The Father-Son Go-to? It’s Sports.

My dad, even at 82, is a good athlete. As a younger man, he could do it all; soccer player, single digit handicap on the links, high school basketball, track guy, Golden Gloves boxer, and strong-armed infielder. That might help you understand why he was a family doctor.Father and Sons Playing Basketball

My Dad Mort was an old school family doctor. In the baseball game of medicine, the old school doc was the prototypical utility man; He played every position. Unless you were in need of significant surgery, your family doc was your go-to guy. Broken bones, stitches, an earache or a stye – there were no ‘walk-in clinics’- the ER was reserved for truly life threatening emergencies. I recall plenty of nights when the phone would ring at 2:00 am and dad would head to the hospital to deliver the baby, sleep there for a while, and then go to the office.

The OFFICE. Open from 8:00 am until everyone went home; sometimes at 5:00 pm and sometimes at 9:00 pm, plus Saturday morning.

I also recall plenty of evenings when an exhausted dad would come home and be met by a wildly excited 8 year-old kid holding two baseball gloves and a rubber coated baseball.

“C’mon, Dad. Let’s play catch!” For my East coast readers, which include my dad, a Philly guy, “Let’s have a catch!”

I always got a yes. We would talk; sometimes about stuff and sometimes about Life, but we would always talk. Without even trying, my dad taught me perhaps the best lesson I’d ever receive in fatherhood.

Sports, they work.

My son, Aaron, is now twenty. He, too, has athletic skills. Good enough to get him on his college tennis team. Good enough to get him around the golf course in the low 80s. Like most young men, he’s often perplexed and occasionally angry about life. He has friends but, just like Guy Noir; Aaron is one man still trying to find the answers to life’s persistent questions. I have always been the go-to when he has a real poser. Our connection, even when the issue at hand was our relationship, has always been sports.

“Aaron, let’s go kick around.”

“Hey, kiddo, let’s go shoot some free throws.”

“Dad, we need go to the range and hit some golf balls.”

We toss a ball around because it’s fun. But when something significant looms, we need the sports intermediary. The ritual is important. We both know the difference between “Hey, wanna kick around?” and “Hey, Dad, let’s go kick around.” The pauses between questions and statements on the field of play are not empty. They are filled with concentration on both the task and the issue at hand. With a ball in hand or at foot, there are no awkward pauses between father and son.

Garrison Keillor once wrote of playing basketball with his teenage son, “We are far more honest and forthright with each other in the driveway than we ever are in the living room.” We talk, my son Aaron and I. We solve problems; his and mine. I am not certain why sport gives us the freedom to speak openly. Perhaps it’s because we know that in sports, we are tested and our emotions are on display. Perhaps sport gives us the permission to be revelatory with each other. As Heywood Hale Broun wrote, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” I suppose we could just sit on the couch and talk, but that’s never been our way. To paraphrase XKCD; “Sports. It works, bitches.”

Is there another father-son go-to other than sports?


The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at

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