do you think you can slam the ball?”
The hoop was only about six feet off the ground. I could easily reach up and touch it. “Yeah,” I said with a cocky jerk of the shoulders, “I can slam it.”
I ran at the hoop, jumped for dramatic effect, and slammed the ball. The hoop rattled with the force of my awesomeness. I looked at Tristan. His mouth was open wide. He jumped up and down for just a moment, and then he said, “Dad! You’re amazing!”
For just a moment, all my insecurities about my height and inability to play basketball melted away. In front of my son, I felt like a star.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley