I was the last of six kids. My dad didn't have much time for me. There was his job, of course, teaching history at the local high school. There was the time he had to spend doing household stuff (mowing the lawn, retrieving Frisbees from the roof). There was the time he spent with my mom (what did they do when I went to bed? My guess: dishes). There was my sister, and my brother, and my other brother, and a couple of other brothers, and then me.
We didn't have a lot of quality time together, my dad and me. What we did have was sports.
He liked them (he was the sports editor of his college paper back in the day). I liked them. I watched my hero, Dale Murphy, a member of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, with my dad. I played soccer on the city leagues. He drove me to games on sloppy fields. We had Shipley Olympics yearly with all of us kids in our front yard (how many hops on one foot can you do? Who can circle the block on their bike the fastest? Lawn darts).
I would sit next to him at Capital High School football games on Friday nights in the press box (he was the announcer; I would do the downs and yardage on the scoreboard). I was a Junior Mariner. We’d watch horrible games in the horrible Kingdome. It was great, cheering on Spike Owen, getting Al Cowens’ autograph, eating a hotdog.
My father and I showed each other we loved each other by tracking the sweat on the field and sharing of box scores over the morning paper.
“Baseball’s boring,” my daughter says. “You just stand around in the dirt.”
“Okay. Maybe there’s another sport you’ll like. How about soccer?” I ask.
She shrugs her shoulders.
“Maybe basketball? The hoops are low. It’s fun!” I played basketball growing up. I was a terrible point guard. I loved it, though.
“Nah ... Let me show you this origami swan I can make!” She pulls out a clean square of emerald paper.
I love her, she knows that. She loves me. I know that, too. But would it kill her to join a basketball team? I want to be her coach! Is it possible, my love, that you’d really like soccer? I want to bring the orange wedges at halftime! Would you join the running club, PLEASE, so we can jog across the Ballard Bridge early in the mornings, the boats beneath us. Can’t we just watch this Seahawks game on TV? I can tell you what a tight end is. Maybe, I don’t know, we can go to a Seattle Storm game. They’re accomplished women playing an admirable sport!
“It’s too loud,” she says, returning to her origami or pulling out a Calvin & Hobbes.
Darling, sports was the one and only way I connected to my own dad. You know that, right? Watching boxing matches on TV, joining the wrestling team, biking, dreaming of one day being a football star (mom never did let me join a team) — these were the things I did when I was a kid to show my dad I loved him. And I loved doing them. My daughter, you realize that I came up with baseball dice games to play with him; made my own rankings of the best running backs in NFL history (Walter Payton) to impress him; reveled in filling out the March Madness brackets with him (the winner got ice cream!). You know that, yes? Sports, my young one, equals love to me. You get that kid, right?
Of course you don’t. You’re a kid.
My kid? She’s interested in presidential assassins, origami, fantasy books, mermaids, birds, mountain hikes, brownie-making, art, coins, rock collecting, the Titanic disaster, tide pooling.
And, God, I love her for all of it. That, and a million things more. But it’s hard being a dad now to not have sports to REALLY show how much I care for her. Free throws are like hugs. Throwing a spiral football — a kiss. High-fiving after a goal, filling out a perfect box score during a baseball game, reveling in the shuck and jive of a boxer, the save of a hockey goalie, to slide tackle, to kick a field goal, to run faster than a stop watch, to play better than yourself for a team, a team that makes you a better person. That’s love — pure.
Sometimes I think my daughter’s missing out on all that.
Most of the time, though, I’m at the beach after school, lifting up heavy rocks for her.
“Look at that crab!” she squeals with delight. She holds the little creature in her hand. She marvels in it.
I lift up another rock.
“An eel!” She’s amazed by it.
“I wonder what’s under this next rock?” I ask. I make a sport of it.
Jonathan Shipley is a freelance writer living in Fremont. He enjoys many things including losing to his daughter at most every board game ever created.