Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Father's Day 2011

"Daddy, who's winning?"

My 5-year-old Gabe may or may not have a vivid recollection of his earliest sports memory. I am not sure I have one. But I will always remember the summer he became a sports fan, and that is far more meaningful to me than my own history.

The gateway drug was the NCAA Tournament back in March. I went through the bracket with Gabe, telling him the team names, the mascots and -- to his pointed question -- if they were good. He had this incredible sub-regional where -- certainly without my help -- he picked Richmond over Vanderbilt and, far more improbably, Morehead State over Louisville.

Overall, he had a mostly reasonable bracket -- like most with reasonable brackets, his picks fell off a cliff somewhere around the second weekend. He had Florida winning it all (the same result his bracket had in 2006, when his mom picked his bracket for him while he was in utero, with Florida winning the title, and finishing in the Top 10 out of more than 10,000 entries in the Daily Quickie readers bracket group).

Gabe wanted daily -- even game-by-game -- updates on his bracket, down to the percentile he was in compared to all brackets nationally. There is something about the sheer volume of games in the NCAA Tournament that can turn a 4-year-old into a die-hard sports fan: Games on all day and all night, with mom and dad glued to the TV, shouting or muttering about upsets and brackets, a scoresheet he can use to compare himself to all the other fans out there.

The tournament ended in early April; he turned his attention to baseball. A day-care classmate was a die-hard Yankees fan -- all of a sudden I'm hearing about "CC Sabathia is my favorite player." He is a New York kid; we are not a New York sports family (even if I had already taken Gabe to see college hoops in person at nearby St. Francis College, then to the Garden to see the Knicks, with a couple of trips out to Coney Island to see the Brooklyn Cyclones in between). It could have been worse -- the peer pressure could have been toward the Red Sox.

In the middle of April, his fandom accelerated with the start of the NBA Playoffs -- he became obsessed. He wanted to learn every team -- city and nickname -- and wanted to know every result, every night. My kids share a bedroom adjacent to our living room, and after their bedtime, I would settle in on whatever game happened to be on that night. Then, from the top bunk:

"Daddy, who's winning?"

This is not "Daddy, I'm thirsty" or "Daddy, sing me a song" or "Daddy, my pillow fell on the floor." I couldn't help but answer him, even if it only got him more fired up. He wanted to know the score -- and I would be derelict as a parent and a sports fan not to tell him.

He was very specific about it: I couldn't just say "The Celtics," because then he would reply, "Against who?" The Knicks. The Celtics are beating the Knicks. "The New York Knicks?" Yes. "The Boston Celtics?" Yes. [Beat] "What's the score?" The Celtics are winning by 8. "No, what's the SCORE?" Celtics 54, Knicks 46. "8 points!" Yes. Five minutes later: "Daddy, who's winning?"

(At least with basketball, the score changed frequently. With hockey, it was "It's STILL zero-zero, Gabe!")

Our ritual in the morning during the playoffs involved him coming out of his room and joining me on the couch. He would ask me who won -- eventually I figured out that I could earn a smile by telling him before he could ask. And I would fire up the highlight clips on my laptop and show him what happened, pointing out the players and big plays.

The kids have a mini-hoop in their room, and in the evening it would become the place where the inkling of NBA dreams would be played out, Gabe taking the role of Durant or Dirk before flinging up some crazy errant shot or camping out under the basket and cramming the ball through the flimsy plastic orange rim, posterizing his 2-year-old little brother.

Gabe has his NBA favorites: Whether it is his age or simply the paternity, Gabe is a front-runner. The team that is winning the game or the series would become a favorite. Losers would fall by the wayside. Allegiances would shift with the scoreboard and the series tally.

For a little while, it was the Bulls. For a long while, it was Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Then it was the Heat. And the Mavericks. He knew "Nowitzki" had a "v" sound -- I'm sure the actual spelling would confuse the hell out of him.

Finally, there were only two teams to pick between, the Heat and Mavericks. He started with the Heat after Game 1, flipped to the Mavericks after Game 2, then back to the Heat after Game 3 -- hey, just like most sportswriters -- then settled in with the Mavericks for Games 4, 5 and 6, waking up on Monday morning to the news of me telling him the Mavs had won the title. He pumped his fist and hissed "Yesss!"

Between mid-March and now -- just three months -- Gabe has become a sports nut. But he is hardly athletic; this isn't about him flashing skills as a player, like some of those bitty YouTube legends where you spend less time saying "Wish that was MY kid" and more time wincing at everything that is behind that video clip.

Gabe has become a sports fan, which for me is a much more important development in his life. It has become a way for us to connect, part of the cycle of parents and kids -- yes, in honor of the weekend, fathers and sons -- sharing sports fandom.

It is important to me that he came by it of his own curiosity and interest. Undoubtedly, that I consume a lot of sports and talk about it and have made it part of my job has exposed him to it. Maybe, consciously or not, he saw it as a way to connect with me, to win my approval and attention. But I want him to enjoy it for its own sake, and I will let that take whatever course it might -- even if he wants to be a Yankees or Heat fan. Even if he loses interest in sports.

There is an urge for sports-fan parents to loop your kid into sports as fast as possible, precisely so you CAN share this thing that has been such a big part of your own life. I have pictures of Gabe in Gators gear in his first weeks home from the delivery room. All I can say from the experience -- to young dads and future dads -- is the best thing in the world is to let it happen on its own timetable, in its own way. It is so much more satisfying for both of you.

One of my earliest sports-fan memories as a kid was of my father saying the name of a city and me reciting back the name of its NFL team. More than 30 years later, I found myself a couple of Sundays ago sitting with Gabe at the dining room table. I had drawn a rough outline of the United States. First, Gabe wanted me to label all the NBA teams on the map in their proper cities. Then MLB. Then the NFL. Then the NHL. The map filled up and I could see him committing the cities and nicknames to memory. (Any graphic designers who want to make a slicker version of this for me with team names and logos, shoot me a note. Happy to pay you for the effort.)

Gabe wanted to know who the good teams were. He giggled when he would mention a team name and I would say, almost sounding like Charles Barkley, "Them? Oh: They're TERRIBLE." He finds it particularly amusing that I am a fan of the "terrible" Wizards while he is a fan of the champion Mavericks. Or Heat. Or Thunder. Or Bulls. All going in the "great" teams bucket. He wants to understand: Who's good. Who's not. And, most interesting to deal with: Why?

There are an insane number of amazing things about being a dad... about being a parent. For parents who are sports fans, that first inkling of fandom from your kids has been one of the most remarkable moments I have experienced -- those first hours, days and weeks he has spent as a fan, in front of the TV or just talking about sports.

Those will become literally tens tens of thousands of hours of his life to be spent in front of the TV or at the game or prepping for a fantasy draft or reading great sportswriting or just talking about sports with his friends -- or his dad (or mom). He is signing up for years of joy (and frustration) and the unlimited account of social currency that comes with being a fan. And, as I will remind him later when his team inevitably lets him down, he came to it willingly.

It all started with the simplest and most fundamental question in sports: "Who's winning?"

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.

-- D.S.

Reprinted from

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Drew Magary On "Dad Strength"

Deadspin's Drew Magary was sent this question by a reader: "My first child is due the day after Thanksgiving. When do I get dad strength?" Magary's answer:

Not for a while. You have to spend a good amount of time carrying the child, and assembling shit for the child, and installing car seats, and loading the trunk with shit, and setting up Pack-N-Plays, and carrying bag after bag after f#$%ing bag at the airport before you've built up the requisite muscle groups for Dad strength. And even then, I'm still not sure when it officially kicks in. I'd like to think I've finally gotten my Daddy Strength belt, but that's not going to be made official until one of my children is trapped under a pickup truck and I have to lift that truck to save them from choking to death on exhaust. I plan on running my oldest over sometime next year to get a proper reading.

One of the nice things about being a Dad is when you get to flex your Dad strength in front of your kid and you can see that they're in AWE of your abilities. One time, my kid was about to throw a wet washcloth out of the tub, and I instinctively blocked the throw (DENIED!) then grabbed her and lifted her out of the tub. And she knew right at that second that I WAS NOT TO BE F#$%ING TRIFLED WITH. And then the kid tries to retaliate and starts slapping your leg and shit and you just laugh in their face. MWAHAHAHAHA! YOU THINK THAT HURTS ME? I AM BULLETPROOF.

Dad strength is best shown off in a local pool, where you can pick your kid up and throw them all over the place at will, so that other kids can see your ability to make little children fly. I wish there were a race of giants out there that could do similar things for me. I'd love to be picked up and thrown 50 yards in a pool. That would be incredible fun.

They should offer workout DVDs for single men to help them get Dad strength if they'd like to have it. You'd get a weighted baby doll you'd have to carry around, that squirms and flails ALL THE TIME. Really helps work the core. And you'd have to get under various appliances and furniture and go nuts with a screwdriver. You'd eventually get Dad strength, and I'd have the satisfaction of knowing you were dumb enough to voluntarily suffer through all the menial bullshit I have to do.

Magary is right. I am in the worst shape of my life, yet I retain almost all of my Dad strength.

-- D.S.

Fandom-Neutral Parenting?

"I heard of parents who plan to raise their child gender-neutral. Big deal. I live in CT, and my kids are neither Yanks nor Sox fans." -- ESPN's Rob King via Twitter.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Joe Posnanski's Lesson from Bob Costas

"The biggest thing I want to teach them both is that it is possible. Whatever it is. The world, I believe, is best enjoyed and most affected by those people who believe in possibility, who strive for it, who shake off the doubters and their own self doubt, who laugh with the critics and keep moving forward, who follow their own curiosities until they are filled, who see themselves accomplishing the best they can imagine."

-- Joe Posnanski, relating the lesson for his young daughters that he gleaned from an early-career interaction with Bob Costas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Varsity Dad in the New York Times

For those who missed it yesterday, there was a terrific Varsity Dad experience in the New York Times sports section: An article written by me about taking my older son to his first basketball game. (If you saw the print edition, you may have seen Gabe's smiling face taking up the top quarter of the page.) It was fun to write and a thrill to see in print (and online). More soon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Emily Monforto and Amazing Sports Parenting

The Varsity Dad sports parenting moment of the year came on Tuesday night.

As you have undoubtedly seen on YouTube or the Today show or cable news, Phillies fan Steve Monforto caught a foul ball from Jayson Werth. High-fives all around. He gave the ball to his 3-year-old daughter, Emily Monforto... who promptly proceeded to toss the ball back.

Steve Monforto's reaction?

He hugged his daughter. And the look on his face has no trace of disappointment, let alone frustration or anger. Just love. (See the video here.)

Love for his kid. Love that this is EXACTLY what a 3-year-old is supposed to do. Love that Emily's lesson from all those catches in the backyard is: Throw the ball!

It was the perfect reaction. It should be used as the model for all parents out there who want to incorporate sports into their kids lives.

At Varsity Dad, we talk about raising a good sports fan. In this case, you can't have taught a better lesson or had a better experience. And I'm quite sure that part of the reason I love this story is because I have a 3-year-old of my own.

But there is a wider thing about parents who want to push their kids into -- and through -- sports. Maybe they are trying to reclaim their own glory (or non-glory). Maybe they earnestly want to earn a college scholarship for the kid. Maybe the kid genuinely likes it.

Either way, the process starts young, and the first lesson -- at age 3 (hell, at age 13) -- is simply to love the game. Love watching it. Love watching it with your dad or mom.

I'll bet there are sports-crazed parents out there who would have at least looked annoyed at their kid. Not a trace of that from Steve Monforto.

Just love of his kid and love of being at the game with her.

It is a lesson that every sports fan -- parent or otherwise -- should embrace.

-- D.S.

PS: All's well that ends well. When the Monfortos were on the Today show this morning, they were presented with personalized Phillies jerseys, along with a ball signed by Jayson Werth. To their credit, the Phillies gave Steve Monforto a replacement ball at the game. Whoever caught the real ball could earn a lot of goodwill by giving it back to Emily Monforto.

(OK, if I can offer one bit of constructive criticism, from the Varsity Dad handbook: Steve, ditch the pink Phillies cap for Emily and give her a classic red Phillies hat. You get one, why not her?)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nerf Hoops: Made For Teaching Trash Talk

While shooting on the mini-Nerf hoop, I just taught G the 3-year-old Varsity Kid the taunting phrase "Makin' it rain!!!" A trash-talker is born. Nevermind the shots weren't close -- it's the thought that counts.

-- Dan