I’ve been working on this one for 25 years, and finally I was able to find the words for it. Here’s the first part of it, make sure to click the link at the bottom to read the whole thing.
My father has never made it easy to love him, mostly because it was never easy for him to love the life he fell into. Marriage, children, a medical career—all things he was told to want, and so he tried to believe that he did. And you could almost see the weight of all that responsibility bearing down on him, pressing him into shapes that were so unnatural to him that even when he wasn’t fighting against them, you could see how much effort it took for him to stay in them.
Whether the soft spot that he had for me was a cause or an effect of the love we shared for the New York Knicks, I can’t really say. What I can say is that my relationship with my Dad was never more right than when we were watching or discussing Pat Riley’s rugged Knicks of the mid-90s. Those were the teams I grew up on. Ewing, Starks, Oakley, Mason—those were my heroes, the first great sports loves of mine. And those assholes were constantly toying with me.
They were always dangling a championship in front of my face like meat in front of a cub, dragging it closer and closer until it was inches from my face and I was in a trance, watching its juices drip to the ground, absolutely certain that the next drop was mine. And then Reggie Miller would happen, or John Starks, or a missed finger roll, or a playoff brawl, or a head-butt, or Michael Jordan or any of the thousand other things that snatched that meat right back. I grew accustomed to starving.
This, some people say, was deserved. The wider world saw those Knicks as a pack of thugs muddying up a beautiful sport, either of their own volition or Riley’s. Maybe they were. Truth is, my father and I wouldn’t have loved them as much as we did if everyone else hadn’t hated them so much–how else would they have shown us what not giving a shit looked like? He rooted for them because they did what he never could; they became something other than what they were told to be. Rooting for Starks and Oakley and Mason was, for my father, a chance to fight back against the inevitability of the life he was living. It was a strange search for redemption by proxy, but because it was also his way of reaching for me, it brought him even closer to the life he was trying to escape.
Sometimes, the only way out is back in.
To read the rest and find out how the Knicks taught me to love my father, check out the full piece at The Classical.