More Than a Game: 218 words of thanks to dad

If you are one of the angels who have already bought my second book, More Than a Game, you may have noticed that it is dedicated to my father. His name is James Donald Mewhirter, or pops, or poops, or dad, or Jimbo.

Or Coach.

I won’t give much away about the book, but I can say that the basketball coach and the team’s point guard have an exceptional relationship. Now, I did not base the team’s point guard off of me – I didn’t base it off anybody, actually, which is odd for me, as by best fiction is typically inspired by non-fiction events or people – but in the Coach, I did my best to illuminate how much my father has taught me, and continues to teach me.

The Coach in the book is one of my favorite characters I have written, fiction or non. He’s respected, beloved, impacts everyone with whom he comes in contact. He’s tough, teaches lessons by example, is a leader of young men.

He is, in many ways, based off of my father.

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Anybody who has come in contact with my dad will be able to see many similarities, particularly the dozens of young men who have been coached by him, and the parents of those young men who have probably learned a thing or two from the way he helped raise all of us.

My dad is an exceptionally modest individual. I can’t tell you the last time he bought anything for himself. He feels guilty about spending $3 a week on a new book in his Kindle, yet he’ll put my mom on a plane across the country to see me without thinking twice. He invested every last bit of himself into raising his three sons – and the dozens of other sons he unofficially adopted on his baseball, basketball and football teams.

My dad lives for the little things.

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During AAU basketball tournaments, he’d ream me out for this or that. I’d be close to tears. A lot of times I’d be legitimately crying on the court. And then afterwards we’d go to Wendy’s, and he’d explain why he was so much harder on us. He expected more. He’d demand more. He told us we’d be better for it. And we are. We all are.

The problem with society, however, is that we’d rather be raised by praise than saved by criticism.

My dad knew that early on. That was never a problem in our house. And you know what? When he gave us praise, we knew we deserved it. We cherished it.

It was earned. Deserved. Valuable.

And when he criticized us? We valued that, too, because he was helping us to grow, whether on the field or off.

Want to know how many times this book was rejected by publishers, agents, or editors? Well into triple digits.

That is, and excuse my language here, a shit ton of rejection. Think I’d be able to handle that if I had been coddled as a kid? If I had been given everything? If my dad was as soft as 99 percent of parents I see on the sidelines at high school games and matches?

Not a chance.

In being tough on us, my dad did one of the most difficult things I think a parent could do. I’d venture to guess that he wanted us to have whatever we asked for. He wanted to give us that instant gratification so many parents do these days. But he knew that wouldn’t teach us what needed to be taught. He knew that, down the road, when the real world kicked us in the teeth, as it inevitably will and has, we’d be totally fine, because he had the gall to make us work for things.

Imagine that.

Without my dad, this book would never have been written. Neither would the first one. It would be too hard. Too much rejection. Too many obstacles. No instant gratification.

Without ever knowing it, my dad prepared me for my two proudest achievements.

And he really wasn’t all tough, either. Nah, the guy is secretly a softie inside.

He’d write us hand-written notes before big golf tournaments in high school. I still have them in my scrapbook in my bookbag. I can remember one, so simple yet equally indelible: “It’s not the spectacular shots you hit, but the unspectacular ones that you don’t. Good luck, proud of you.”

Man, no words were sweeter than those three: “Proud of you.” And, of course, he was right about the golf part, too, which is a fine metaphor for life: You don’t need to do anything spectacular to succeed.

Just do you.

Now that I’ve moved roughly 3,500 miles or so across the country, I hang onto every last bit of advice I can get from the man. Because when I look back in retrospect, everything he said was, in one way or another, true. He was harder on us because he expected more of us, which made us better. We didn’t see it at the time.

We all do now.

There’s not much need for him to be tough on us anymore. We’re all grown men, or at least fairly large children masquerading around California and Baltimore as men. He dotes on our girlfriends and drinks beer with us. Our favorite nights are drinking beer with dad on the deck, or porch, or wherever.

I wrote my dad a note in a pre-released copy of the book, saying that this was the best way I knew how to thank him for 26-plus years of raising me and my two ridiculous brothers.

I’ll be forever indebted to him, but a book doesn’t seem like a bad place to start.

It wouldn’t have been possible without him, anyway.