It was a Monday. I was 11 years old, a guard on the St. Barts Bruins JV basketball team. We were a week away from our first game of the season, and our hot-to-death new uniforms — reversible tanks with our last names on the back and long cotton shorts with the school’s logo on the thigh — had just arrived. I was home sick the day the uniforms were passed out. Which, I figured, wouldn’t be a problem since our names were already stitched on the shirts. I didn’t have to worry about someone “stealing” my number or being left with an extra-medium after all the larges and XLs were taken. (And yes, everyone who’s played a youth sport knows these are very real concerns about “uniform day.”)
And I was wrong.
I was back in school Tuesday. We had practice at 3. After practice, the coach pulled me aside and gave me my uniform. I tried it on in the locker room. The shirt looked great. It was the first time I’d ever had my own name on a jersey. The pants…well. The pants, however, were small. Not short and baggy — which would have been acceptable — but long, stretchy, and tight. They weren’t quite spandex, but they were related to spandex. These shorts and spandex were second cousins. Think a very thin pair of baggy legging shorts.
I’m exaggerating, but that’s how it felt at the time. Everyone else was able to get shorts that fit. Some even got em a size or two bigger than what they needed. (F*ckers.) I was left with some extra-mediums that would have fit someone three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter.
I didn’t want to cry, because there’s no crying in the Catholic school JV team locker room, but my face was frozen. A tear would have dropped out if it moved.
By the time I got home, though, I was inconsolable. I didn’t want to eat dinner. Didn’t want to talk to my parents. Didn’t even want to play Techmo football. All I could think of was running on the court for our first game, and having the entire crowd stare and laugh at the imprint of my ass and thighs through my shorts.
In hindsight, I totally was a drama queen. But nothing matters more to an 11 year old than being cool, and nothing said “I Am Not Cool. At All.” than shorts three sizes too small. I stayed in that funk for the rest of the week.
Wrought by nerves about the game the next day, I was unable to sleep Sunday night. After a few hours of falling in and out of sleep, I went downstairs to get something to drink. My dad was sitting in the dining room, doing some work and listening to music. He was (and still is) a night owl, so this wasn’t unusual. What was unusual, though, was what he was wearing.
A t-shirt. And my shorts.
It took a beat for me to fully comprehend what he was doing. He was stretching the shorts out himself so they’d be more baggy when I wore them.
We didn’t speak about it. We didn’t have to. The recognition of what he was doing was all over my face. I paused, went to the kitchen, drank some Kool-Aid, and went back upstairs. I didn’t have much trouble getting back to sleep.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t even remember that night and those shorts. But I do. I remember immediately feeling better. I remember that his gesture didn’t really make much difference with the shorts. They were a little baggier — and a bit misshapen — but not much different. I felt different, though. I felt…protected. I felt like he had my back. I felt like he would do whatever was in his power to make my life better.
These are things I already knew. I knew my dad loved me. I knew my dad would do whatever, whenever. But those types of thoughts aren’t always present. Especially as a child, wrapped up in your own world of crushes, Little Hugs, and gym classes. If you’re lucky enough to have good parents, you don’t consciously think of their love for and devotion towards you.
Until, of course, you walk downstairs at one in the morning, and see your dad nodding his head to Charlie Parker while stretching your too-small-for-your-sixth-grade-body shorts on his six-foot frame, doing what he can to make his son a little less self-conscious before his first game.
I never thanked my dad for doing that. Until today.
Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.