A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketballby Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat is one of the superstars of the NBA—and a Gold Medal winner at the Bejing Olympics—but he’s A Father First. In this moving and triumphant memoir, Wade shares his inspiring thoughts about fathers and sons, writing poignantly about the gratifying responsibilities of being a single dad to his two sons, Zaire/b>… See more details below
Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat is one of the superstars of the NBA—and a Gold Medal winner at the Bejing Olympics—but he’s A Father First. In this moving and triumphant memoir, Wade shares his inspiring thoughts about fathers and sons, writing poignantly about the gratifying responsibilities of being a single dad to his two sons, Zaire and Zion, while recounting his own growing up years and his memorable rise to the top echelon of professional basketball.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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A Father First
By Dwyane Wade
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2012 Dwyane Wade
All rights reserved.
GO GET YOU A GAME
FRIDAY EVENING MARCH 11, 2011 AT HOME IN MIAMI
Yes, it's true—I love the roar of the crowd.
When the fans are with you, their voices come together in a big booming rush of sound that you can actually feel in your body - almost like a wave that lifts you and carries you past your own limits.
I love the chants, the stomping of feet, the eruptions of cheers, hoots, and hollers. Besides the fact that I'm lucky to do what I love for my living, I'm blessed every day on the job with the joy of hearing fans and announcers call my name. Not to mention various nicknames—from "D-Wade" to "Flash" to just "#3."
But as much as I love the music of the crowd when they're with me, none of that comes close to the thrill of hearing my sons call out my most favorite name of all: "Daddy!" Any time, anywhere, any day.
So, needless to say, on the evening of Friday, March 11, when I open the door to greet Tragil and the boys, hearing their chorus of "Daddy! Daddy!" it's enough to bring on another batch of tears.
Zaire bounds in first. No surprise there. But Zion somehow edges his brother out and takes a running leap up into my arms for the first hug. Swinging him up on one side of me, I lift up Zaire in my other arm. (Yeah, I'm strong.) Then, spotting Dahveon—nicknamed Dada—shyly standing off to the side, I gesture for him to come on over to get in on the action.
This is crazy. This is pure happiness.
Tragil, fighting her tears, joins in, along with Gabrielle and some of our friends who have been helping out for most of the afternoon, arranging appointments at schools, shopping for extra clothes and school supplies, measuring for the bunk beds, and making sure the kitchen's stocked with more than a weekend's worth of kid-friendly food. My mantra all day to everyone has been that we need to establish a set routine that gives them a sense of normalcy and security. Routine, I've learned, is key.
Meanwhile, we're all also trying to be restrained, not wanting the boys to suspect something dramatic is up. That conversation needs to happen.
But not yet.
"Let me look at you three. C'mon now."
We break out of our hug so I can admire each one of the boys, rubbing on their heads, giving each a compliment, and then more hugs. Can't help myself. In the parenting school I come from, love and praise are fundamentals. As basic as the air we breathe. Love comes first, second, and last.
I start with my nephew Dahveon—whose father hasn't been on the scene regularly in his life. Same age as Zaire, Dada's an old soul, sensitive but also fun loving. After his mom, my sister Deanna, gave her okay for him to start traveling with his cousins to visit me, Dada quickly became a steadying force for them. And for me. During the worst challenges of the custody battle, when my visitations with the boys were so infrequent and my relationship with Zaire was strained as a result, I'd invite Dada to come for a visit, too, and he always made Zaire feel more comfortable and able to enjoy the fun.
Dada and I high-five and low-five as I tell him how much I appreciate his help. So proud of himself, he struts off, then stops to show me one of the latest dance moves from Chicago.
Zaire, never one to stand still, waits excitedly to confirm that everybody's going to the Heat game the next day. When I assure him that the game is early enough for the three boys to attend, he does a couple of dance moves he's learned from Dada to show his pride. Everyone cracks up. Not a shy kid whatsoever, Zaire has that ability to let his spirit lift the spirit of others. In fact, before I can say much more, he starts making small talk with the other adults in the room - like a seasoned conversationalist. He throws in comments on everything from the latest YouTube music video he's seen to traffic on Biscayne Boulevard. And he's hip, too, coming up with his cool little catchphrases to respond to the adults, saying, "Yeah, yeah, that's what I'm talkin' 'bout."
"Zaire," I start to laugh, "you don't know nuthin' 'bout that. You just makin' comments like you know." I hug him again, amused. He shrugs, enjoying my admiration, full of his nine-year-old swagger.
I swear, if I could live my childhood over, I wouldn't mind being Zaire Wade at his age. He's an all-around cool kid, with a lot of personality, excellent athletic skills, and a real gift of gab, all on top of being very handsome. Not that I take the credit. Yeah, I see some Wade in his expressions and features but he has his mom's eyes and lips. And that outgoing, talkative side of him is much more like her than me.
Zion got his mom's smarts big-time. But as far as looks go, he's a mini-me. Pictures of me at his age look so much like him we have to check closely to tell who is who. He scans the room, making sure nobody is standing close by, and motions me closer to say something. When I lean down to hear, he jumps up again, hugging on my neck, laughing.
"Zion, you are awesome, ya know that?" I say and watch his face light up.
"I know," he nods.
Like his brother, Zion has major confidence. For someone not even four years old, he is smart beyond his years. Sometimes too smart. It's crazy how well he can converse with adults. Being a Gemini, though, he can be as standoffish as he can be friendly.
Unlike Zaire, who is Mr. Mayor, holding court wherever he goes, Zion looks at everyone with a crooked eye. Takes him a while to warm up. When he does, though, he loves you unconditionally. But he's very careful in general, which to me, someone who now most likely has some trust issues of my own, might be a good thing. In some ways, because the boys were prevented from seeing me for long periods, Zion and I are just getting to know each other. We're definitely going to be making up for lost time. One of the many special traits that I admire about Zion is how he is just his own little person. He doesn't feel the need to be as passionate about basketball—say, like Zaire and Dada, who are both getting into it as players. Especially Zaire. Zion likes getting into the mix but apparently he has his own dreams. I'm not sure what they are yet, but whatever he throws himself into in the coming years, I mean—watch out world! When our arriving travelers hear snacks being offered, the three boys dash off together to the kitchen to see what Rich has cooking.
This is when Tragil and I have a chance to talk and hug again in relief and joy. A few people close to us understand the hell of these last several years but she is perhaps the only person who has been there at almost every step of my journey. Right now, Tragil knows that I have my own process for making decisions and that I'm intensely thinking through how to talk to the boys about the custody news. She also knows that part of that process, painful as it is, involves reflecting on the past and our own childhood.
My sister has always said that one of her jobs in the family has been to remember everything that's happened along the way. "So I can remind you in case you forget" is what she says.
Not that I've forgotten anything. It's just that up until now, I've had to block a lot of it out.
But no more. If I want to be the Daddy I promised myself as a child that I was going to be, it's time to go back there and do the remembering myself.
Whenever I go hunt for memories from childhood, the most vivid recollections that come to mind are of my grandma and me sitting out on the stoop of our apartment building on the corner of Fifty-Ninth and Prairie. Probably the earliest memory I have of the two of us out there together took place on a night in early spring 1987, a few months after my fifth birthday.
There's a sound track that accompanies this memory: a radio blasting R&B from someone's apartment, a boom box across the street with the bass turned all the way up and somebody rapping to the beat, police sirens and gunfire at enough of a distance not to run and hide, and car tires screeching as they speed along the wet pavement of Prairie Avenue.
And then, in the middle of that hum of the nighttime sound track could be heard the sad vocal of my grandmother crying and praying out loud: "Oh Lawd, Lawd, please help me get outa this mess. Lawd, please help me with these children caught up in they trouble, Lawd." There were many nights when I heard her cry and pray like that. Why this night stands out, I don't know, except that this could have been the first time that I made a promise to myself never to do the things, whatever they were, that made my grandma sad and worried like she was. Not because of how bad those things were (even though I had some general ideas already) but because of how much I loved my grandmother and wanted her to be happy.
Grandma had lived in the apartment on the top floor of the three story building since the early 1970s, along with her son Roger, our uncle, who worked as a security guard in those days. We had only moved into the apartment on the first floor the year before. As Tragil could better recall about the previous four and a half years since my birth, they had been turbulent for us and for our mom, especially after she called it quits with Dad. With our mother's initial descent into the clutches of drugs, Tragil and I were separated from her at different times when we stayed with friends and relatives, while our two older sisters, Deanna and Keisha, in their teens, stayed with other family members. Dad remained in the picture but probably didn't know the extent of our situation. The thing was that even when she was "in her madness" - as we would say to refer to Mom's battles - a lot of people loved and believed in her, and went the extra mile to help out with her kids until she was able to get on her feet and have us all under one roof again.
At last, that day had come when Mom got off drugs and found a steady part-time job. Grandma was then able to talk the landlord into letting us move into the same building as her. When we arrived, the landlord and his family lived on the second floor but pretty soon he moved out and my aunt Barbara started renting that apartment. Because of his close relationship with Grandma, the landlord was lenient with Mom on those occasions when the rent was late. When the electric bill was late, that was another story. We had a hot plate and lights that we'd hook up to an outlet in the hallway and we had to run to unplug the cords whenever the landlord was coming.
None of those worries bothered me and Tragil much. At first. We were struggling, yeah. But we had our momma back and we were a family again. We had our own bedroom, Tragil and I, that we shared. We'd go shopping as a family once a month, with help from welfare, and we had a regular schedule. Some of my happiest really early memories of my mother come from this period. Nothing specific, just plain and simple mother love, like glimmers of light you spot at a distance on the surface of the water, the further you get from the memories.
Because, unfortunately, all of this was short-lived.
Excerpted from A Father First by Dwyane Wade. Copyright © 2012 by Dwyane Wade. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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