Beads of cooling sweat speckle my forehead and drip off my nose as I run down the court. Hints of salt pinch my dried tongue. My muscles burn as my limbs push through maple syrup. Sneakers squeak, red-faced coaches bark and stomp, players yell and grunt, the crowd cheers and whoops. But I cannot hear any of that. A silence of concentration and focus envelops me. I look back and forth between the player I’m guarding and the player dribbling the ball, knowing she’s going to pass it. I stare between them to see them both, and think, “You’re not getting the ball.” She passes. I whack the ball away midair, sending it towards the other end of the court. With a surge of adrenaline, I leap forward, waving my arms as if to use the thick air to push myself, and sprint towards the ball. I snatch it up and run as fast as I can towards the basket, towards scoring. I feel someone coming behind me and I tense slightly. But I’m at the basket. I pick up my dribble. Step. I lower my shoulder. Step. Layup. I’m sent flying from the shove behind me and smack into the wall like an angry judge’s gavel commanding order in the court. I growl, thinking there’s no way the shot went in. The whistle blows, the crowd stands and roars. I raise my eyebrows in surprise. I made the shot, and she fouled me. I cannot help the formation of a smirk as I pass her on my way to the foul line. The ref passes me the ball. Pure silence hangs in the humid air. Bounce, drop-spin, bounce, spin. Pause. Shoot. Swish.
I look up at the excited crowd and scan for him. I see an overweight mom from the other team pouting. I see an old man calmly enjoying a mustard covered hot dog. I see a little girl counting out Skittles for her friend. I see the parents of my teammates obnoxiously cheering. I see my mom, who smiles and waves, sitting with my younger brother and sister. But he’s not with them. I glance by the doors at a photographer and a couple players from the game before. I think, “No surprise there.”
Countless children experience the absence of a parent, much like I did. Parents may have to work so much that they forget about the loved ones they are working for. Parents work hard for their family: to pay for a house, pay for education, give their kids the good life they deserve. Children deserve a healthy relationship with a parent. It is crucial to their development. Therefore, parents should spend as much time with their children as their job permits and cherish the time, as they only grow up once.
My dad and I used to be as close as a father and his firstborn son. He used to give me toy cars and superhero action figures to play with in addition to my Barbies and Polly Pockets. He would take me with him to the office or a construction site, where I’d quietly sit in a corner playing with my purple teddy bear. He would carry me on his shoulders wherever we went so I could see over everyone’s head. He would do anything for me, including when I desperately wanted a cherry tree. After reading the George Washington cherry tree fable, I wanted to be just like George Washington. So my dad bought me a cherry tree. We spent hours together digging dirt, gathering stones, and planting the tree in the backyard. Little did I know that after years of sickness, the tree would die.
Once I started sports, he supported me and coached me even if he had no idea what he was talking about. He would videotape all of my games, and even though I was pretty terrible at the start, he was proud. He was a great dad. He did work tirelessly, running his own small company, but he still found time to be with his family and attend dinner daily. When I was in fifth grade, however, when the economy took a hit, he started to work more often and began to drift away from us.
Eventually, he had to shut down his company and start working for others. He first worked for a company stationed in Maryland, which required him to have an apartment there while the rest of us stayed home in Pennsylvania. Initially, he struggled to spend as much time as he could with us. The first thing to go was Sunday mass. Next were parent-teacher conferences, back to school night, basketball games, and opening presents on Christmas morning. And finally, my high school graduation.
I came to think that my dad’s absence from my games was normal. I was used to it. His failure to show up didn’t upset me; many parents are unable to go to their children’s games due to work. So when he missed art showcases, talent shows, and awards ceremonies, I could have cared less. Eventually, he took a job with a different company specifically so he could work from home and spend more time with us. It sounded promising, but that’s not what happened. After years of choosing work over family I realized the absence wasn’t only from my activities, but from my whole life. Whenever he was actually home, there were only yelling, anger, and slamming doors. I couldn’t confide in him anymore. He didn’t know me or my siblings. There was an invisible, indestructible wall between us, blocking emotions and any chance of being close again. He was never mentally present in conversations unless he was giving a monologue on current politics. So when I left for college, it didn’t really feel like I was leaving him because he was never there. When my family dropped me off, he gave me a hug. I grew stiff and my eyes darted back and forth as my eyebrows knit together in confusion.
I understand the necessity to provide for loved ones, and that for some jobs there is no way around long hours or traveling. But focusing on work can ruin the relationships with the very people one is trying to support through their job. The countless weekends my dad worked to impress clients were countless weekends my siblings and I missed going to the lake, playing board games, or going out for breakfast with him. Relationships, once broken, are very hard to rebuild. Because I know the importance of working, I am not discouraging it, but encouraging maintenance of parent-child relationships. Eventually, the economy improved, giving my dad more free time. Instead of spending his time with his kids, he spent it playing video games. Parents have a crucial role in the development and well-being of a child. The times my relationship with my dad were the worst were also the most miserable times of my life. I cannot tell if he feels the same way, but my mom constantly tells me, “He’s going to regret it.”
Parent-child relationships are important. Having a relationship with a parent is almost automatic; not much effort is needed to maintain it. Maintaining a relationship with a child is like caring for a cherry tree. It takes a lot to kill a cherry tree, but once it’s dead, it’s dead. Trees pretty much grow on their own and don’t need care. But if a tree becomes sick, it is up to the gardener to save it. If the gardener neglects the tree, it will die, and the fresh springtime cherries are lost forever. But if the owner gives the tree some of their free time and nurses it back to health, the tree flourishes and produces endless fruit.