Family

My Daughter, the Jock

A once-nerdy father comes to terms with a daughter who loves basketball.

My Daughter, the Jock: images from a comic by Mike Dawson.
Photo illustration by Slate. Comic by Mike Dawson.

Minor Leagues is Slate’s pop-up blog about kids’ sports.

A kid's basketball game, No. 7 dribbles under heavy pressure from the opposing team. She passes the ball to No. 1. No. 1 takes a shot, it’s a swish.  The narrator says: “I don’t take a lot of video at my daughter’s games -”  The narrator’s mobile phone displays a still frame of his daughter smiling.
The narrator says: “So I was fortunate to catch that moment”  A shot of the stands with the parents’ watching the game, the narrator’s wife says “Yay!” below, No. 1 dribbles the ball.  The narrator says: “Her first (and, truthfully, only) basket scored during the travel team season.” “She’d joined a competitive league for fourth graders.” “They took it seriously—” “they’re coached to win.” “For a kid who’s a little bit shy—” “working hard and getting better has been a great way to build confidence.”
Flashback to the narrator as a child with braces, wearing a Batman T-shirt, and playing basketball. He is yelled at; “Block him!” “Get the ball!” “Move!”  The narrator says: “That was… NOT the experience I had with sports when I was young.”  The coach yells, “Hey “Hawk”! Look alive out there!”  The narrator says: “Twenty-five years ago, the line between the jocks and the nerds was clearly drawn.”  The narrator sweats, a teammate says “You stink!”
The narrator sweats as he fails to stop the offense.  The narrator says: “Sports didn’t empower all kids—” “Just the kids who were good at them.”  Another player says to the narrator “You suck, Dawson!”  The narrator fumes in the locker room, a jock delivers a wet willy to another kid.  The narrator says: “Oh, how I hated the jocks…” “Those dumb meatheads—” “Tormenting us poor, misunderstood, and sensitive outsiders”  The narrator reads a Rocket Raccoon comic book in his room, imagining a movie marquee of Revenge of the Nerds, and thinks to himself “They’ll be sorry…”
The narrator’s wife dribbles a soccer ball.  The narrator says: “It never occurred to me that sports were something I could work on and get better at.” “My wife had the opposite experience growing up—” “Singularly focused on soccer to the exclusion of everything else.” “No yearbook—” “No school play—” “No band, no glee—” “No time outside of sports.”  The narrator’s wife shoots on goal  The narrator says: “Maybe in a way, the 'jocks' were as much in a box as any of us.”
Back to the present. Several people are depicted who are neither jocks nor nerds.  The narrator says: “The world is unrecognizable now.” “Kids play sports and they play Minecraft and they know about Rocket Raccoon—”  At a convention, the narrator wearing a Batman T-shirt flips through a box of old comic books while his nephew, dressed as the Riddler, looks on.  The narrator says: “I took my nephew, a self-described DC Comics nerd, to Comic-Con.” “He also swims competitively and will probably be captain of his school team one day.”
The narrator is depicted as a child again, fuming with a comic book and thinking “I’ll show them all…”  The narrator says: “The idea of the nerdy sensitive 'nice guy,' unfairly rejected by all of the beautiful people—” “Feels drastically out of touch.”  The present-day narrator’s mobile phone displays many hashtags: #deadpool2, #tech, #avengers4, #sjws, #tesla, #gamergate, #solo, #bitcoin, #zuckerberg, #infinitywar  The narrator says: “The nerds won—”  Back at the basketball game, the narrator looks thoughtful “And we learned they were just people: good, bad, and rotten—” “The same as anyone.”
The narrator and his wife continue to watch as their daughter plays in the game.  The narrator says: “The fourth-grade girls played to win.” “I felt physically tense whenever she went in.”  The daughter sweats as she fails to stop the offense, mimicking the earlier graphic of the narrator as a child.  The narrator says: “I didn’t want her to be the one who let the team down.”  The narrator imagines a moment where a teammate says to the daughter, “You suck, Dawson!”  The narrator says: “But I never saw the girls berate each other when things went bad.”  In reality, a teammate says to the daughter, “Are you Okay?”. She replies, “Yes.”
The narrator says: “When her season ended my daughter joined a weekly youth league.” “She wants to get better!”  The narrator’s daughter plays in a pickup game.  The narrator says: “She plays bigger kids, girls and boys—” “They play rough—” “They knock each other around—”  A player pushes the daughter while dribbling past her.  The narrator says: “But they don’t seem driven to tear each other down.”  After the point, the other player helps the daughter back up.
The narrator says: “She is getting better—” “Much better!”  The narrator plays defense as his daughter dribbles the ball.  The narrator says: “I wish I could help her improve, but she’s way better than me now.”  She dribbles past him.  The narrator says: “I still suck—”  She shoots and scores a basket, and says “I win!”  The narrator says: “But now I don’t mind at all.”
Mike Dawson