You Only Get One Dad

You know what I love most about October?

It’s not the pumpkins or the Halloween candy. It’s not those autumn vibes or that we’re just a month from the Thanksgiving dinner table. What I love most about October is the feeling of change. That change has to include preparation. The leaves change in color, the weather changes dramatically (at least here in the Midwest, hah). It’s a time for reflection. October seems like the turning point that shuttles us to the end of our year — and sometimes it feels like this year will never end.

I’m getting ready for the trees to shed, scattering browns and oranges and yellows across my yard. I’m getting ready for snowfall. The heating system is about to put in overtime work as the nights get cold. Before I know it, I’ll be holiday gift shopping. I think a lot about the ways I prepare myself, not just for physical challenges like work and basketball, but for the phases of life. Everything great is within preparation, and that includes just being a great person. I think about what drains me, what requires my attention and my emotional commitment.

How do I recharge myself? What do I need to look out for? I was told as a young man that success comes to those who prepare. But what does that preparation really look like?

When I was a kid, I thought that meant STAYING ready, always in stance, knowing exactly when the big moment in the bright lights was gonna come. Then, when your moment comes, you own it and rise to the occasion. Like Rocky in the ring. But real life doesn’t exactly work like that. You don’t know when your moment is coming. You don’t know what it’s gonna look like, either, and maybe you don’t even know when you’re in it.

When my daughter Ariana was born and I became a father, I started thinking about success and preparation in a different way. I didn’t know then what was ahead of me, and I certainly didn’t predict the future. But preparation means having faith and trust in God & yourself, and the moment comes whenever the moment comes. You face it head-on when you’re in it, and until then, stay cool and rock with yourself. There’s no room for fear, and there’s no room for overthinking.

After Ariana was born, I knew it was time to have a talk with my father. If you don’t know, my dad was also a professional basketball player, the #1 pick in 1994. I’m named after him. We met at my house, talked over lunch and had a brief discussion about cars, hah. But my goal here was to relieve some of the natural trauma of being a Black son.

Even though I grew up with my mother and grandmother. There were things he taught me about myself and my identity, but there were a lot of things I had to learn on my own. I knew he was following the NBA’s rigorous schedule, but I still wanted to know why he wasn’t around even a lil bit more.

I had one story that was really lingering. It’s random, but it comes from a specific memory I have as a kid. During Milwaukee Bucks practices, back in the day when my dad was playing for them, I would sometimes run on the court and try to disrupt what was going on. I wanted to play, too! My pops would laugh it off, telling me to sit back down. Other guys, like Ray Allen, Sam Cassel and Tim Thomas, joked about taking me on 1-on-1. One day, after practice, Dad drove me home in what he would call “Tre’s truck.” It was a 1994 Lincoln Navigator, the paint switching between deep purple and forest green when the sunlight hit. The rims weren’t Sprewell spinners like a lot of dudes had at that time. They were ROCKERS. I figured this thing was gonna be mine once I had my license! So guess what my father did…he put me in his lap, right in the driver’s seat! One of his teammates honked his horn and signaled that he wanted to race. I don’t remember who it was, and I felt like I needed to know. Because that moment was it!  That’s when I knew I belonged. That’s when I knew I was made for, well..the driver’s seat, and the NBA, and the Show.

Here’s the thing

I did make it there, but it wasn’t easy, and I didn’t always feel like I was in the driver’s seat. My path felt trying and downright difficult at times.  I went through those early days with tons of doubts and what ifs that were bubbling into feelings of some resentment towards my father.

Where did that moment, I remember from practice that day go? Where did that feeling go? I had to hash out a lot of stuff with my father. That memory reminded me of the only thing we crave from as children. Love & affirmation. 

How I look back now

Now, as a father and an NBA player, I can look back and be sympathetic to all the relationships he was balancing. His family, his career, and the crowds of friends & yes-men surrounding his earnings. He never knew who his biological father was. You have to get to a point where you forgive and move forward. Maybe you have to become a father to fully get your own father, ya know? That was the day our relationship changed. Real emotions actually connected to words we say, like “love you, son” and “thank you, pops.”  I wasn’t, uh, prepared for that moment until it happened. I’m grateful it did.

These days we talk on the phone, and we still say those words. What’s amazing about us as people, as humans, is how specific our memories are. We all carry things our parents gave us. And they give us so much: they decide where we grow up, and they keep us fed, and in my case, they pass down your name to you. We all have stories of our fathers, and some of them are complicated or imperfect. But man, is it important that our fathers are even around. 

The statistics are not too kind to fatherless households, especially those of color and those of working-class families. Poverty, unemployment, the housing crisis…sometimes it feels like we’re set up to lose, and our fathers are the only fighters in our corner. As the leaves change and the winds get chilly, I can’t help but reflect on the transition. I’m a free agent this offseason, and my daughter blossoms into a real, growing person more and more each day. I’m staying prepared, not knowing where or when the next big moment will be. I mean, trying to predict anything this year makes you look like a fool.

Cheers to October. Stay tuned for our upcoming holiday events, including our ‘Pumpkins with Pops’ give away of 75+ pumpkins to fathers who bring their families & free entry for the first 75 people to Kelsay Farms. Since you read this far…Call your father, if you’re fortunate enough to have him around. Just check in.


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3 years ago

Wow! Great story and very well written, this is very inspirational!!! ❤️❤️❤️

Leslie Mercer
Leslie Mercer
3 years ago

The story is so beautiful thank you for everything you do!!