When I was in the 5th grade, I discovered a hidden talent. Completely by chance, haphazardly during recess in the back of my Catholic elementary school, I learned I had a bit of a knack for throwing a ball through a basketball hoop.
Several things about this were ironic. Like the fact that I was miniature. Not yet 5 feet tall and clocking in at under 100lbs, strong or athletic were not words you’d use to describe me. I was, however, coordinated, as was evidenced in the progress I was making in my adolescent dance training. Pink tights had practically covered my legs from the day they took their first step.
So when Christmas rolled around that year, I asked my father if I could have a basketball hoop. His eyes narrowed as I did, an incredulous smile appearing on his face. Yet his response was simple and consisted of just a one-worded question.
Apparently my answer satisfied him, because that Christmas morning, I awoke to find an oddly large box wrapped with a sheet and tied up with a bow under the tree. My off-the-wall excitement quickly turned to utter disappointment when my father told me that we had to wait for the ground to thaw to install it. I wanted to go out there and show him what I could do that very day.
Eventually spring arrived and my father put up the hoop in our driveway. Unbeknownst to me, it was an adjustable model, meaning that you could lower and raise the hoop to be various heights. So when my father called me out of the house to ask how high he should put it, it was I who looked at him with confusion. I couldn’t understand why we would put it any lower than what was used in the NBA.
There were many things about our home court that would prove to be imperfect. For starters, our driveway was composed of dirt and gravel, meaning that one day’s downpour could stifle several days of play. But we played with abandon regardless, I, alone for hours, attempting perfection; my Dad and I laughing through games of “pig.”
Personally, the hoop came to be my own private solace. I’d shoot around incessantly – oftentimes still wearing my pink tights – in an attempt to clear my head. And on several occasions, as I would sink into the rhythm of the bouncing ball, I would catch my father watching me from his bedroom window. His glance, forcing me into focus, in an endless attempt to make him pleased.
Fast-forward over two decades later, and the hoop has taken its share of literal beatings. Both from Mother Nature and snow plows that refused to get out of the way. It no longer has a backboard and is in no way usable, but it still stands in my parents’ driveway. And although my insides smile when I see it, I also can’t help but wonder why my father has let it be.
Then someone actually asked him that very question. Chided him about the eye sore that the decrepit hoop was. Laughter ensued but was quickly hushed when it was realized that, in response, my father was fighting back emotion. The type of emotion that gets stuck in the very back of your throat.
His answer began just like my own recollection. About how I came home and asked for a hoop out of nowhere back for Christmas in the 5th grade. But his story quickly became his own when he talked about watching me practice from his bedroom window. He hadn’t been laughing at me or thinking what I actually thought he was – that although he loved his two daughters, that it would have been nice to have a son.
Instead, it turns out, he was observing the make-up of his child. A pint-sized person who was on an unofficial mission to prove herself to the world. He says it was in those moments – watching me take shots and miss, and then figuring out what I had to do to correct them – when he realized I would accomplish whatever I set my mind to. That I had vision and sometimes saw things others did not.
As he spoke, suddenly he wasn’t the only one fighting back emotion. And through tears, I began to see my life in a very different light. That every time I proposed taking a big leap or embarking on a risky venture (and there have been plenty) I had the confidence to do so because I was never led to believe that I couldn’t. I was never greeted with anything from either of my parents other than the question “why?”
My father is entering another chapter of his life now. And as I watch him weigh what has come before against what comes next, I find myself recognizing that the greatest gift he gave to me as a child was embodying what it truly means to be a parent.
That he never once laughed at my dreams or prevented me from acting on them.
That he let me take shots even when he knew I’d miss.