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Dad was a coach. Football, basketball, track. If there was a field and a bunch of adolescent boys, he was there. Getting push-ups out of them and molding them into men. Into tailbacks and power forwards and anchors. Into winners.
And sometimes he didn’t need a field. Sometimes the dining room table would do just fine.. Let mom burn that casserole or let Stacey get home five minutes past curfew or let me get a D plus in algebra and Dad would disappear while the coach would come roaring out. Full throttle. No mercy. Because these things matter, he’d say. Character matters. Discipline matters. And how are you gonna get into a decent medical school with Ds in algebra anyway?
And if Mom spent thanksgiving weeping in the bedroom while everybody else had turkey and slightly overcooked cornbread, well, that was just her problem wasn’t it?
Dad wanted us to be winners. There was no silver medal, no second place. You won or you lost. You won or you were a loser. And if you were a loser it was because you didn’t work hard enough.
More push-ups. That was his answer for everything.
Bad grades? Acne? Divorce? Colon cancer? You didn’t work hard enough, didn’t spend enough time with your nose at the grindstone.
I saw dad last week for the first time in ages. He’s retired now, sixty-six, bad back, arthritis. But he’s still the same guy. Still knows what’s best for everybody. Still "coaching."
But I left the team years ago and he knows it.
I guess being a man was really about saying, “no more push-ups, Dad” and not having to worry about what happens next.