Before this article starts I want to say this isn’t about bashing my dad. This authentic story about healing a wound that I’ve put a band-aid on for so many years and I’m sure so many other black male athletes do too. Using sports as an outlet masking a wound and getting praised by every adult male figure except the one that’s not around to impress. Owning the narrative so we’re not victims of our circumstances but using it as a healthy guide to be better.
Can’t Heal What You Don’t Reveal
Have you ever told yourself a lie for so long that you start to believe it even though deep down it’s the furthest from the truth?
I grew up without my dad much in my life. You know another African American male without their father, a storyline we hear in the culture often.
Someone reading this is probably saying boo who get over it that’s life.
And if that person is you you’re absolutely right. Since I was about 11 years old that was my mindset, so what he’s not around. Even though deep down I cared more than I would let anyone see.
The first time I really got into football it wasn’t my dad and me in the backyard. It was when with a random kid and his dad invited me to play catch with them one day while playing outside at our apartments. Ultimately, that day led to them inviting me to join my first football team the Texas Tigers.
On that team I started seeing other black kids with their dads supporting them, teaching them the game. Subconsciously, I think a trigger went off in my head if I’m good at sports maybe my dad would come around more. Thinking what dad no matter their race wouldn’t love to brag that their son or daughter is this great athlete.
It was true, a lot of dads came around to support me but not the one that I was subtly trying to impress. My mom told me once baseball was his best sport yet ironically that’s my worse sport.
With the Texas Tigers one year, we had a football tournament out in Houston, TX. Our team traveled from Dallas to play here so it was kinda a big deal. My dad lived in Bryan, TX so in my mind this would be the game he shows up and I get to play in front of him for the first time.
He showed up but I’m pretty sure the game was almost over. But hey I’ll give him the credit he showed up.
Up to that point, the emotion was disappointment but as I grew older it turned into a wave of silent anger. I remember the day the switch flipped. It was Thanksgiving we were in Louisiana at my aunt’s house on my mom’s side talking in the dining room. Somehow the conversation went to talking about dads. Something about that conversation triggered me because I started crying in front of everyone and had to walk away.
In my mind, it was like why don’t you want me? I’m doing everything right I’m winning awards sports and academics, staying out of trouble. All of my friends’ dads and coaches love me why don’t you?
I got it you have a wife and other kids but man I don’t think I’m asking for too much. From that day I told myself we are no longer going to cry for my man. I’m going to be so good at everything that he’s going to regret not being in my life. To be the greatest son you never got to know.
Silently, it drove me somewhat still does from winning athlete of years, regionals, honors rolls, national honor society, school papers, literally aiming to achieve everything in my reach.
But here is the thing if a tree falls and no one is around does it make a sound? In this example I’m the tree and he isn’t around living hours away so he’s not hearing any of the noise. I should have worked harder to be state and nationally known.
I wonder how many other athletes felt this way?
Perfect example, the scene in Fresh Prince when Will was talking to Uncle Phil about Lou except I was telling my mom all of this.
I finally got my wish he wanted to show up and it was my college graduation. I wasn’t going pro in any sport so this was like my draft day. All of the years, ups and downs to get that opportunity to walk across the stage. My biggest achievement at that time.
He asked my mom about coming so she asked me and I said no he can’t. A little hypocritical to earlier saying I wanted him to show up. It was like man really? You missed birthdays, little league games, high school graduation, teaching me how to tie a tie, simple good luck texts all of the little moments but you want to show up on the biggest day. He texted when he found out I said he couldn’t come and I told him all of that.
At the moment I was the greatest son he never got to know.
All my life I’ve been low-key chasing for a form of approval and validation that never came when I wanted it. Yet, when it did it didn’t fulfill the void I thought was missing.
If you’re an athlete feeling this way I get it. You have every right to feel all those emotions don’t suppress them liked I did all these years. If you aren’t careful you can end up taking that pain out on the people who do want to be around. We’re hurting because as a kid you think you’re doing something wrong but even our parents are Imperfect Athletes trying their best to heal their own wounds.
Like Jay-Z said, “You can’t heal what you never reveal.”