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An Ode to the Sports Dads

Happy Father’s Day to all sports dads, from the coaches to the fans.

U.S. Amateur Championships

A longstanding running joke about Very Serious Male Writers is that all they write about — all they can write about — is the relationship between fathers and sons.

I am not a Very Serious Male Writer. I’m often barely even a writer, and never ever very serious. But I am a man, and I am a son, and so even I fall trap into writing about fathers and sons.

Father’s Day is this Sunday — this serves as your reminder to buy your dad a present — and considering how often sports can forge a bond between parent and child, I figure it’s only right to write a column celebrating dads and sports. And though I am by nature inclined to write about Fathers and Sons, there’s no reason daughters shouldn’t be included in here as well.

(Disclaimer, as always: none of this is to say that women and mothers cannot have the exact same influence on kids, both in sports and out of sports. But Mother’s Day was last month, and this is a column about Father’s Day.)

I’m lucky enough to have a terrific dad, who introduced me to golf and basketball and directing profanities toward referees on television when mom was in the other room. He doesn’t get my infatuation with soccer, and derived great pleasure from making me help him clean out the garage when Federer was playing in the Wimbledon final, but other than that I have no complaints. He also once told me that if I ever show up at his house with Miller Lite, I won’t be allowed past the front porch.

But enough about my own dad.

In my day job I cover quite a bit of athletes that sign to play college sports, often at DII or NAIA schools. Those signing day ceremonies are amazing, because you see fathers brimming with pride at their sons’ or daughters’ accomplishments. Most of the time, the dad is wearing the biggest smile in the room when his kid puts pen to paper and signs to a college.

I don’t know why this sticks out to me so much, but just the other day I helped run a junior golf tournament, and one dad took the lead. He marshaled a group of five kids aged 9-11, keeping everyone in line, helping write down scores and cheering on everyone. It didn’t matter whether or not it was his kid. This dad was a dad for everyone.

His kid wound up winning the age division, and you could see how proud the dad was. I went over and shook his hand to thank him for helping keep everyone in line, and he just said he had a blast doing it — though he was pretty dang tired afterward.

And It’s not just playing sports that draw kids close to their fathers. Watching games can form bonds as well. Go to a TCU game and you’ll find little tykes riding on their dad’s shoulders poking out above the crowd, the toddlers’ heads bobbing up and down above a sea of people in purple and white. Those memories can’t be erased.

My fondest memory is the night North Carolina won their first basketball title in my lifetime, a five-point win over Illinois in 2005. UNC basketball was something my dad and I shared since I was old enough to watch a game without falling asleep halfway through. I was nine years old in 2005; I vividly remember crying from happiness and hugging my dad so hard I knocked him over on the couch.

The U.S. Open always ends on Fathers’ Day, and being a golf fan I ascribe a certain significance to that as well. Think of how many images we’ve seen of golfers sobbing into their dads’ arms after winning the Open. Think also of little kids running on to the green to be scooped up by their dads, not knowing just how much a win means to him but knowing it’s somehow important and makes him happy.

And — not to get all mushy — but that’s why we like sports in the first place. We like things that make ourselves and our friends happy, and for some reason, watching a team we support win gives us the feeling of happiness. When I watched the 2014 Super Bowl with my friend Troy, a diehard Seahawks fan, I shared a large part of his happiness when Seattle was on the goal line, and I shared some (but definitely not all) of his utter despair when Russell Wilson threw that interception. I wanted my friend to be happy, and so I rooted for his team.

That’s how bonds between fathers and children can start. A child wants his/her father to be happy — when the team in purple on screen scores, his/her father is happy. That makes the child happy. Then the child asks for a TCU jersey for Christmas, then tickets to a game, then applies to the school’s business program or whatever. The cycle continues when that child has children of his/her own. Now it’s a generational fandom, something for grandparent and parent and child to celebrate together.

It’s of course all arbitrary and silly, except for the part where it actually does bring people closer together.

So this Father’s Day, we salute all the good sports dads out there, whether you’re coaching your kids, playing alongside them or just watching sports on the television. May your naps be long, your beer be ice cold, and your kid volunteer to mow the lawn for you.