A Berry Good Lesson

When I was in middle school, I was a burgeoning basketball star. Even though I was a good student, I dreamed of playing in the NBA someday. Somehow, it came to my attention that a week long basketball camp was being offered by a college about 100 miles away.

My father had been an all-state basketball player in high school. He received an athletic scholarship to a Big Ten school, but a severe knee injury in his sophomore season ended his basketball career. Though he never said so, it was clear that he hoped I could fulfill his unrealized dreams of playing professional basketball. I decided to play on that desire.

“Dad,” I said one evening as I massaged his feet. “Remember how you have been saying that I splay my elbow on my jump shot?”

My father peered over the top of the newspaper. “I may have mentioned that a time or two,” he replied, downplaying the fact that he had mentioned it nearly every day for the past year.

“Well, I am starting to think that maybe you are right. I think it is throwing my shot off.”

“Did you hear that the Indians might trade Sam McDowell for Gaylord Perry?” he asked, returning to the paper.

“Dad, I’m serious. I need to fix my shot. And I know what will help.”

My father slowly folded the paper and looked at me silently. I felt like his eyes were drilling into my soul, looking for my hidden motives. “So, why the sudden interest in accepting my comments about your elbow?”

“I was messing around this afternoon and decided to try a few things you suggested. I didn’t like it at first, but I realized I had greater range. It wasn’t great, but I think it could be better. But I need a lot of help. And you have to work all of the time. And sometimes I just don’t want to listen to you because…”

My father held up a hand. “What do you want?” My father had been born at night, but he hadn’t been born that night. I was probably using a tactic that he had used on his parents.

“Bluffton College has a basketball camp that is really good. I want to go. I can work on my jump shot, and my dribbling, and my defense, and my rebounding, and…”

My father smiled. “Yes, Coach Arnold mentioned it to me. I wondered when you’d bring it up.”

My heart skipped a beat. “Does that mean I can go?”

“Of course,” my father said. “I think it’s a great idea.”

I jumped up and hugged my father. “Thank you Dad. You are great.”

My father chuckled. “We’ll see if you think that in a few minutes. You can go, but there is one condition.”

My elation began to subside. Oh no, I thought, I’ll have to mow the yard and wash the cars for the rest of my life. This can’t be good. “Okay,” I said weakly. “What is it?”

“I will pay half of the cost,” he said. “You have to pay for the other half.”

I sat staring at him, waiting for him to smile and say that he was kidding. I would have waited a long time—like forever—for that to occur. “But,” I stammered, “where am I going to get $100?”

My father shrugged. “I don’t know. Where do you think I’ll get the money?”

“You are grown up. You have a job,” I said.

“Yes, and I have to pay for the house, the cars, electricity, food, and a lot more.”

“But couldn’t you work some more?” I said.

“Perhaps I could,” he said. “But I can’t simply work more every time you want something. I can’t even do that every time I want something. Sometimes we have to decide what is most important to us and then do without other things. I could work more, but spending time with you and your mother is more important to me. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I said reluctantly. “I wish you didn’t work so much. So it’s not fair to expect you to work more.” I could see my dream of basketball camp fading into the sunset. “You are right. I shouldn’t have even brought it up.”

“Come here,” he said, inviting me to crowd myself into the recliner beside him. He wrapped an arm around me. “I want you to go to the camp. I think it would be good. But if I pay for it, which would be really hard to do, I don’t think you would appreciate it as much.”

I was way too big to be sharing a recliner with my father, but for that moment it felt good. “So what can I do?”

“Your mother mentioned that the Miller Strawberry Farm is looking for some help. I suggest that you ride your bike over there in the morning and try to get a job.”

For the next six weeks, I was at the Miller Strawberry Farm at 7 AM six mornings a week to pick strawberries. I was paid ten cents per quart, and over the six weeks I earned $120. Not only did I get to go to basketball camp, I had a little spending money to take with me. My father really was great.

Comments are closed.