My Dad Wears Chuck Taylor's

There’s nothing that makes me happier than playing basketball with my Dad.

I’m 26 now, maybe a little old to care so much about a game of pickup with “the Dude”, but I can’t help it. When I see him jog across the street to where I’m shooting baskets, a well of anticipation and excitement springs up. It’s a feeling that’s only emerged in the last few years. Ever since I moved away and Dad had his battle with cancer, I’ve longed for the fleeting moments we’ve spent teaming up together against the neighbors in some good ole fashioned hoops.

I’ve played enough ball by now to recognize my Dad’s skill—a talent unrecognized and unheralded in my youth: the subtle nuances of a good ball fake, lightning’s own unpredictability, a smooth, linear shot. He moves so well without the ball, cutting to the basket and sliding back door for the easy layup. And these days I’m looking for him. When we play, we synergize. We understand each other. And on the court, we relate in our own unique way.

My Dad plays unselfish, old-school ball—he’s built as a pass-first point guard. He’s not afraid to take the open shot or to penetrate with the dribble, but you’ll never see him force a shot. He’s a staunch defender and won’t give an inch. My game runs in the same vein. I never really thought about why I play the way I do until recently when the Dude and I played two-on-two against some guys in the neighborhood.

It wasn’t even a contest. We knew what each other was planning, our moves choreographed in ease. It was the first time we’d ever played together, but I was playing a game with the one who created my own. I understood, playing alongside my father and winning, where my desire to throw the good pass and to find the open man originated. Together, my Dad and I are tough to beat. We flow.

We play in the evenings, after work, after dinner. We play the sun down, and I leave the court smiling. My Dad, more often than not, leaves it limping. He’s getting old, and his back suffers every jump shot with more and more protest. Some day, I know, our game will be over. But as I watch my Dad rub his sore back wearing a sweaty tee shirt and a grin, in that moment I love him.

Now I understand: happiness has its price. The best things in life aren’t free at all. They’re paid for, and often the price is dear. My Dad pays in pain for every game we play. For me, it’s the seven-hour drive for the visit, the gas money, the time away from friends. But who’s counting? Real happiness is a treasure, and like most treasures, it’s not an easy find. It’s at the end of an adventure, at the end of toil and trouble. That’s the happiness I want in my life; it’s what we all want. The question is, are we willing to find it?

My Dad sacrifices to make me happy. In a million ways he does, but none strike me more than on the court. I know that playing together is fun for him, but he could just as well be on the sidelines cheering. He understands what it means to both of us that we can team up and play. And he knows, I hope, what it means to me.