It's funny, even in my twenties, I still need not only your approval, but your pride. I know what you've sacrificed for me to live my life, and somehow I feel like I owe you something in return. Obviously I love you more than words can express, but somehow I think I should give you more. Sometimes I think I must attribute all of my accomplishments to your guidance. But when do I establish my own sense of agency? And does that mean I also owe you my failures? Where do I draw the line between dependence and independence? I undoubtedly give you gratitude...but does that mean I can't also resent the way you made me feel indebted? And why...why...were you always there for me except when I needed you the most?
Those high school days never came easily to me. As you know, I certainly wasn't popular nor was I pretty. I didn't fit in with any of the other 50 students in my tiny class. No, I navigated high school alone, doing everything within my power to leave our tiny town...the same town that means so much to you. I felt rejected by a place you hold so dear, and by extension, I felt rejected by you.
So, my desire to get out was fueled by the fury I felt, driving my academic and extra-curricular pursuits. I maintained a 4.0 GPA filling my days with AP classes; I spent countless hours practicing violin to maintain my first chair position; and I helped lead our small varsity girls' basketball team as co-captain. I was the overachiever who didn't even care about the individual achievements...I just wanted to do everything in my power to escape from our - your - town.
I didn't play basketball to continue in college. I made that abundantly clear. I needed it for my college resume. Did I want to win games and be there for my teammates? Of course. But it wasn't something I lived for. Schoolwork always came first for me. It was my ticket to escaping after graduation.
But it turned out I needed basketball practice for more than a tick on my college applications. Depressed and overweight with merely a peanut size of confidence, it was my source of interaction with people my own age and my opportunity for physical growth. But more than that, it was a reprieve from the mental anxiety. I could actually have fun.
But the games...the games were a different story. You missed only one game during my entire basketball career. Did you know that was one of my best games? I bet not.
After each game, it was painful to be in the same car with you.
You took the love of the sport I felt during practices away from me on game nights. It wasn't mine to love or hate anymore. The way I played, the shots I missed, the rebounds I didn't get...even my failures weren't mine to own. They all became part of your unforgiving analytical assessment. After losing a game, you might be quiet and talk about how a teammate scored a lot of points that game. She needed more support out there, you'd say. You wouldn't mention my performance, or you would use your "distant" voice noting each mistake I made, as if listing groceries off a shopping list. That's the thing- it's not that I detected disappointment...its that you almost seemed...apathetic.
Like anyone, I yearned for your approval. Even just laughing at a joke I told- I needed to know you were proud of me. The countless all nighters I pulled to make straight-a's, the hours practicing violin, running the community service club as its president...none of that mattered on the court. Frankly, none of that mattered off the court. All that mattered was my relationship with the scoreboard. Those were the true bragging rights as a parent. So, on an off night, I didn't just fail myself, I failed your ego. Bottom line- I let you down. Or rather, I didn't make you proud to be my father. The fact that I opted to stay in and read on a Saturday night or watch a movie with you and Mom made me an introverted outcast, because the leading scorer on my basketball team just so happened to also be the leading partier. In those moments, I felt making a basket in front of a crowd become more important than my significantly less public ethical choices.
So where do we go from there? I think the answer rests in me taking the next step: forgiving the unforgettable. And I think the best way I can do that is with a toast.
Cheers to the game, akin to no one, beating independently, with or without you. But if you do decide to join me in appreciating this sport, as an equal admirer of its lack of ego, together we can grow. Forget our small town for a moment; we can grow in a court that has no judgement of a missed shot - because it's always still there for us, waiting for redemption. And maybe, just maybe, on this court and off, you can be proud.