The Story Of My Mom, My Dad, My Basketball, And I

(The Champ’s latest at EBONY on the bond he shared with his parents through basketball, and how his mom’s recent death changes everything.) 

We’ll talk about the Steelers. He’ll reiterate they need to draft “one of those athletic Black quarterbacks” next year. I’ll say we have bigger holes to fill than at quarterback. We’ll both joke about how Mike Tomlin gets so angry at press conferences after losses that it looks like his eyes will pop out of his head.

We’ll also talk about the weather. News one of my aunts told him over the phone about one of my cousins. The deer family in his backyard. The raccoon family in his garbage cans. A new steak rub he saw on the Food Network. How my car is holding up. My job. Area crime. Obama. White people. A Roots CD I gave him. Terrelle Pryor. Cristo Redentor. If Ray Donovan is any good. My nephew. My knee.

We will then talk about the only thing worth talking about: basketball. And it will remind us why we need to talk about basketball now. Especially now. It will be a familiar conversation. We will both smile. And this will make us both sad.

To know why I love basketball is to know why I love my dad. He introduced me to the game when I was six. My birthday is Dec. 30th, the Harlem Globetrotters appear in Pittsburgh in late December of every year, and he took me to see them as a birthday present. Interest piqued, I’d watch the NBA playoffs with him, and listen as he explained where Earvin Johnson got his nickname from and why dunks weren’t worth any extra points. I’d implore him to buy basketball magazines for me—Hoops and Basketball Digest especially. He take me to basketball courts. We’d shoot around before anyone else got there; me working on my touch and him rebounding my misses while reminding me to be mindful of my follow through. Older guys would start to come. My dad would play with them, and I’d sit on the bleachers, watching and waiting for my opportunity to sweat the way they did.

As years passed, the basketball jones continued to grow. We’d shoot 500 jumpshots a day every summer. Me counting my makes, he reminding me to be mindful of my follow through. I’d grown big enough to finally play with the older guys, and he’d always pick me on his team, reminding me to shoot when I was open and hit the open man. He’d drive me to my AAU games and sit in the stands. After the games, he’d make sure to tell me I played well. During drives home, he’d let me know which rotations I missed and why it was my fault when I threw that no-look pass to that guy who dropped it out of bounds because he wasn’t ready for it. We’d watch college and NBA games together at home. He’d point out bad body language, and we’d both instinctively grunt “Eh!” when Tim Hardaway or Mark Price or Chris Jackson made someone look silly. During breaks in the action, he’d quiz me on NBA history.

“What college did Oscar Robertson go to?”

“Eh…wait…I got it. Cincinnati, right?”

“Good job.”

High school and college were versions of the same process. We didn’t practice together anymore—he was approaching 50, and I’d just work on my game by myself—but he still came to every game and still gave me the same advice. The grunts still occurred while watching college and NBA games, but they were peppered between us pointing out where Robert Horry mistakenly “popped” instead of “rolled” after setting a pick and theoretical debates pitting a 2001 Allen Iverson against a 1989 Isiah Thomas.

He’d also make sure to let me know how much he enjoyed watching me play basketball.

We’re both adults now, living on two separate sides of the same city. I’m busy. Not as busy as I say I am. But still busy. And, for the past few years, we haven’t watched as many games together as we did before.

This year will be different though.

While the story of my dad and I can not be told without basketball, the story of my dad, my basketball, and I can not be told without my mom.

(Read the rest at EBONY)

What Exactly Makes a “Good” Parent?

What a difference a month makes

As any NFL fan (and most New Yorkers) undoubtedly know, there’s an annual ritual that occurs somewhere between the 3rd and 8th weeks of the NFL season each year. The New York Giants will be struggling, a few anonymous sources from the team will leak quotes to the media about how much the entire team hates head coach Tom Coughlin, and a few prominent beat writers and reporters will pen articles about how the team has tired of Coughlin’s rigid ways and that it’s time to make a change.¹

Seriously, if you were to look up the term “hot seat” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of a red-faced and exasperated Coughlin in the middle of the same exaggerated head shake/eye roll combo an assistant principal at a high school would make after hearing that the gym locker room toilets were clogged again.

He’s never won (and never will win) coach of the year. Whenever Sports Illustrated or ESPN.com does one of those anonymous player surveys, he’s always the choice as “the coach I’d least like to play for.” He’s not regarded as an evil genius like Bill Belichick, a guru like Jon Gruden, a master motivator/player’s coach like Mike Tomlin or Pete Carroll, or even an “old guy whose best days are behind him but still has something in the tank” like (the extremely overrated) Mike Shanahan. He is actually a stereotypically bad assistant principal — a micro-manager whose obsession with mind-numbing routine and authoritarianism ends up undermining the power he already has².

But, as of Sunday night, Coughlin is the head coach of two Super Bowl champions, a feat matched by few others. A man many wouldn’t consider a great (or even good) NFL coach has twice bested the man thought of as the best football coach of his generation.

Today, the Coughlin narrative is that he’s an underappreciated motivator and technician. The end results (two championships) have justified any means, and 50 years from now, no one will remember that he came within a hair of getting fired every year. All they’ll see is “Tom Coughlin = two-time Super Bowl champion” and they’ll assume that he was a great coach.

Now, there’s an obvious parallel between coaching and parenting (and teaching, even), and I brought up Tom Coughlin’s career because it ties directly into a question I’ve always had about parenting.

What exactly makes a “good” or “great” parent?

This seems like it should be an easy question to answer. A good parent is a selfless individual who loves their children unconditionally, stops at nothing to provide for and protect them, teaches them whatever needs taught, and models good behavior.

But, if the ultimate goal of a parent is to make sure their offspring are productive, capable, and well-adjusted members of society, what’s to make of “good” parents who were, to put it bluntly, failures?

How do you gauge the parental merits of loving, selfless, and upstanding individuals who’ve raised kids who grew up to be liars, deadbeats, thieves, rapists, murders, and Laker fans? Would you consider a parent “good” if they were successful and happy and well-adjusted, but their children were the exact opposite?

Perhaps, like a “good” coach who just wasn’t able to find a way to motivate his team, maybe a good parent with sh*tty offspring has all the proper parental tools but just didn’t apply them properly…making them bad at being a parent

On the flipside, what do you make of people who’ve managed to succeed in spite of what looked to be lackluster and/or deficient parenting? The man who’s managed to become a renowned surgeon despite his overbearing and still hard to please alcoholic father? The woman who never received a single compliment from her ruthless and manipulative mother but ended up being a caring, successful, and well-adjusted lawyer and mom herself? The kid from the projects who, after seeing how heroin tore apart his family, got a PhD. in neuroscience to study addiction and help make sure what happened to his family doesn’t happen to any others?

On the surface, no one would say that any of these people had good parents, but you can’t deny the fact that their relationships with their parents helped motivate and inspire them to become who they are today. Again, if parental merits depend on the offspring you send out into the world, the “sh*tty” parents definitely succeeded. Perhaps these parents, bad as they may have seemed, were only doing what they thought it took to ensure their children’s success as adults.

And, just as you probably won’t hear any Giants complain about Coughlin’s rigidity or out-of-touchness today, you’re probably not going to hear any of the people from the last paragraph complain too much about how they were raised.

If the Giants don’t make the playoffs this year, Coughlin gets fired. Now, though, each of his negative characteristics become pluses through euphemism. (i.e.: “he’s a micro-manager” turns into “he’s steadfastly committed to excellence”)

If these people don’t turn out successful, the drunk dad is an asshole, the manipulative mom is a bitch, and the kid with the addicts in his family just had too much on his plate to overcome. If successful, though, the asshole dad becomes “a guy who believed in tough love,” the bitchy mom is just a “perfectionist who wanted the best for me,” and the kids from the projects reflects on all the sacrifices his people made to help him make it.

I guess I’m trying to say that whether a person is a good parent or not is completely arbitrary, completely variable, and completely dependent on the quality of kid they produce. But, to be honest, I don’t even really believe that. A part of me still thinks that, despite what I’ve tried to prove today, good parenting is like pornography — you can’t really define it, but you know it when you see it. 

Hmm. I forget which Gladwell book it was (actually, it might have been “Freakonomics.” I really have no idea), but I remember a passage in it that basically stated that the best parenting is done before a kid is even born. The genes you pass on to him and the financial situation he’s born in do waaaaay more to help (or hurt) him succeed than anything you can do as a parent.

If this is true, perhaps coaching and parenting are more intertwined than I thought. As any Giants fan will surely tell you today, “good coach” is just another way of saying “he was lucky enough to have some good ass players.”

¹There’s an article at Slate.com that goes much more in-depth on this “ritual.” I remember reading it there, and I know it’s somewhere in here, but I couldn’t find it yesterday.

 

²No shots at any assistant principals reading this

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Spouse, Parents…or Kids: Who Should Rank “First?”

Decisions, Decisions

While teasing a few Patriots fans on Facebook yesterday (Even though it may be blasphemous for me to admit this as a Steeler fan, I dislike the Pats more than I dislike the Ravens. To repeat something I said on Twitter a couple weeks ago, if the Ravens are beets — a food I thoroughly dislike, but respect — the Pats are beets…covered in sh*t), I saw something in my news feed that caught my eye.

I happen to be friends with Anslem of Naked With Socks On fame, and if you’re familiar with him at all you probably know that he’s recently married and just launched a joint blog with his wife — who’s also a writer. Anyway, the thing that caught my eye was a new post on their blog titled “My Mama or My Wife: Who’s the No. 1 Woman in a Man’s Life?” — a piece where Anslem wonders exactly how his marriage has affected the decades-old dynamic he has with his mother.

It’s funny how there are certain questions in life that you never think about until you have to. I found myself faced with one of those questions the other day: Who do I love more my mama or my wife?

At any other point in my life if I were posed with a question that pitted my mother against any other person, place or thing in the world and the woman who gave me life would win hands down every time. No questions asked. None needed. But recently my ability to answer such a question with absolute and immediate conviction began to waver a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mother unconditionally and with all my heart but I can say similar things about my wife. Unlike the latter, though, the Mrs. is someone I chose to love. Somehow that makes this different.

Hmmm.

Now, because the loves are so drastically different, attempting to categorize the love one has for a husband or wife and the love one has for parents doesn’t seem to be possible. It’s like asking someone “Which do you need more? Water or your heart?” — both extremely vital, but both serving completely different functions.

But, the more you think about, the more you realize your answer has to be your spouse. They’re the ones you’re choosing to start a life with, the ones you vow to be with until death, the “top spot on any beneficiary form.” Basically, if your spouse doesn’t supersede all, you shouldn’t be getting married. Everything and everyone else should become secondary…including your children.

I imagine that most of you all were with me until those last three words. “Yeah, Champ. You’re right. As much as I love Mom Dukes, my wife has to be number one. Really, what’s the point of marrying someone if they don’t automatically get that number one spot, and…what? Wait? What? Kids? My wife should take priority over the people we bring into this Earth??? Can’t roll with you on this one, man”

Lemme explain.

I think that the best families operate through a hierarchical matrix that goes something like this:

Parents, as a collective unit and as individual people, should value their kids lives over their own. Their primary duty as parents is to protect and provide for the people they’ve created, and if they were forced to make a choice between their lives — individually or as a collective parental unit — or their children’s lives, it should be a no-brainer.

But, the parents as individuals should love and value each other more than they do their children.

You know I can’t make a point without including some contrived analogy that actually ends up confusing more than it clarifies, so…

Let’s imagine a four person family (two parents, two kids) was on the Titanic. The ship is sinking, and there’s only room on the lifeboat for two people. In this situation, the parents should definitely put the kids in the lifeboat — sacrificing their collective lives for the lives of their children.

Now, let’s say you’re on that same sinking ship, and you were knocked off the boat, but the sea current miraculously led you to the shore. Once you get out the water, you glance off the shore and see that your spouse and your young child are in the water behind you, struggling to stay afloat. You can only save one, though. In this situation, as heart-wrenching and devastating as this decision may be, you reach down and save your spouse…even if your spouse doesn’t want to be the one to be saved.

The (somewhat morbid) rationale behind this? If you believe your spouse was put on Earth to be your spouse, they’re irreplaceable. (And, if you don’t believe this, you probably shouldn’t be getting married…but that’s another topic for another day.) Your kids, as precious as they are, aren’t as irreplaceable. (I hate the way that sentence sounds, but there’s really no other way to put it.)

Heh. I just had a vision that, years (YEARS, I TELL YOU. YEARS!!!¹) from now, some precocious little big-headed boy that (hopefully) looks more like his mother than me will be googling his daddy’s name, searching for any information he can find on me. He’ll come across this article, read the entire thing (because he’s a smart motherf*cker just like his dad), frown, find me sitting on the couch, and ask “Is it true that you’d let me die.”

Me: “Ummm…well…ummm”

Champ Jr (CJ): “That’s ok Dad. I understand. That’s what you’re supposed to do. When I get a wife someday, I’ll let you die too.”

Me: “I taught you well and sh*t, son. I taught you well and sh*t.” 

¹Knocking on wood

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Movies You Should Never Watch With Your Parents

Sorry dad, I didn't mean to scare the Black off of you. I didn't know there was butt sex in this movie either. It's called Coffee In My Cream. I thought it was a coffee documentary. Honest mistake.

Last summer, my mother came to visit me for a week. One of our favorite things to do as a mother-son dynamic duo is to see as many movies as possible. Apparently I’m the movie guy in my family (no bootlegs) so we end up seeing all kinds of random films and popular movies. It’s big fun. Until it isn’t.

See, I’m grownahel shawty, but there are still movies that no grown person should watch or see (ten bucks to the person who can differentiate between the two without making me sound redundant) with his or her parents. I’ve had a few of those moments in my lifetime but most of the happened when I was in high school and had no real business knowing about the sexual jokes that were being bandied about like two strippers for hire at a rib shack in Toledo.

And with that said I will kill ni**as dead here is a list of movies that you should neva eva, eva eva (?) watch with your creators.

1. Bruno

Possibly the quintessential DO NOT WATCH WITH YOUR PARENTS movie of all time. My mother had to leave the room several time as she was just mad uncomfortable while watching the movie with her son. Honestly, I don’t even remember what the movie is about I just remember creating random conversations during the movie about the Kyoto Protocol and the merits of the G8 Summit given that Kool-aid prices haven’t risen in eons. And why? One of my boys – who so happens to be gay – called me after he saw it and was like dude, this might be the gayest movie of all time. I’m gonna have to concede that he’s right.

2. Jason’s Lyric

Yeah, it’s all because of the scene that inspired a dookie-braided and ridiculously voluptuous Lisa Nicole-Carson to say, “what y’all did at the bayou?” a a question that is not uttered nearly enough. There’s just no way to pretend like that scene ISN’T awkward to watch with your donors considering that both you and your mama are thinking of ways to get that kind of lovin’ in your life.

3. Sex Aliens From Outer Space

Contrary to what you might believe, there really isn’t a plot here. Or good acting.

4. Love And A Bullet

Also known as the movie where Treach goes full frontal nude in the name of cinema. You shouldn’t watch this movie because its just about as bad a legit movie as possible. My mother picked this one up for us one day. Because she saw Black people on the corner. I’m not making this up. What ensued was my mother looking at me and wondering why on Earth anybody would spearhead such a movie then gasping as she saw a totally unexpected naked rapper.

5. Closer

Not only do I think this just isn’t a good movie, but there’s also only so many times the word c*nt can be said in a movie before one of the parents blows a gasket and wonders why movies nowadays have to have such filthflarnfilth. But mostly you shouldn’t watch this with your parents because it sucks donkey nuts.

6. Thuggin’ It And Lovin’ It 1 or 2

I’ve mentioned this series before, but if there was ever a case study to be made for the practice of restrictive procreation, then these two DVDs are it. I imagine that if I watched this with my mother, she would look at me, look back at the screen, then look back and me and say, “is this how Black folks act in the ‘hood’ as you call it?” And truly, I’d not only have no response, I might say that I agree and then go get an NRA membership and join the NRA.

7. Eyes Wide Shut

A veritable coup de grace in terms of movies one should NEVER ever watch with the ‘rents. In fact, it nearly ranks up there with Bruno in terms of sheer inappropriate and ridiculousness. Then again, Tom Cruise was involved so the truth is that anything can happen. Say what, say what….anything thing can happen. Will the Knicks win the championship this year…NO NO, NO NO that would never happen.

Treat Thursday like its your Friday and enjoy the love. What other movies should you never ever watch with your parents? I know some of you all have fun stories here. Share…

Btw, my birthday, is tomorrow. June 3. #geminiseason #ftw #we’re better than you

-VSB P aka TANGLE JIG P aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

****DMV RESIDENTIALISTS: Come celebrate Panama’s B-day on Thursday, June 2, a VSB Happy Hour and Game Night at Tap& Parlour at Bohemian Caverns located at 2001 11th Street, NW (corner of 11th and U) from 530-until. Game 2 will be on the TVs, games will be available, and happy hour prices. It’s a win-win-win.****

Check out The Champ’s new advice column at Madame Noire “Ask A Very Smart Brotha”

milking the cat: the vsb do’s and don’ts of meeting the parents

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we all know the scenario.

boy meets girl. girl likes boy. girl passive aggressively pursues boy. boy agrees to lazily date girl. girl is single and 30, so she is easily enthralled with unremarkable boy. girl sleeps with boy immediately after second date, hoping to f*ck boy into submission. boy eventually relents and decides to make it official after completely exhausting his list of weekend romantic arrangements. girl and boy have mediocre relationship, characterized by months of angst filled nights filled with brita and re-runs of “30 rock”. girl is serious about boy, and invites boy to meet parents because parents are beginning to suspect girl “putts from the rough”

one of the most potentially nerve-racking parts of adulthood, meeting the parents for the first time is a social inevitability filled with more potential faux pas and hand grenades than liz’s bed.

so, in keeping with our commitment to fight crime, here’s the vsb do’s and don’ts of meeting the fam for the first time

do make your mate a cheat sheet

there’s awkward, there’s extremely awkward, and there’s “if i had known her uncle joe was in rehab, i probably wouldn’t have told that joke about the crackhead, the gallon of milk, and rafer alston i read in maxim last month” awkward.

if you’re gonna introduce your mate to your fam, its your responsibility t0 also give them a cliffnotes version of what to expect and which lurking landmines to avoid.

obviously, you don’t want to tell em everything and take the fun out of them finding out about grandma’s purse pistols, but if in doubt, anything having to do with predicate felonies, unusually attractive and lascivious aunts, midget cousins, jehovah witnesses, extreme wealth, and extreme roach infestation should probably be revealed a week or two in advance

do eat…

…but don’t come with an empty stomach

if invited, you have to eat something offered if you ever want to be invited again. still, just in case today was the day her dad decided to serve his famous beet souffle, its a good idea to eat a small meal beforehand, especially if you’re like the champ and a prolonged empty stomach turns you into a liken.

don’t get too comfortable

basically, just remember that taking “hey, make yourself at home” and “please, help yourself” literally is the quickest way to go from “ashley” to “can you believe” (ie “can you believe that trifling heffer jack brought home last week had the nerve to walk her ashy barefeet in my kitchen and make a salad??? with croutons!!!! croutons!!!!“)

do pay attention

if you’re at the parent stage, its probably safe to say that you’ve evolved a bit past the “i mean, we’re f*cking, so i guess i can buy her a waffle and sh*t sometime next week” stage of the relationship.

with this in mind, it would be in your best interest to pay attention to the dynamics of the household…because this could very well be your future.

do downgrade the pda

look. ever since her mom accidentally discovered the johnson triplets running a train on her in her basement a condom in her purse in 12th grade, they’ve known their daughter was sexually active, and the fact that they know that she allows you to drive her whip with a suspended license you’re living together has completely quelled any doubt. still, its probably not the best idea to remind them of that fact by referring to her as her petname “polegirl” or noticeably rubbing her skirted ass while you’re saying grace

lastly…

do be yourself…but don’t be yourself

its understandable to be a bit overzealous in your attempt to impress the fam. still, parents can usually spot out fakes faster than p*rn producers, so its a good idea to leave your inner james fray in the car.

with this being said, while you shouldn’t lie or embellish, theres nothing wrong with not giving them the entire truth about you right now. you’re pro-choice? fine. you designed a line of tiller the killer baby tees on ebay? keep that little nugget to yourself

i’m sure i’m missing a few. any suggestions?

—the champ