“No matter how tall you get, you’ll always be looking up to me,” I replied in a tone mixed with love and sarcasm. I can admit I am not ready for my nephew to be taller than me; but the emotions are more or less tied to the acceptance of time and not his change in stature.
I’ve watched my nephew watch me in a distance; he doesn’t know how much I do the same to him. Parents-me included-take time for granted. We meander through life as deal with our internal mess and insecurities, oblivious how our actions and mannerisms are observed by children. Before we know it, the little kid who had to prop their heads back to look us in the eye, evolve and acquire their own unique combination of life experiences from a different vantage point, and we can’t help but marvel.
At 14 years old, my nephew’s newly acquired height is one of his first ventures to gauge his manhood. He has no idea of his power and abilities; but he will try and often fail because it is part of the process. A major part of my job as his father figure has been to prepare him for said trials, errors, and how to learn from it all in the process.
It doesn’t seem very long ago I lamented about a conversation with my mother about my nephew’s frustration because I threw a football too hard at him. Or the many times he as a little boy wanted to quit playing one-on-one in basketball because I swatted every one of his shots and left him on zero. However, all of it was part of the process.
At eight years old, I told my nephew “When I throw the ball, every time you flinch, I’m throwing it harder. The worst thing that can happen to you is you’ll get hit by a ball. Guess what? That’s part of the game. You’re going to get hit. But even when you do get hit, you still have to make the play because your team is counting on you.”
When it came to basketball, my little Ted Talk was “Look, if you want to play in the NBA and you grow to be my height, you’re the shortest on the team. Someone on the court is going to be a foot taller than you, like I am right now. If you get used to creating space and release the ball quick, you can shoot over someone seven feet tall.”
My actions were to use lessons from sports to prepare him for life, not hurt my nephew. Two years ago, we practiced basketball in the yard, and I would yell “Your palm is on the ball!” every time he took a shot until he corrected it. Before he reached the brink of frustration, I would give him another tidbit:
Look, you gotta fix your form, now. In year or two, your body is going to change and you’re going to be able to do things like a grown man. You gotta fix these things now because once you get that grown man body, it’s going to be much harder to fix bad habits.
Gone are the little league days where a ground ball to the pitcher’s mound was more than enough time for a kid to run 55 feet to each base and make it home. No one is at the field or court for exercise and social skills. Everyone is there to compete. My nephew is 6’2” and steps to the plate with my grown man, 34” wooden bat; the same one not too long ago, was too heavy for him to pick up and swing.
This all tied together last summer. On a drive home from baseball, I played “Ricky” by Denzel Curry. I’d come across the song a couple of days earlier and decided to give his most recent album, Zuu a listen with my nephew. I was first introduced to Denzel Curry a few years earlier when he was a fifth grader. At the time, his “thing” was to flip bottled water. As the bottle landed on its base and he’d sing “Ultimate” ad nauseum until I hated both the thud of water bottles and “Ultimate.” But this time was different. I remembered the music I listened to at his age, began to understand it, and knew he was now at this point.
Zuu jammed and I took a liking to “Ricky” because it reminded me of my nephew, who is now a couple of weeks away from beginning high school. Before I wrote a word of this, I knew what I wanted to write about. I did some research and learned “Ricky” Curry’s nod to his father and his support of Denzel’s career. It confirmed how I felt about the song was correct.
When I first wrote about my nephew and sports, my perspective was of an adult who needed to work on not feeling so jaded and endured little league games. In retrospect, those days were fun and I miss them sometimes. However, since he first swung his bat off a tee and pitched for the first time, I’ve been looking forward to where he is, right now.