Daddy's little girl, that's what I was, and still am. Every morning as a young child, I would jump out of bed, run downstairs, and join my father at the breakfast table before he left for work. When he had to leave, I would wave to him from the window three times. The first time was when he got into his blue Chevrolet; the second was when he backed into the street; and the third was at the very last point possible before he was hidden behind the view of the neighborhood houses. Since I belonged to morning kindergarten, I came home early. I rushed off the bus awaiting his punctual phone call. We gabbed until my father asked to speak to my mother. Then, disappointedly I climbed the stairs to anxiously await his return.
My father symbolized many things to me, but I was most impressed by his strength in athletics. As he exercised, I tagged along. "Teach me, teach me," I often called. So, graciously and patiently, my father would show me. Wherever my dad went, I went (as I look back, I realize what a pain I must have been). Never did he utter a complaint or display annoyance. In a way, I think he was proud of my attachment to him. Many times he would hug me, and I would say in return, "Dad, you're my very best friend." For these reasons, I wanted to prove to my father that I could imitate him. I made every effort during our workouts. Soon my dad allowed me to join him in a two mile road race, sponsored by Archbishop Williams.
This was the day I would make him proud, I thought to myself. I felt growing excitement on my face the week before the race. I felt so privileged that he had faith in my talents. I geared up by eating plenty of carbohydrates, drinking lots of water and getting a sound sleep the night before; all these were at my father's request. Blood flowed quickly through my veins as I thought of how jealous the other members of my family would be.
It was a treacherously muggy, hot August day. My shorts were sticking to the insides of my legs, and the sweat dribbled down the back of my scrawny neck. All in all, my spirits were not dashed, and I looked forward to the race. My father and I joined the line of fellow runners to receive our race numbers. Standing there, I noticed a box of blue T-shirts in various sizes. A greedy smirk appeared on my face. What I wouldn't do for one of those navy blue Archbishop Williams T-shirts, I said to myself. I overheard the man donned in a black jogging outfit saying that these shirts would only be given to those who placed evenly.
Soon, these thoughts were erased from my mind, as my dad and I peered through the crowd trying to locate a double space to stand. I glanced around, taking careful note of the attire the eager runners wore. You could separate the serious runners from the regulars. Those who were serious were dressed in matching sportswear, with feet cushioned by the best soles in brand names. The others, like ourselves, wore some sort of shortsleeve shirt or went shirtless, and crammed their feet into everyday "sneaks."
As a young child in that crowd, I was completely frustrated because nothing but long, hairy legs were completely crowding me and hindering my sight. It seemed as if these people were mocking me because they, unlike my father, felt I could not finish the race; I was only a hindrance that they had to avoid trampling in their haste. The gun fired. Smoke filled the air. The black-robed man's hand flew downward. We were off. The crowd pushed and pulled, like a herd of buffalo running from their pursuers.
Getting a comfortable pace was difficult at first because of the commotion. The crowd dispersed. Looking out for my needs, my dad slowed down his pace considerably to a light jog.
Like most seven-year-olds, I believed I was physically capable of anything - often yelling, "I can do it. Let me do it." But reality soon hit, and it hit hard. The baby hills seemed monstrous and heartbreaking. My feet hit the street hard, as if they were ocean waves crashing on jagged cliff rocks. Soon, fatigue set in my body's joints, muscles and ligaments. When I gazed into my father's proud eyes, I was determined to continue. Then, like an elastic band, it sprang a tight, pulling belly cramp, the kind you get after eating too much food too fast. I squeezed the insides of my stomach hoping that it would go unnoticed. Call it father's intuition; in less than a minute we were walking in an attempt to rid my belly of the sour cramp. We continued on. It was painful for my father to know that he could go so much faster if alone. On the other hand, my body was in physical pain. My father's steps seemed so giant, and it took me three little ones to catch up.
Enjoying the scenery of the familiar streets, we jogged along laughing, while both of us were dying inside. Soon, my shoelace came untied, and my father stopped, bent down and tied it. (This occurred numerous times. Each time my father would kindly and patiently bend over and tie my sneakers.) It was during one of these time-outs that we realized the fun and games were over. Behind us, not far away, was an oversized jogger - one who you would normally pity if you were an onlooker. Her belly jiggled as she ran. Flab hung over her shorts. This is when my father and I became nervous, and decided that no matter how much pain, we were not going to let this out-of-shape, inexperienced half walker/jogger beat us. We picked up the pace, but a gigantic hill loomed ahead. A look of pain spread across my face. Dad picked me up, laid me over his shoulder, and sprinted up the hill. Once we reached the top, I knew it was all downhill from there. Jumping out of his arms, I raced with pleasure down the hill. The air from our gain of speed rushed through my hair. It felt as if I was a leaf the wind picked up and blew across the yard. The air felt cool against my cheeks. My spirits lifted.
The race trail turned abruptly. The gates of heaven (Archbishop's Field) drew closer. There it was - the fifty-yard stretch. As we jaunted in, I glanced into the stands. In that second I glimpsed a smile on my mom's face, saw our neighbor beside her, and heard the crowd's cheers. The black-robed man yelled an odd number, as the person in front of me jogged in. At that moment, the image of those T-shirts flashed before my eyes. The crowd stirred my emotions. My father and I were running to the finish line, side by side. Yards closer, I turned to my father, smiled, then sailed across the finish line.
"You dirty rat," my father laughed ten years later. "You sneak, you only wanted a shirt. In an attempt to get a shirt, you betrayed your own father. All I can remember is stopping to tie your shoes eighteen times, then carrying you up a hill, and waiting patiently as you walked to catch your breath. Then in front of millions of onlookers you sprint ahead of me for what?! - Nothing but a lousy T-shirt!"
At the time I gloated, but now I know the truth. It took my father more love than I knew then to let me beat him. In the end, he was the real winner. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.