On Fathers’ Day one year ago, my two young sons gave me a beautiful basketball. It was the perfect gift, if only we owned a hoop. Minor detail.
In the year since, they’ve reminded me many times that the ball is lonely without its compound word buddy. I’ve even caught them dribbling in the driveway and taking shots at an imaginary hoop. Subtle.
Not wanting to wait another decade, perhaps getting one piece per year, I finally purchased the basketball standard for the driveway. It’s the typical rolling model with height adjustment for the rim and a large base to fill with water or sand.
I had no idea we’d be learning a lot more with it than how to fire a jump shot.
One recent evening as I mowed our front lawn, my youngest boy two-hand heaved shots from every angle. The rim was at regulation height, 10 feet, and most of his attempts barely brushed the bottom of the net.
After a few passes with the mower, I took a break and dropped the rim to its lowest setting. We played together for a few minutes and I showed off my soaring, rim-thundering, ground-shaking LeBron dunk.
I also demonstrated how to miss that dunk, but for instructional purposes only.
Soon I was back to mowing, and each time I crossed the driveway, I watched him make at least one attempt. After several minutes on the side of the house and out of view, I passed back in front and spotted him standing on the base and straddling the pole. He’d released the latch that secures the rim and backboard in place and was pushing up as hard as he could.
I quickly killed the mower. “What are you doing?”
“I want to shoot at the regular dad height.”
I smiled and helped him raise the hoop. Then, I did exactly what any thick-headed dad would do — I told him he wouldn’t make many shots at the regulation height.
“That’s why they make it adjustable, bud.” I tussled his mop of sweaty brown hair.
“Look,” I continued, “it has different heights so you can shoot at the kid levels until you’re bigger.”
I don’t know if he heard me or not, he was already galloping into the yard to retrieve the ball. A few seconds later he was taking and missing shots at the 10-foot height.
He missed from close. He missed from far away. He missed from everywhere.
Eager to make another “dad mistake,” I offered to lower the rim for him again before returning to my yard work.
“Nope,” he said before missing another shot, and another and another.
I grinned again and stepped back to the mower. But before restarting it, I turned and watched one more attempt. He launched with both hands and we heard the unmistakable clank of the ball hitting the rim.
“Almost!” he shouted, and his head swung around to check whether I’d seen it or not.
In fact, I’d seen much more than the attempt. And for the first time all evening, I did something right.
I invited him to keep shooting and promised not to leave until he’d made one. I chased his misses into the garage, the yard, the neighbor’s yard and the road.
Some were close.
Some hit him in the head.
Then, with all his might, he aimed for the square on the backboard and pushed the ball from his chest. It hit the square and every inch of the rim. As it fell through the net, he raised his noddle arms high over his head.
“Yes!” we shouted together and I raced to give him a high-five. But he was already chasing the ball down for another shot.
Back at work, I watched my all-star miss many more shots that night than he took.
But I smiled knowing he was shooting at the ‘dad height.’”
Later, as we said goodnight, he thanked me for playing basketball.
“You’re welcome,” I whispered. “But you did a lot more than play ball.”
Last year for Father’s Day, my kids gave me a ball. This year they gave me a lesson that lowering the hoop, or personal expectations, may be a missed shot for giant success — 10 feet higher than expected.