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Remembering a man who said ‘Nice game’ and meant it

I lost my dad 10 years ago, on New Year’s Day. He was a gentleman, an athlete, and mostly, a really good guy.

My dad was a big man, who was never threatened by someone who could outplay him in sports. Rather, he was impressed by athletic ability, particularly when combined with smarts. He quietly lived by the motto: “Someone else’s success is not your failure.” Heck, great competitors will keep you on your toes.

As a coach and a spectator of youth sports, he never lost track of the fact that these are kids playing ball, and that he was an adult. He always appreciated a good play, regardless of who made it. If it was a kid on his team, great. If it was his own kid, great. If it was a kid on the other team, great.

A pivotal moment in my life occurred during a high school volleyball match. It was a home playoff game against our rivals, led by the best player in the division, and it was my biggest game ever. At a crucial point, our setter gave me a perfect set, and I spiked the ball harder than I ever had before. The crowd roared! Just then, the same ball landed directly at my feet. She had blocked me!

Dejected, I heard someone yell, “GREAT BLOCK!”

Recognizing the voice, I looked up into the crowd and said, “But Dad, she blocked ME.”

“I know, honey. But it was a great block.”

And you know what? He was right.

That lesson will always be with me. I had a great hit. She had a better block. Good for her. Another’s success was not my failure. I wish everyone could be lucky enough to have a teacher like my father. Being outplayed isn’t a reason to be mean. Or jealous. Or complain about a call. Or say (or tweet) something nasty. It means you were outplayed. It’s a big world. Get over it. This is the fun stuff.

On my desk is a photograph of my young son at his very first piano recital, at a nursing home. It was one of my proudest moments as a parent. It is because of my dad that when I gaze at that photo, I always note that the people in the audience are asleep! It gives me perspective.

He once told me he wished he had more time to watch his grandchildren play sports. My oldest was only 6 when my dad died, but we did get to watch one of his first Little League games together. It was a typical game played by adorable, wiggly, 5-year-olds, when you pray that somebody – anybody – hits the ball, or hits something, and that a child might just might be paying attention when that occurs. My son was in the field, searching for bugs to chase, when he suddenly made a catch with his new glove. He immediately ran across the diamond, right past me, to his Grandpa. He proudly handed Grandpa his tooth, which had just fallen out. Perhaps this was my son’s version of the game ball, many of which he would earn in the future, but that his Grandfather would miss.

My dad has missed many brilliant plays over the years, including those made by his grandchildren, and those made by kids playing against them. He would have enjoyed each one.

When my boys had simultaneous baseball playoff games one year, I pulled into the parking lot after learning that my son had just hit a three-run triple, putting his team ahead in the last inning! He immediately came running over to me, jumping up and down, saying, “Mommy, guess what?”

“What?” I asked.

“Kenny got a hit! A really good hit!” he said. Kenny was the little boy on the team who hadn’t gotten a hit all year long.

I thought of my dad, and I smiled.