Yesterday Nathan got dressed in his "basketball clothes" in the morning. It was a nice, warm day and he put on a satiny sleeveless shirt and matching shorts. One of the first things he did was to suggest that we play basketball. I love basketball. I love to just shoot around and I love to play. But when Nathan wants to play, no matter how hard I try, I dread it. "Playing basketball" with Nathan and Julia consists of me shooting around, maybe the kids throwing it into a little kiddy hoop, the kids dribbling and throwing it to me, and occasionally me lowering the rim and lifting them up to dunk. It should be fun.
In the afternoon I pulled the hoop down into the cul-de-sac. Julia wanted to sit under the hoop and coach. I shot for a few minutes. Nathan ran around, dribbled it some, and tried to take shots at the big hoop. After a few minutes his legs were so "tired" that he really had to struggle to get up off the ground if he had to bend down to pick up the ball. He sat down to rest and then quit.
I played hours and hours of basketball with my Dad and brother when I was growing up. Josh and I would shoot, play H-O-R-S-E, tips or play one-on-one. When Dad played we would sometimes play H-O-R-S-E, but twenty-one was the family game. I have such amazing memories of humid Illinois summer nights playing in fading light on the gravel driveway with a backboard bolted to an old telephone pole. My memories of growing taller than my father are tied to basketball. It was a big deal when I was strong enough, tall enough, and quick enough to beat my Dad at twenty-one. Those games were hard fought and often ended in Josh or I storming off. Gentry men (and boys) do not like to lose, or to not do something as well as they feel they should be able to. Dad was always the favorite during those high school years when we were all around enough to play. He always had the better shot and he lived by the free-throw line. I bet there was something bittersweet about seeing his boy get big enough and be able to beat him occasionally with growing skill and the advantages of youth. As a parent I can now project a bit and while I can imagine it was bittersweet, I bet it was more sweet than bitter.
Truth be told, even without his illness I think Jules is our most athletic child. My growing up basketball memories are about my brother and my relationship with my Dad. There is no reason that I won't have great experiences with my daughters around sports and athletics, but they aren't going to be as big as me. And I won't compete with them (or they with me perhaps) the way I hoped to with a son. With Nathan.
So when Nathan wants to "play basketball" and share and be a part of basketball with me, as much as I know I should embrace it, I can't help but to feel cheated. There are a lot of things and times where I can let go and just enjoy the moment and have fun. Driveway basketball is such an integral part of my memories and my experiences as a son in the father-son relationship that I just can't get there.