“No daughter of mine will wear trousers to church,” you scolded.
“Why not? God doesn’t care what we wear. It’s the inside that counts.”
To your chagrin, I became the first girl to wear pants to Sunday service. Though not always in agreement with my actions, when I became one of the first women’s professional basketball players, you beamed. At a time when basketball was for boys only, you taught me a jump shot in the driveway, while the neighbors shook their heads and chuckled.
While I invented my own fashion, developed my own career and became my own person, you stood by watching, alternately arguing and applauding, always trying to understand.
No textbook taught how to be super dad in the 70s, so you stumbled along changing to fit the times. You would never meet all the prerequisites for perfect parenting, but you were the best dad you could be for me.
When tomboy was a dirty word and girls were relegated to the sideline, we never dreamed women would one day star in their own Showtime. Nor could we imagine that you would coach the first girls’ high school basketball championship team (1977) and I would receive the first athletic scholarship in Illinois (1978). When other dads insisted their daughters play dolls, you encouraged my athleticism. Every time you played catch with your son, you’d throw the baseball to me too, so I felt equal to my brother. You taught me how to hang on to a football so expertly, I’d have been a wide receiver had I been a boy. While society insisted sports were harmful for females, you encouraged me to play ball. During the infancy of Title IX, together we fought a steady battle for girls’ sports.
Later, when women’s teams developed and my slender frame took a beating on basketball courts where the game increased in contact and competitiveness, you never said, “You’re too small to go pro.” Instead you helped develop my potential. When my American pro team folded, I stated, “I’m going to France to play.”
“What if you get hurt? What if you don’t like it there?” You tried your darndest to dissuade me. Then after the shock subsided, you offered your support and returned to the gym to rebound.
When I announced, “I’m engaged to a Frenchman,” you were the first to accept a foreigner into the family. Decades later, you remained my most faithful correspondent, sending manila envelopes to Europe filled with local news, national sports and fatherly love.
I grew up during an era when athletic girls had no role models. When others teased, “Hey, jock,” I cringed, but never lost my self-esteem. You never loved me less because I grew up in skinned knees instead of nylons. You encouraged me to be myself even when it meant being different and pursuing a career usually sought by men.
Part of my fight for independence meant defying authority. When I snuck in late one night, you heard the garage door creak and met me at the door in your underwear.
“Young lady, do you know what time it is?” you grumbled.
“No, do you?” I snapped back. “At college, you don’t even know if I come home at night.”
When I was 26, before the wedding, I announced, “You’re going to be a grandpa.” You looked at me astounded and said, “Well, you always did things your own way.”
And the day your first grandchild was born in Paris, you wore a French beret to the school where you had taught for 25 years.
It is not easy being a modern day daughter, marrying a Frenchman and raising a child abroad. Nor is it easy to be an up-to-date dad, whose dedicated coaching developed the talent that took his daughter away.
I was a selfish, smart-aleck kid, too big for my britches; you were too overprotective. Still, we loved each other, in spite of our imperfections. You grew up under the “work ethic” when it was a man’s world, only, yet you learned to accept a modern, do-it-herself daughter who lived by the “experience ethic.” You lean a bit to the right; I towards the left. Often times we were too much alike in temperament and too different in ideologies to get along, yet our differences, like thorns in our sides, spurred growth. I loved you enough to let you be a blundering father. You let me be a belligerent daughter. Through our headstrong outbursts, we learned to compromise, to live modern dreams without losing old-fashioned values.
You were not a perfect dad, nor I, a perfect daughter. But our love was…and always will be.