My dad is not a sports fan.
When I asked him Sunday, he didn’t know the NBA Finals were being contested, let alone who was playing. (Although, to his credit, he did manage to nail down the home-state Blackhawks and even knew they were facing the Bruins when the question turned to hockey’s playoffs).
He doesn’t listen to White Sox games on the radio (and has voiced his disdain for the ceaseless banter of sports talk stations), tune in the TV to the Bears on Sundays or own a single jersey, team T-shirt or any pro sports paraphernalia as far as I know.
While he had a decorated prep career in football and basketball for the Bulldogs of Ohio High, organized sports have never been a focus of my dad for as long as I can remember.
But, my dad is a sportsman.
Forget Wrigley Field, his idea of friendly confines is acanoe. (He owns three of them, and a kayak for good measure.)
So, in keeping with recent tradition, acanoe is where your humble narrator spent Father’s Day afternoon, along with pops and a big family flotilla in the mighty Green River (Sorry Abram!).
I was never much of an athlete, so the front-yard batting practice dad tossed never had a big-league impact. The interior post-up moves he showed me for the hardwood were relegated to some fresh-soph action and the occasional closing moments of varsity’s blowout wins and lopsided losses.
I hardly ever play basketball anymore. But the older I get, the more often I try to load up friends, family or anybody looking for an interesting afternoon on the water in my owncanoe (which was originally christened the ‘Pink Panther’ for its sun-faded red Ram-X exterior, but has since lived up to its name by periodically seeking out low-lying branches in which to rest).
The occasional scrape aside, I’ve gone from paddling up front with dad at the helm to learning how to navigate my own self-powered vessel — even with an inexperienced passenger — down a tricky stretch of the Big Bureau Creek.
I love that growing up, and still today, the adventures I share with my dad aren’t lived through other men.
It’s shown me that truly great moments can come without fanfare or an audience, that you don’t need a stadium to have something transcendent and amazing.
Don’t get me wrong. I do listen to the occasional White Sox game on the radio, and devotedly tune in to watch the Bears on Sundays. I love to watch people compete at the pinnacle of their profession.
But the older I get, the less weight I put on the men in shoulder pads and uniforms. There’s only so much time, after all, and baseball games take a long time. (It’s been said that boys grow up to be their fathers, and my path has slightly followed his on this topic, at least). To paraphrase an old adage, rivers don’tcanoe themselves.
My dad’s love of the outdoors is one of his defining character traits. He farms our sandy ground organically without chemicals. He has planted hundreds if not thousands of trees and created wetlands and prairie grasslands for habitat.
Unlike him, I’m no farmer (in fact, I try to maintain a 20-foot buffer zone from anything resembling a shovel when not necessitated by winter). But because of my dad, I’ve grown up to love spending time outdoors. It’s become part of who I am.
All you dads and future dads out there, don’t underestimate how big an impact spending time outdoors with your kids can have on them. It can be one of the greatest gifts you give them and a way to bond for life.
So, thanks dad for helping me learn how to connect and do a little floating around on this beautiful planet we live on. It’s a couple days late, but happy Father’s Day again. I love you.