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Talkin' With Dad

One of the things my dad did -- of which I'm eternally grateful -- was to implant the sports virus into my soul when I was 7 years old. The world of sports has given me lifelong friends, endless entertainment, a great way to exercise, many valuable lessons and a big chunk of my career. But most importantly, a cherished bond with my dad.
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I was driving home last night from my two daughters' high school basketball game when I started reflecting on their team's thrilling quadruple overtime win over a highly-ranked opponent.

However, my thoughts soon turned to my dad. I started wishing he were here to see his granddaughters play his favorite game.

Then it hit me. 2016. My dad's been gone 20 years now. Wow. He never even got the chance to hold either of my kids in his arms as babies, let alone watch them participate in high school sports.

Relationships are precious. And so is time, especially time spent with the important people in our lives.

Although my dad passed away way too soon, he left me with a powerful threefold legacy: 1) Family comes first; 2) The importance of education; and 3) A passion for sports.

As I continued driving home from the high school gym, I began to appreciate the many ways sports have enhanced my life. And I realized I owe that to my dad.

One of the things my dad did -- of which I'm eternally grateful -- was to implant the sports virus into my soul when I was 7 years old. The world of sports has given me lifelong friends, endless entertainment, a great way to exercise, many valuable lessons and a big chunk of my career. But most importantly, a cherished bond with my dad.

I remember Dad driving me to my first Little League baseball tryout when I was nine years old. Back then you could sit in the front passenger seat no matter what your height or weight. I sat there, a scrawny kid staring at the glove compartment and not saying much. My sweaty left hand was stuck inside my cherished Mickey Mantle baseball glove (one of my all-time favorite Christmas gifts from my Mom and Dad). Dad kept saying, "You'll do fine," but I wasn't feeling all that convinced. He was right.

A couple years later, I can still see my father on the sideline as I competed in the old Punt, Pass & Kick competition. We had been practicing together for a couple weeks. I nailed my punt and pass. I can still see my dad's face beaming with pride. But the placekick was a different story. I shanked it. His look of disappointment after my wayward kick ended my chance of going to the Punt, Pass & Kick regionals is etched even deeper in my mind.

But I was one of the fortunate kids. I had a youth sports dad who kept things in perspective and believed more in a pat on the back than a kick in the rear. His encouraging words as I walked, head down, to our car helped ease the pain. And the ice cream cone he bought me when we went to lunch all but erased it.

I have great memories of going to high school, college and pro games with Dad. It wasn't until years later that I realized he'd chosen to take his naive little kid to the games with him instead of going with one of his sports buddies.

Once, on a family vacation, Dad and I sat in the family car, parked outside a dinky motel room late one August night, and listened to the long-distance scratchy radio broadcast of an exhibition -- yes exhibition -- game featuring his favorite sports team, the Denver Broncos.

There are many more pleasant memories: a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on my 31st birthday; a father/son road trip to Kansas City to watch the Royals play the California Angels.

Ahh, it was a wonderful mental stroll last night ....

Dad passed away too young. I miss him but I feel blessed by our relationship and the time we had together. I only have one regret: that I never sat down with him and had a true heart-to-heart talk.

A couple years before he died, I drafted a column with a working title of "Talkin' With Dad." The column was about how I hoped to be more open with my father, sharing more than my thoughts on current sports topics. I wrote about how I was working on building up the courage to share my hopes, dreams and fears with him -- and then asking him to share his. My gut was telling me that the strong bond between the two of us would become even stronger if we talked more about the serious stuff in life and not just the fun stuff.

I never finished that column, never turned it in to my editor, and worst of all, never had that heart-to-heart with my father. He died before I built up the courage to do it.

I'm a lucky man. I had a lot of good years with my dad and very few guys have the father-son relationship I had with Pops. I KNOW he loved me and I KNOW he knew I loved him.

But I still wish I would've had that talk.

And so I'm encouraging you all -- sports-loving sons and daughters -- to call a parent (or maybe a brother, sister, or good friend) and in-between chatting about the fun stuff have that serious talk. I can't prod you enough. I'm betting the bond that started when you had your first catch in the backyard, or shot hoops together in the driveway, or hit the tennis ball back and forth over the net will be strengthened in ways you can't even imagine.

Sport provides a great vehicle for bonding with the important people in your life. But the bond can be a lot deeper if you talk about more than whether or not the local basketball team's head coach should be fired.

Today, I've added another New Year's resolution to my 2016 list. The goal is to develop the courage to have "the talk" with all the important people in my life -- family members and friends. I want to open my heart and share the important stuff.

Wish me better luck this time.