“Well bub, are you glad we stuck around for this game?” I stood in line with my oldest son, a high school freshman, trying to find a t-shirt to take home to his little brother and older sisters. Duke and Wisconsin were getting ready to tip off in the 2015 national championship game. Most other UK fans were absent from Lucas Oil Stadium that night and had evacuated Indianapolis after UK’s semi-final loss to Wisconsin on Saturday night. 38-0 had become 38-1. We had calmly walked from the stadium after the game, disappointed in the loss, but not crushed. Just talking about what makes winners and losers in particular games. I had learned by this time in life that these moments with my son were more important than the score of any game.
He answered my question as we glanced over souvenirs, “Yeah Dad, I love being here. I’d love for the Final Four to be our vacation every year even if Kentucky isn’t playing.” Selfishly, I really just wanted (and still do) to experience a UK national championship with at least one of my kids, especially my basketball-crazy oldest son. This was our third failed attempt. A semi-final loss to UConn in Houston in 2011. A finals loss to UConn in Dallas in 2014. We were there for them all.
The agony of defeat diminished with each loss. Part of that comes from the wisdom we gain as we age. The thrill of victory may not be so high anymore, but the agony of defeat doesn’t sting quite as bad either. Perspective changes with time. But what was it that really changed my perspective. Why do I no longer break things, swear at the tv, and go into a week-long period of depression each season when UK exits the tournament?
Let me back up in time just a little to answer that. Eighteen years to be exact, to the 1997 Final Four. Same city, different arena (RCA Dome). I sat in the backseat of a car for what seemed like two hours waiting to get away from the stadium where UK had just lost the national championship game to Arizona in overtime. Nazr Mohammed had shot 0-6 from the free throw line. Arizona had converted 34 free throws compare to our 9.
I was angry. “How long is it gonna take to get out of this freaking field!” I stewed. “We never should have lost that game!” My wife shared the back seat with me, but I wasn’t too concerned with her at the moment. My head was hurting terribly because I’d drank too much beer before the game. I just wanted to get back to the hotel and go to bed. Our first born child Macy sat in a car seat between us. As long as she wasn’t crying, I probably wasn’t too concerned about her either. Everything was pretty much about me and my anger and my self-induced pain at that moment.
We did return home the following day. And things sort of returned to normal. Going to work and trying to raise a 7 month-old little girl. Sure, I avoided watching TV or reading newspapers for about a week because I didn’t want to be reminded of UK’s loss (isn’t that what all UK fans do?).
But things weren’t really normal. Since those first days of fatherhood, I’d been nagged with the realization that I, along with her mother, was responsible for the direction this child’s life would take. The way we raised this precious girl would determine where she spent her eternity. The kind of man that I was at the time wasn’t going to cut it. Something had to change.
I’d been raised in church, but never accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. Since that day that Macy was born, I had read the Bible cover to cover. A lot of things didn’t make sense to me, but still I knew what I had to do and the kind of man I had to become. I knew all along that I didn’t want to die without Jesus. But I was coming to realize that I was helpless to be the kind of father I needed to be without Him guiding my life.
Later that month, about a month short of my 29th birthday, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The rest is history. Sort of. It’s been a journey, for sure. My wife and I were blessed with three more children. Life got pretty crazy pretty quick. And I came to realize pretty quickly that life wasn’t about me. Opening my heart to God’s love taught me how to love. Not just my own family, but slowly and surely the rest of the world.
Almost 22 years later in my Christian walk, I know it’s been a slow and sometimes not-so-steady journey toward becoming the man that God wants me to be. Keep seeking His word, grow to be a little more like Jesus every day, replace my ways with His ways, and find a way to love and forgive when it doesn’t come easy. Yeah, I still stumble a lot.
I’ve screwed up a lot of things in the past. And I’m sure that I’ll make a mess of some things in the future. But I have to keep moving. And keep changing who I am. And part of that comes constantly searching for perspective.
When my ways threaten to overcome His ways. When pride, anger, or selfishness rear their ugly heads. When love or forgiveness don’t come naturally. When life is ruled by fear, anxiety, or stress. Those are the times to search hard for perspective. The kind of perspective that’s usually found at the cross. “Seriously, did Jesus die on the cross just for you to screw this up or freak out over something so unimportant?” No, He died because His love is greater than our failures, but also to live inside of us as the Holy Spirit to steer us away from our next failure.
To search for perspective can mean to simply listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Why not look? Why not listen? Why not obey?
No, I’m not really talking about not freaking out when our favorite sports team loses. I’m talking about always looking for a bigger picture that has the cross in the center of it.
Today, as another UK basketball season came to an end, I’m just thankful for the natural bonds and the easy conversations that come from being fans together. And even more so, I’m thankful for the special bond with my son that becomes even stronger because of our love for UK basketball.
He’s a freshman at UK now. And as we watched the game come to a disappointing end together, he reminded me so much of a younger version of me. Pacing, yelling at the TV, and quickly exiting our home in anger to return to school.
And I could only smile. Because of perspective. Because I know that, as long as I live, that he and I will always share the bond that basketball brings, and we’ll always dissect games and teams together………….. just like I do with my dad.
And someday, we might still get to witness a championship together. Maybe. But it’s okay if we don’t.
“See you buddy. Be careful. I love you.”
“I love you too, Dad.”
Yeah, it’s just a silly game. But to some of us, it’s so much more.