Basketball is a Spectator Sport — For Me

I debated writing this, but, in the end, I think it is more important to share. Don’t judge me!

I have come to a pivotal point in my life. I did not know that I would get to this moment, and it came on suddenly. In fact, it came on so sudden that it took me by surprise. What happened, you ask?

My oldest daughter told me that my help was no longer needed during her basketball games.

Back when I was a genius…

I was not surprised that I was told that my help was no longer needed; it was the manner in which it was done.

I will provide some context:

I have been my daughter’s coach since she was able to run. I have been her basketball coach since she could pick up a ball. Playing basketball and learning new skills has been a part of our relationship – a bonding point between us. Like other kids who have played on a team coached by a parent, we had our ups and downs. But, with my wife’s help, we had always hugged it out with some understanding. Now, she plays on the high school team, which puts me on the sidelines – and I am okay with that.
During her second game, she was defending a girl, who I believe was a weak ball-handler.

“Get up on her!” I yell.

And that is when she looked at me, while playing defense, and held her hand in a way that represented open lips, and she pressed her fingertips together – closing the “lips”.

Yup, that is correct; she motioned for me to shut up — all without getting out of defensive position.

Son. Of. A. Bitch! She shushed me.

I was so shocked by this! I went through a gamut of emotions:

What the…?!

How dare…?!

Ungrateful ass!

Just then, I turned and looked at my wife who was sitting next to me with a family friend – laughing. Not just any laugh; it was a full-out belly laugh. And then it hit me – I am no longer my daughter’s coach. It was time for my transformation from father/coach to father/mentor/fan.

I had once read the book, Changing the Game, which has a lot of useful information concerning the way parents can help and hurt their kids in youth sports. One thing I took away from the book is this question:

Do my actions reflect the values I want my child to embody.

Both on and off the court, I want my child to have the following:

  1. A love for the sport,
  2. A growth mindset,
  3. Confidence,
  4. The ability to make mistakes,
  5. The ability to learn from mistakes,
  6. The ability to correct mistakes,
  7. Independence.

By her gesture, she was claiming her independence. She was ultimately doing everything I asked of her since she was in third grade — I cannot be mad at that. It is effortless to yell out and coach from the sideline. But that is just it; I am no longer on the sideline – I am in the audience, which brings up another thing that this book has taught me—the importance of saying to her the words:

I Love Watching You Play.

She is such a fierce competitor.

As a youth athlete, I remember nothing that I disliked more than the post-game report — especially after a loss. I did not get it from my parents but from the parents of my peers. They all thought that they were being helpful, but mentally, it was not. My parents? I believe that they knew that there were more pressing issues in the world than how much I scored or how much playing time I received. They left the improvement up to me. If I was going to be good at anything, it would be intrinsically motivated (but don’t get that confused with not caring).

So, what did I gain from this experience?
I should count my blessings that I have a healthy daughter who loves to play basketball at a high level. Before each game, I should review my goals for her this year. Realistically, the goals I have for her have very little to do with a specific sport but life lessons that she can use for the future.

Let’s Go, Afro!

The Decision

To be a black male is to live a life that is full of contradictions. Contradictions that cause us to make decisions that we may not understand. Decision that now our black boys are having to make.

It is a critical one that directly affects them future and the future of their children.

It is one that has been overlooked in our society for far too long, and it is time we discussed it.

It is a decision whether to assimilate or not.

Each path comes with favorable and less favorable outcomes. And, it is a decision that each black individual will need to make for himself.

The decision is whether to become an assimilationist or a non-conformist.

The definition of assimilation is to act accordingly with the intent of fitting in and or conforming. In this case, we are talking about societal norms and expectations.

A non-conformist is a person whose behavior or views do not conform to prevailing ideas or practices. Again, we are talking about societal norms and expectations.

For a black male, assimilation can be considered a good thing. A black person who chooses to assimilate is more likely to be accepted and given privileges that maybe not part of their original environment — an environment that could deviate from society’s expectations of “success.” On the other hand, choosing to assimilate could come at a great price. The acceptance of one set of norms could mean the a denial of another. The ability to attain and keep street credit within ones own community (not just geographical location) is an important part of the black society. To be able to walk down the street and get “the nod” from peers means acceptability and the ability to walk through certain neighborhoods with confidence and respect.

For a black person, to be a non-conformist is to keep and maintain street credit, which holds the ability to walk around a neighborhood as a leader or a a well-respected member of that community (again looking at more than geographical location). People who do not understand this may ask, “Why would anyone forgo the opportunity to improve themselves for street credit?” Those people would be missing the point.

Improving oneself is only relative to society’s definitions of success. If a house, a car, and a picket fence is society’s definition of successful, then the non-conformist may net ever meet the expectations for success, which is why it is important that society does not create perimeters for what it is to be successful. Success can come in many forms and is only contingent on each individual who must decide for oneself when enough is enough.

In order for black youth to be able to make a concious decision, they must first be presented with the question through conversation. This conversation between older and younger generations of blacks males needs to be had and must continue because it is critical. The conversation has not gotten any easier — especially for those of us who live in homogenous communities.

Look no further than the current state of events. It is getting harder and harder to avoid the elephant in the room. It is harder to look past the fact that if it were a group of African Americans that stormed The Capitol, we would be reading a different story. But, who bears the cross of uncomfortable silence? Is it me – who fears that the conversation could go too far and disrupt my livelihood or my life’s work? Or is it my community — who has to live with the fact that there are some truths that they must come to terms with? Especially since the community knows and interacts with me, my wife, and my children daily.


Once again, I, a forty-year-old man, am forced to decide between assimilation and non-conformity. I am once again forced to make a decision that can derail what I have worked for. I am forced to make the same type of decision that I had to as a youth.


Is it fair? No.


Is it real? Yes.


So, here I am, stuck between two worlds — forced to navigate this world without a playbook, instructional manual, or a tour guide. Trying to be successful, while trying not to become a traitor –

An Uncle Tom.

An Oreo.

A Coon.

While also not trying to be angry —

ungrateful

ghetto

intimidating.

It is a terrible thing to be black male to be labeled as one of these things. But, it is a reality.

This is why representation matters. This is why we need black people in positions that matter. Black males deserve to have people in positions that matter!

We shouldn’t have to make this decision. But we do — and, as a whole community, it is our job to guide our black youth and not judge their decision. There are no wrong answers, only consequences.

Things I Learned While Vacationing in Arizona…

I could get used to this.

Retirement could be epic. I am looking forward to retirement, but I have 4 kids and may not be able to retire until I am about 72. Primarily because of the cost of health insurance.

Pimp My Ride: Golf Cart Edition.

It is way cheaper to eat healthy down here. You can buy a ton of vegetables at the local market for very little money. I am pretty sure my wife and I are the colors of the rainbow.

A bag of veggies? Six bucks.

I need the sun and heat. The winter months get really long in the Midwest – especially if you are a teacher. I was so much happier when I took a walk. I was much more content, and my sanity was intact.

It was hard to pull Heather away.

Birds can be assholes. It has been a long time since I was awakened by the sounds of birds. At first, it was delightful. Later in the trip, it became just plain annoying. I like birds, but I am pretty sure they were arguing with each other at dawn.

I need mountains. I am from Alaska, and it has been 20+ years since I have been home. So I have not seen an actual mountain in a long time. Until this trip, I had forgotten how happy I am driving through rock formations. I definitely took that for granted.

Superstition Mountains.

Snowbirds. Many people travel to Arizona for the winter months. I am definitely taking notes these snowbirds are definitely living life correctly. There is only so many -20 says I can stand before I snap.

These people are living life correctly.

Damn them Kids. I love my kids, but I have to get away from them. Do I miss them? A little. Do I feel bad about leaving them? Hell. No. I would love to take the kids along on an airplane, but they will have plenty of opportunities to travel with their peers. If the choir is taking a trip to Philadelphia, they’d better fa-la-la their asses onto that flight!

What kids?

Super-light packing. If there is a way to wash my clothes, then I pack the following: cargo shorts, walking shoes, a ball cap, shades, swim trunks, jeans, sweatshirt, and a t-shirt. Most of which I will be wearing. The rest should fit in a backpack. If it fits, it ships.

Whatever doesn’t fit, I’ll buy.

Rock-Grass. I suppose you can spend your money on better things than watering your grass. So, why not replace your lawn with colored landscaping rock – makes perfect sense!

Any kind; any color.

Life is too short. There are times when you are faced with your mortality. This trip was a wake-up call for me. There a lot of people who are 55+ in Arizona. It was refreshing to see so many of them going on about their lives: hiking, golfing, biking, etc. It reminded me of how quickly time passes and how important it is to not sweat the small stuff.

Vacationing is always better with a partner. Having a wingman (or woman) is invaluable. It would be best if you had someone who is down to do whatever. Someone who is on the same wave as you are. Who not better than your significant other. This is not something that I just picked up in Arizona, but it is nice knowing that your trip is going to be awesome.

ManUP Lessons For My Sons #2

Boys,

It is my duty as your father to teach you how to be a man. Honestly, I do not know how to do it because, other than having a penis, I really don’t know how to be a man. So, I am going to do my best to figure this out and teach you. Most of the lessons will be based on my experiences and my mistakes.

Hopefully, by the end, you will still have some resemblance of respect for me.

I am not going to bore you with statistics or anything (you can find the numbers to justify anything). But I will give you an honest answer. Like I said before, I do not know how to be a man. People tell me that I am a good man, but I really don’t know what that means. And my personal definition of being a man has changed as I have grown older.

When I was in elementary school, I thought that to be a man was to be physically tough. Girls liked the tough guys. If people were too scared to mess with you, you were perceived to be a badass. Badass boys aways had girls that hung around them. Being a chubby elementary kid, I thought I would attempt to be a tough guy to increase popularity. This would have been successful, but for a couple of things:

  1. I was a nice guy and definitely not a fighter.
  2. I was afraid to get hit in the face.
  3. I was not very cute.
  4. I was prohibited by my parents to sag my pants.

In junior high school, I thought that being a man had a lot to do with the sports you played. Girls loved the boys who could jump high, run fast, or lift the most weight over their head. They also enjoyed sneakers — really dope sneakers. I thought to myself, “Hey, I play sports, I should be able to do this. I just need a pair of fresh kicks!” There were a few problems with this:

  1. I had only played streetball; organized ball was another story (I would never make the junior high varsity team).
  2. My mother did not believe brand-name shoes were necessary (especially Jordans). Hey, shoes are shoes!
  3. So, she bought me a pair of Kevin Johnsons instead. 
  4. Oh wait, she decided to get the knockoffs from Walmart. “They look just like them!”
  5. As the basketball season went on, the stitching in my “FakeJ’s” started to come undone. By mid-season, my shoes were shedding all over the court and looked like I was wearing a pair of Air Chia Pets. No Shit.

And then, there was high school. I started lifting weights, I got better at basketball, and I began to play football and track. And, I was sporting a pair of “Allen Iversons.” Surely, I had made it. I was on my way to popularity, which would put me on a sure path to manhood. Look at me! When I flexed, you can see a line in my bicep! Look at it.

It was not meant to be. Although my popularity grew, it was not until I went to college that my real journey into manhood would begin.

At first, I believed that I should be a strong, confident college man that have women swooning all over him, which was what I read in all of the men’s magazines: 

“How to get abs,”

“How to get the girl that is out of your league,”

“How to know her socks off in bed,”

“What foods you should eat to live longer and look good doing it,”

“What places you should visit before you die, what careers offer you the best payday….”

So that became my mission, to live up to what those magazines said was the ideal life. And you know what? I achieved most of what the magazine said I should. I had the abs, I had women, I spent a lot of money on travel, and I was in college and working towards my career. I believed that I was living the life that I was supposed to. But, as they said, if you tell God your plan, he laughs. 

What I was shown was that I was living a superficial lifestyle. I was shown that I was headed in the wrong direction. And then, I was taught that what I wanted was stupid.

Who showed me this? Your mother. And, she was nothing like I had ever imagined. And so, I married her.

I read a book that your mother gave me called Chasing Skinny Rabbits. Although it is not a “knock your socks off” book, there were takeaways within that book that would ultimately change my life. The author discusses people’s perceptions of what is fulfilling in their lives. People are always chasing after the next thing only to find that when they achieve it, the sense of accomplishment is not there, so they move onto the next thing. The skinny rabbit is impossible to catch. Manhood, or the perception of it, is a skinny rabbit. Manhood is subjective, so chasing after it only means that you are chasing after something else — whether that be love, lust, money, or material things. All of which lead to destructive behaviors.

The Lesson:

  1. Be kind
  2. When you make a mistake, own it
  3. Be chivalrous 
  4. Create realistic goals
  5. If you start something, finish it

14 Years of Marriage to an Extrovert

The following post was written and submitted by my uber-talented wife, Heather…

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Nothing surprises me.  It’s not because my husband is all that predictable.  No, he’s acted on plenty of off the wall ideas during the tenure of our marriage.  It’s just that I’ve come to expect literally anything from him.  What will David do today?  Will he buy a foosball table?  Will he spray paint our patio furniture on our concrete driveway?  Will he go to Scheel’s and to purchase NDSU jerseys for our daughters while I am in the hospital in labor with one of them?  Will he snap his Achilles’ tendon when I’m 39 weeks pregnant?  Will he claim that Trey’s interest in the game is what drives him to continue playing Pokémon Go?  Will he join an adult soccer league in a fit of a midlife crisis?  Will his plan of attack for any problem or situation be totally different than the one I would choose?  The answer to all of these questions is:  Yes.  And I’m not surprised.

A few years ago, I told David I thought we should write each other a love poem for Valentine’s Day.  We’re both English teachers; we can admire a beautiful piece of writing.  Why shouldn’t we immortalize our love in verse?  He said no; but I suspected he was secretly creating his masterpiece so I started work on my own.  Valentine’s Day came and went and neither of us mentioned the poems.  But I wasn’t surprised when I woke up on February 15th and saw that he had posted his free verse, narrative, comical, yet sincere litany of love 11:59pm the night before.  This is my life with an extrovert; it’s what I’ve come to expect.  That evening, in true introvert fashion, I presented him privately with a compact ten-line poem complete with couplets.

 

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Not much ever changes.

 

Fast forward to mid-November that year.  A few days after giving birth to our fourth child, David went to Fargo to see a tattoo artist.  He wanted to incorporate Reese’s name into an existing tattoo.  I want to take a moment to describe the state I was in when he came home that evening.  I was six days into recovery from my third C-section and my body was in shambles.  I couldn’t yet tie my shoes and stairs hurt.  Child number four hadn’t yet slept more than two hours in a row and I was nursing exclusively.  November is a tough time to have a baby.  The first three had summer birthdays; it’s easier to enter into new motherhood when daylight isn’t in short supply.  Once the November sun goes down, a feeling of hopelessness set in and the nights were long.  When David returned from his tattoo appointment late that afternoon, it was already dark.  “I have a surprise for you!” he crooned, grinning.  I asked the only question a woman in my state could: “What?  Did you get me a burrito from Qdoba?”  My recollection of the new few minutes plays back in slow motion.  He peels back the plastic covering his arm to reveal a new tattoo.  My poem is forever memorialized on my husband’s forearm.  I was surprised, speechless and horrified.

In Susan Cain’s Ted Talk about introversion, she says that we all fall at different points along the introvert/extrovert spectrum and that no one is a pure introvert or a pure extrovert.  This is true, but there’s a good amount of distance between David’s “dot” on that line and mine.  It’s one of the things I love about him and it keeps marriage interesting.  Just like that old Diamond Rio song and so many aspects of our union, “Meet in the Middle” and “that’s what love’s about.”   Happy anniversary, honey.

 

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So far, it has been one hell of a ride.

 

It is not you, it is me… Promise.

Where have I been? Yes, I know, I have not written a post for a while.
I took a break this summer. I took some “me” time. I did this for one primary reason:
I am selfish.
I don’t feel ashamed.
I don’t owe anybody an apology.
I needed time.
I am a husband, I am a father, I am a coach of many disciplines, an educator, a doctoral student, I am a school board member, a committee member, a writer, and a very active community member – I wear a lot of hats.
I do it gladly – I love being busy, I love having projects, and I love giving myself to others.
But, unfortunately, I burned out.
I found out that I was pulling myself in too many directions, which made me less effective in all other aspects; but most importantly, I was not an effective father or husband. And that is not okay.
So I put all of my responsibilities aside. I walked away from everything.
Except for family.
Family is essential, and we must place emphasis on spending as much time with them as possible. Kids grow up, parents work, significant others get busy. It is too easy to let the time fly by due to everyday “business of life.”
I refused to let that happen. So, I made a conscious decision:
I traveled with family.

 

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If you have not been to Folklorama, you are really missing out.

I explored.

 

 

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Canadian Museum of Human Rights – Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I lived with reckless abandon.

 

 

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I did not get a hole-in-one, but I did split a golf ball in half.

I learned a lot about my kids’ lives.

 

 

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Never too young for a checkers beat-down.

And…
I reconnected with my wife.

 

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It was awesome.
The moral of this story? We all get super busy with life. Make sure you take the time to see what is around you; not just what is in front of you. We are constantly reminded that we do not have very many years on this earth. Make sure you take the time to reflect on what is essential and what is sacred. If there is something that you want to do; someplace you wish to see; someone that you want to spend time with – do it!
I know what you are going to say, “Not everyone has the time and/or resources to cast responsibility aside…”
…And I will gladly call bullshit on that statement… mostly because it is the easy answer.
Yes, we only have 16 hours in our day. A good portion of that day is taken up with employment. But that still leaves us time to practice the things to which I am speaking – we just have to make it a priority.
Just make sure you fill your own bucket first.

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My Buddy

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“Father of the Year Moment #267: Raising a man.

This is my son’s doll. He is very protective of her and demands that she is in bed with him at night. I don’t care that he has a doll, I am just glad he has a sensitive side.

The ladies love a sensitive man.

Trust me.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

This post from four years ago set off a friendly debate amongst people who read my social media post.

A little background:

Before my son was born, both of my daughters had an American Girl doll. They promised anything and everything to have one, and when they received it, my wife and I were the best parents ever. But soon after, as with all toys, they lost interest. Sure, they took it to bed with them at night, but months after purchase, it was not cared for with the same love that they once had.

Enter my son. He found the discarded doll and really took to her. He named her after a newborn who attended his same daycare. He took care of her and demanded that she be in bed with him at night.

I am not going to get deep into the whole men vs. women, boys vs. girls, gender roles arguments, but I did have some takeaways from witnessing this experience:

  • It brought him closer to his mother: Every night when she would tuck him into bed. He would talk to her about his doll. She would talk to him about what his doll would like to do when they both woke up in the morning. She would talk to him about treating that doll with respect, often asking if that doll would appreciate him acting in a negative way.
  • It prepared him for any future younger siblings/younger playmates at daycare: We were not sure if we were going to have any other kids (we did), but we did know that there were younger children at daycare. So, we used the doll as a tool to show him how to care for a baby. Many times, he would gently rock the doll to sleep, exclaiming, “It’s okay,” only to drop the doll on its head when he felt his job was complete minutes later. We were able to show him that a baby is something to be continuously cared for.
  • It made him soft: Yes, I said soft. But really, what in the hell is wrong with that? There are definitely worse things that could happen to a young boy. I highly doubt that having a soft spot for a favorited doll is one of them.

 

Reflection: Glad that’s Over! (2 years ago)

Top 10 reasons I fear for my life right now:

1. I am not pregnant.

2. I can sleep in whatever position I want.

3. I send my wife the weekly “Baby Center: Pregnancy this week” emails that I receive detailing the baby’s progress.

4. I coach football.

5. I breathe air.

6. When she is cooking and has a knife in her hand, I can feel her looking at me like, “Someday…:”

7. She takes my kids to their sporting events.

8. It is about that time in her pregnancy that I get hurt and need surgery.

9. Because we are due for a boy version of Claire.

10. Let’s face it, I am a Jackass.

The Highest Honor in Education

All teachers become educators to make a difference in the lives of their students. Tomorrow I will watch a student who became a friend, a friend who became a brother get married to the girl of his dreams. And, he chose me to be in his wedding. There are many awards that I could win for teaching. But, nothing will compare to the honor that I will have to share this experience with Cody and Kate. He often writes about how I was a mentor to him. What he does not understand is how much of an influence he has been on me and my career.

When I look back on my career I will remember the conversations that we had in the weight room about life, about love, and about sacrifice. I will remember the pimple face twerp who listened to my every word as if I knew what the hell I was talking about. And I will remember the day that he came to my home and told me that he had fallen in love and how this is definitely the one.

I hope I have made some type of influence on all of my students throughout my career. I may not have been your best, or favorite, teacher, but I hope that on some level we connected and that you learned something from me whether that was from the content or just from life.

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