It started the same way at both of the houses I lived in growing up. My father paid a ridiculous amount of money, which I’m sure we didn’t have, to have a cement truck come out and pour the concrete slab. Then he would set to work smoothing the concrete, working it until it was just right, keeping us kids away from it, telling us just to wait, wait, it would be ready in a few days. Then he would set up the goal, and he would always make sure the rim, at it’s tallest adjustable height, was exactly ten feet from the slab…
Saturday was a busy day. I woke up sick, my sinus cavities clogged with anger at the fickle Oklahoma weather we’ve been having.
I had a trainer session at 8 a.m. Bright and early. I blew my nose, I drank my disgusting pre-workout shake, and I headed out.
My schedule for the day included the workout, then driving home to shower and change, then head out the door for a writing assignment that was an hour’s drive away from my house, and that started at 11 a.m.
The one thing I simply did not have time for was my son’s basketball game at 9 a.m. It just wasn’t possible. Even without the workout, it still wouldn’t have been possible.
If the weather was nice, I’d usually be outside on that slab, throwing up shot after shot. It was the place I hit my own personal “The Shot,” and I loved being out there. Every once in a while after dinner, my dad would walk outside to the slab, look at me, and ask, “What’s it going to be tonight?” I’d usually pick a game called “Around the World,” where each person shot from nine different places around the “court.” Every single time, I would think to myself “This is it. This is the night I beat him.” My dad would flip me the ball and say, “You go first…”
The Missus sent me a text Saturday morning. “Are you going to Aven’s game?”
“I really don’t have time.”
She didn’t make me feel guilty, she understood.
And really, if the truth be known, I didn’t feel guilty about it. I was too busy. There was too much going on. Plus, I’ve been to every single other game he has had this year, and let’s keep it perfectly real, Aven is terrible at basketball.
Don’t get me wrong, he can shoot, barely, when he’s practicing. He’s working very hard on his dribbling and he’s coming along nicely there…in practice. Yes, he’s five. Yes, he is appropriately horrible at the game for his age and experience level.
But at the same time, I knew I wasn’t going to miss anything big.
I’d miss the first shot. I’d always miss the first shot. You had to stand under the goal and one arm it up and in, and I did not have the coordination for it yet. Since you got a “chance” shot every time, you could always take two shots on the first and not have to worry about starting over. So I’d try again. I’d usually miss. I’d groan, knowing what was about to happen. My dad would get the ball, and the beating would commence…
I was driving home from the workout, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for going in even though I was clearly on my deathbed. I was thinking about things the day held, and how I was going to divide my split shift for the day into workable segments.
Not a thought in my mind was occupied with Aven’s game.
Then the text came in.
“Aven just made his first basket in a game!”
I missed it.
I f*$&#*@g missed it.
He didn’t miss. He never missed. He would go the entire way around the “world” and not miss once. Every. Single. Time. I don’t know how my dad shot so well. I don’t know if he played in school, I don’t think he did. I’ve never heard of him being a hoops legend on the street courts of Coweta, Oklahoma, in his heyday. In fact, I don’t even really know why he liked basketball to begin with, but I know he did. After his first circuit, he’d look at me and say, “Alright, now I have to go back around.” And somewhere in that trip, he’d miss. 18 years later, I’ve finally figured out he probably did it on purpose…
I’ve felt pretty bad about things in my life. There are times I’ve had where I realize how wrong I was, or how stupid I was, and then I usually have the obligatory pity party, where I steep in self-loathing almost as completely narcissistic as the original act I’m “punishing” myself for.
But Saturday, it was different.
I missed it.
Yeah, Aven will have other “firsts.” He’ll have his first game where they actually keep score, his first assist, his first high school game, his first start, and maybe more. There will be a lot more firsts.
But this one was more important to me than anything else.
And I missed it. Why?
“I really don’t have time.”
I’d get my second chance, and I’d get going. After the first shot, the next two were easy. Then the corner shot loomed. This was the shot that would make or break me. I just had to complete one circuit, and this was the keystone on which success or failure was built. Most of the time, I’d miss. Then I’d usually take my chance, and I’d usually miss again. My dad would laugh and say something like, “You won’t beat your old man today, son.” Then he’d rip off five or six straight shots to win the game. After, he’d flip the ball back to me. “Let’s go again.” He gave me another chance…
Aven walked in the door right as I was about to walk out of it for my assignment. To tell you the truth, I had been praying I wouldn’t see him before I left. But he walked in. He looked at me, all ready to go, and all thoughts about his shot left his mind.
“Dad are you leaving already? I never get to see you!”
I turned around, bit my lip, and forced myself to smile. I turned around, and The Missus, thinking quickly, said, “Don’t you have something to tell him?”
“DAD I MADE MY FIRST BASKET!”
I hugged him, fast, before he could see the tears. I said, “I know son, and I’m so proud of you.” I turned, walked out the door, into my busy life.
Yesterday at church, Aven met his assistant coach on the walk to door. The coach walked up to him, high-fived him, and said, “Aven! The scoring machine!” He and Aven laughed, and the coach said, “And you had everybo…your mom and your sister there to see it!”
I have no doubt his intentions were pure and it was a simple slip of the tongue. No doubt whatsoever.
But I wanted to tear him apart.
Then, that afternoon, my family gathered at my mom’s house for dinner and the reading of my youngest brother’s letter, which will be another blog this week. As we walked in the door, the talk of the room was Aven’s first basket. Everyone congratulated him, high-fived him, and my brothers were joking with him and in general just making me feel a little more sorry for myself.
I missed it.
I missed it. I always missed the first shot. Then history would repeat itself, and we’d walk to the house, me as the loser, him as the winner, the universe in perfect harmony. He’d always slap me on the back and tell me to keep working. “One day you’ll beat me.” Oh that the “one day” would come! Even though now I would trade a lifetime of losing to my dad to get him back, then all I wanted to do was win. All I wanted was to be a good…
Dad. That’s all I want to be. A good dad. Not great, not spectacular, not anything special. Just good. I want Aven and Akeeli and any other children that might come along to say, “My dad was a good father, and a good man.”
So I kept working. I don’t remember the day I beat him, but I know I did. I’ll never know if he let it happen or not, but I don’t think my dad was that kind of person. My hard work paid off. I kept trying, and I made mistakes, and I kept getting chances, and that’s exactly how real life works too. I’ll keep getting chances at this “dad” thing. I’m sure this won’t be my last big screw up, because it’s certainly not my first. This one just hurt more.
Whenever I think of the word, my mind flashes back to the movie Man on Fire with Denzel Washington.
“I wish. You had. More time.”
After a discussion in my Sunday School class yesterday, I’ve discovered I’m not the only person who struggles with managing their time. We’re all busy with work, school, church, family, friends, hobbies, and a billion other things that cause us to lose focus and never complete any one thing with care.
I’ll learn. I’ll figure it out.
My job at the moment is not something which cannot be manipulated. If I have an assignment, I have to take it, because it’s work, and I have to contribute to this family somehow. Could I have chanced being a little late and maybe caught Aven’s first basket? I don’t think I could have. Does that change the way I feel about missing it? No it doesn’t. Not one bit. I feel terrible.
But I get to keep working with at the game. I get to teach him little things I know, and encourage him to try harder.
Aven doesn’t watch the ball when he plays. He watches us. He’s always looking at the sideline, disregarding all the basic principles of the game, eschewing them for us. For our approval.
And my life’s goal is to always be there, looking back at him, waving my hands like crazy, telling him for the love of God just get back on defense, stop looking at us, pay attention to your coach, GO!
As much as I hate time, it provides us with the one thing we all so desperately need.
We all know I’m pretty new to this parenting thing. We’ve had our children for just a bit over a year now, and I’m constantly reminded (particularly by my mother) that there is a lot more to learn.
But there’s been a breakthrough. I have news, y’all. The kind of news that you see at first and you think, “Oh wow, that’s awful,” but then you secretly try it later just to see if I’m serious. And it turns out, that even though what I’m about to tell you is based on common knowledge, I haven’t heard of it being used before. This has led me to two different conclusions.
1. What I’m doing is groundbreaking and I should receive a Nobel Prize for it.
2. What I’m doing may in fact be slightly illegal and I’ll be put in jail for it.
At this point, I’m really wanting to lean towards that whole “Nobel Prize” thing. Mostly because I don’t think I’d do well inside the prison industrial complex. I’m not a fighter, and in prison, you’re either a fighter or you’re the guy the others guys fight over and then proceed to Andy Dufresne the mess out of you in the shower, in the movie projector room, or out by the tool shed.
|“I wish I could tell you that Andy fought the good fight and the Sisters let him be.”|
I just want to chase a quick rabbit. If you read the rest of this blog in Morgan Freeman’s voice, I really think it might soften the impact of the incredible news I’m going to share with you. So go on, get in character. I’ll wait.
Alright, so the other day, our children went out back with our niece to swim in one of those little turtle swimming pools that are about three inches deep and have a tiny slide. We’ve all seen them. It’s the kind of pool that white trashy people put in their front yard right out by the street and let all the neighborhood children come pee play in. I’m proud to say my brother keeps his in the back yard.
About twenty minutes into the “swimming,” our son comes up to the door, and he’s shaking like a Republican in a Pentecostal church. The Missus immediately runs to get him a towel, yelling something like, “He’ll catch his death of the cold, bless my soul!” Apparently, seeing a shaking child turns my wife into a housewife with big skirts from a 1960’s TV sitcom.
I, on the other hand, observed the situation. I noticed the fine details. Mostly, I noticed the fine detail that our son wasn’t talking for the first time in two weeks. He couldn’t talk. You could tell he wanted to talk, he wanted to talk about leaves, and why he was cold, and tell us that he knew a bunch of stuff, and colors, and all the scuttlebutt down by the “pool,” but he couldn’t. He was shaking too hard.
Something in my mind clicked.
Then, The Missus rushed by with a towel, muttering something about the vapors, and wrapped her precious baby up in it, drying him off, and showing him all the love that she used to have for me.
And my brain just kept right on spinning.
“Travis. Hey, Travis. If he can’t talk when he gets cold, this could mean a whole new dynamic in car rides. You’ve got to do some research here, Sloat. You have a responsibility to God, the people of the world, and your sanity to do something about this. If you don’t, you’ll go to your grave never feeling like the successful person I let you think you are.”
So I searched for the opportunity to research.
It just so happened that yesterday after church, it was just the children and I in the car driving home. We got in, and they were so excited, their little heads filled with bible stories, and their little endocrine systems full of sugary drinks. They just kept talking. Talking to me, talking to each other, talking to themselves, it didn’t matter. They just wanted to talk.
Just another aside, but they are ALWAYS talking. I think, and this is Travis Sloat being real here, that this has got to be the worst thing about kids. They constantly talk. When we first got them, I thought, “Man, this will keep my conversation wit quick.” Now, a year later, I’m trying to watch a National Geographic special on Blue Whales, and the announcer says, “This, a Blue Whale, is the most majestic creature on the earth, and also the largest, with a length of about 30 meters and a heart the size of a small car.” And I’m thinking, “Wow. A car.” And our son, our wonderful, precocious son, is sitting there, soaking it all in, and I’m thinking, “I’m a dang good parent, letting our kid watch this kind of nature stuff.” And then I realize that if there are animals, and this is NatGeo, that sooner or later there will be a mating scene, and I’m not quite sure if I’m ready to deal with that just yet, and our son, he just looks at me, points at the TV, and says, “I know what that is, that’s a Blue Whale. It’s majestic.”
I KNOW YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS! IT JUST TOLD YOU WHAT IT WAS! DOES YOUR BRAIN SHUT DOWN WHEN YOU STOP TALKING? IS THAT IT? IF YOU KNOW SO MUCH, DEFINE MAJESTIC! CAN YOU PLEASE GIVE ME AT LEAST TILL THE MATING SCENE BEFORE YOU TALK!?
100% disclosure? Their talking will be why I die at forty.
But back to the car after church. They’re talking, and they won’t shut up, and I think, “Now would be a great time to test this theory I have.” So I crank the AC up full blast.
The only way this eventually works is if The Missus isn’t in the car. Anytime I turn the AC on with her in the car, she just looks at me, rolls her eyes, and either turns it down or shuts her vents off. Meanwhile, I’m sweating like I just ran a 5k.
So the AC is on, and nothing is happening. Of course, it’s 98 degrees outside, so I have to give it a minute. Finally, the car starts cooling off to the point where it’s getting chilly. Still, the talking continues.
Then, the staccato pace turns to a heavy machine gun pace, and I think, “Is this working?”
As the car nears a temperature rivaling that of a walk-in food storage freezer, the conversation grinds to a halt like a car running out of gas, and stops suddenly.
I can’t believe it. I looked back, and both of them had just stopped talking, almost mid-sentence, and were SLOWLY FALLING ASLEEP.
|“So there was this one guy, named Jonah, and he was…umm…mmmfdhjalfda…nnnn.”|
Folks, I don’t have to tell you how big of a breakthrough this is. Houses will be permanently chilly, cars will be filled with dry ice on long road trips, and schools will have classes outside in the winter. It will revolutionize the “children should be seen and not heard” sentiment of generations past that somehow got lost, for which I blame Barney.
Of course, there are still side effects to consider, such as an increased tissue budget, as well as an increase in cold medications. But you have to ask yourself. “Is a quiet child worth a little hypothermia?” If your answer is yes, then I suggest you start your own research.
I just have to make sure it isn’t actually child abuse first.