My dad still talks about the time I kicked his sunglasses. They were Oakley glasses: the black wraparound kind especially popular in the late 90′s. The glasses went skidding along the hardwood, pieces of them — first the lens, then one of the sidearms — breaking apart like a plane without landing gear. I began regretting the kick only after the frame, now missing a number of crucial parts, slid dejectedly into the wall. The glasses were no longer functional.
I glanced at my dad; his eyes were wide.
An hour earlier, he’d placed the sunglasses on top of his sweatshirt, next to his running sneakers. The whole bundle was resting on the baseline of the court on which we were playing 1 on 1.
When my dad talks about this moment, he does so with something akin to pride: I cared so much about the game — he’d just beaten me in a best-of-five series of 1 on 1 — that I felt compelled to attack a piece of expensive plastic. He was never angry, not even in the seconds after I kicked them, because he was doing one of the things he loves most: playing basketball with me. I imagine that for him feigning anger would have been difficult in that moment: a well-earned sweat dripping from his brow, the memory of dozens of falling jumpers fresh in his mind.
He’d have to buy a new pair of Oakley sunglasses — so what? That was a cheap admission fee to hoops’ Utopia.
I walked along the baseline and collected the various pieces. One had gone onto the neighboring court and I excused myself to those playing on it, scampering into the lane to retrieve a tinted, curved lens. I walked back to our baseline, the plastic remains in my upturned palm like a dismembered G.I. Joe. I sunk down next to him, our backs against the gym’s padded wall.
“I’m sorry,” I said, gently trying to reinsert the lens into the frame.
“It’s OK,” he said. He smiled and gestured at the lens in my hand, “Don’t worry about it.”
“But I think maybe I can fix them,” I said. I exaimined the dislodged arm: the tiny screw, the one that would reconnect the arm to the frame, was missing. I scanned the court, but the screw was the size of a Tic Tac and the gym the size of an airplane hangar.
“I think I’d rather they stay broken,” he said finally.
We’d been playing inside the University of Colorado recreation center. I was a few days from starting my freshman season for the Colorado Buffaloes, and my parents had flown with me from New York to ease the transition. My dad and I went to the gym before we went anywhere else.
Those particular games — the ones after which I destroyed his sunglasses out of loser’s frustration — were only a few of thousands we had played. But those games also marked the end of an era: I was moving across the country. I was done with my formative years, during which the two of us spent an hour in the gym everyday. Now, college coaches and trainers would deliver the pointers and direction. Not my dad.
I can still remember the different tips — always extended like a gift, never poured down my throat like cough syrup — my dad offered: use the backboard whenever possible because it’s friendlier, make the final dribble before shooting a jumper particularly hard so the ball comes faster into your shooting pocket, keep your free-throw shooting routine simple, learn how to instinctively rotate your hand onto the ball’s label as soon as you catch it.
I might have rolled my eyes at the time, but now I can replay the scenes as if they belong to my favorite movie.
One Christmas during college, I gave my dad a piece of artwork as a present. It was a framed version of the above image, under which was written, in handwritten pencil, “One on One.” The piece is by Charles Peterson. I must have been 19 or 20 years old that Christmas. I remember thinking myself particularly mature for finding such a thoughtful gift. But in our real-life games, the figures hadn’t yet started fading: we still spent most of the summer training together. When I looked at the painting, I pretended to understand the gravity of life, the unstoppable train, but I was fooling myself: I had no understanding of how it feels when life fades.
My dad and I don’t play that much anymore; I can’t even deliver a good excuse why. My dad hasn’t dropped the ball; I have. I’m too busy — or something. I’m like that kid from Harry Chapin’s “Cat in the Cradle,” except that kid has a reason to be too busy: his father had been too busy for him.
What’s my reason? I have none.
I think about Charles Peterson’s painting all of the time. I think about how I’d like to start filling in the faded silhouettes. I think about how a good, long hour in the gym with my dad would be much better than running. Then I usually go about doing something else, something other than driving the few hours to play some 1 on 1.
I know that tonight when I go to the gym, I will have to wait for a treadmill for the first time since last January. I will watch as people labor atop the spinning belt, gasping for breath, trying valiantly to fulfill their resolutions.
My resolution seems different than theirs, but deep down it’s the same: I want to make my life better. I want to make more memories with someone who already owns so many.
Even if one of his favorite includes me destroying his sunglasses.