Here’s to a Dad who filled our lives with sport

I know I bagged on parents in my column last week, but in the
spirit of Father’s Day, which is Sunday, I’m switching gears. I’m
writing in hopes that anyone whose sporting life was somehow
enhanced by a father figure will be inspired to reflect and thank
him for that.
Personally, I owe my dad a big thank you. He was the person who
introduced me to sports, which turned out to be a big deal
– considering that I’ve chosen sports writing for my career.
I know I bagged on parents in my column last week, but in the spirit of Father’s Day, which is Sunday, I’m switching gears. I’m writing in hopes that anyone whose sporting life was somehow enhanced by a father figure will be inspired to reflect and thank him for that.

Personally, I owe my dad a big thank you. He was the person who introduced me to sports, which turned out to be a big deal – considering that I’ve chosen sports writing for my career.

It wasn’t until I was all grown up that I started wondering if my dad, the father of three girls, ever wished he’d had at least one son to share sports with. But this thought never occurred to me growing up. The reason for that, I know now, is because my dad never made me feel like I was any less of an athlete because I was a girl. He played with me whatever sport I wanted to play. He threw me footballs, he lifted me up to the basketball hoop so I could dunk a ball, he analyzed hours of fastpitch softball pitching instructional video so he could help me and my two sisters become better softball pitchers. To this day, he is the only male I’ve seen truly attempt to learn the fastpitch windmill.

And I love him for it.

The first organized sport I ever played was soccer. Dad had never coached before and knew nothing about soccer. I don’t think he even liked the sport. But the rec league desperately needed coaches, so he decided to coach. A lot of parents would have put a half-hearted effort into doing the job, figuring, hey, I’m just filling a spot. But in true Bill Patejdl fashion, my dad went all out.

He went to the library and took out just about every soccer book they had. Then he ordered these instructional videos, the kinds you see ads for on ESPN at three in the morning. He totally immersed himself in learning everything he could and before long, he knew all the technical merits of the game. Valiantly, he tried passing that along to me and my team, the 6-, 7- and 8-year-old Fireballs of the Palos Park Recreation League. Most of the time our eyes glazed over when he sat us down and started using words like “instep” and “trap,” or talking about the importance of spacing on the field.

Maybe my dad was too detail-oriented in his coaching approach. Maybe a lot of the stuff he tried to coach was over the heads of his players. After all, we could barely tie our shoes on our own and some of us were in it mostly for the post-game snacks. But then there were these shining moments during his 10-year coaching career when a player finally “got it.”

A few years ago, I ran into a friend who had played with me in fifth grade on one of my father’s softball teams. That year, my dad decided to teach this multi-step batting stance sequence that he learned from a baseball camp my sister and I had attended. It wasn’t going over too well. So he upped the ante. Any player who could correctly act out and recite the sequence earned herself a Twix bar. This, like any chocolate product would, motivated us like nobody’s business. Eventually, the entire team had it down pat. So here I was, years later talking to a girl who had been on that team.

“I remember that batting thing your dad taught us,” she said.

“Seriously?” I responded. Ten years after learning it, she proceeded to talk through and act out the batting sequence, never missing a beat. Man, I thought, I don’t even remember that.

It hit me then, just what an influence my dad had on not just me, but other people as well.

And it hit me again a few months ago when my sister Lindsey and I were remembering the crazy stuff Dad used to do just to make our sports experiences the best they could be. She and I used to hate packing the car before softball practice with these batting contraptions that he built himself so more people on the team could get more swings during practice. Now, it blows my mind that he put in the time and effort to build these things.

I mean, they required welding.

“He did some awesome things,” I remember saying to Lindsey. “And we had no idea.”

My favorite memory is from fourth grade rec basketball. We were the Bulls, the most coveted rec team name of all, because this was the Chicago-area in the early 90’s. On the day we played the Lakers, my dad made a tape with the music the real Chicago Bulls used during their starting line-ups: the extended intro to the Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the Sky,” followed by Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Part 2.” He played it while we warmed up.

We were fired up, beat the Lakers and it was the talk of the league.

I could tell over-the-top sports stories about my dad for hours. Did he embarrass me? Yes. Am I glad he did? Yes. Were there times when I would try to ignore his coaching and whine “Daaaaad!”? Yes. My point, after all this reminiscing, is that I know there are many other dads out there like mine. I hope they are reading this right now. If they’re not, I hope someone they’ve inspired, be it daughter, son, anyone, is reading and tells that man thank you.

There will be a time when you miss it.

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