As a quick personal note, I came to be a Dwyane Wade fan during his highly impressive 2003 March Madness run. The specific play that shifted my fanship from somewhere in between a recently accused but still dominant Kobe Bryant and reigning scoring champion Tracy McGrady to the undersized guard from Robbins, Illinois occurred in the Sweet Sixteen against the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), a university I would later attend. Attacking the basket as he usually does, Wade elevated for a layup but was met with contact that forced him perpendicular to the court when he flung up a circus shot that fell through the net. And 1, he hit the free throw too. At eleven years old, it became clear to me that not only that D-Wade would be a legitimate star in the NBA, but that he would also be my new favorite player in the process. From that day on I began to model my game after him wherever possible, from his famous 2 step or euro step, to form for blocking shots, to mannerisms others have to point out like dribbling in an open court. Off the court, he always seemed like a respectable guy. As an avid fan, I knew some of his story; growing up on the South Side of Chicago struggling to make ends meet, a mother who battled a drug addiction most of his young life, and a very ugly divorce and custody battle for his two sons. His book, A Father First, divulges some intimate details of his past that he reflects on as he continues to mature and grow as a person while raising two children of his own. In the process, he uses these experiences to provide wisdom on what it takes to be an active and good father, but more importantly lessons on how to improve as a person.
The one thing he attributes most to his ability to rise above the odds and succeed is faith; faith in himself to make a name for himself, faith in his mentors to coach him, faith in his mother to overcome her drug addiction, faith in God for strength. During the toughest moments in his life, he maintained faith in himself to achieve his dreams, and in doing so; others had no choice but to believe in him as well. With his belief, even the many doubters never truly affected him because he had a drive to overcome and succeed with or without them. This is a message we can all take to heart; if we believe in ourselves enough and have a drive to succeed, no matter what obstacles stand in the way we can accomplish even our most elaborate dreams. Ultimately the confidence to achieve comes from within, but as Wade readily admits, friends and family provide necessary additional support to push through the tough times.
Whether it was his sister Tragil who helped raise and protect a young Dwyane or Coach Crean at Marquette who had Wade’s back through all kinds of adversity or any number of other mentors, Wade stresses one key to his success has been the relationships in his life. He feels that each person in his life has a definitive purpose; teaching him valuable lessons and helping him weather the storm. If nothing else, the people in our lives are constant reminders that we do not have to hurdle even the most difficult obstacles alone. Wade truly believes, as do I, that the people in our lives give us exactly what we need at that time in order to grow as a person. As a matter of fact the friend who gifted me this book, Natalie, has been one of the most influential and positive forces in my life; she is someone I can talk to about anything and provides tough love when needed. Each person Wade mentions in A Father First, including his own kids, contribute to person he is today and will become. Wade is just one case in point, yet we should all appreciate those in our lives and use those experiences, positive and negative, to learn and grow as individuals.
Certainly the most emotionally moving part of the book, for me, comes as Wade writes:
“As much as I tend to block out the most painful memories, I’ve found that they’re valuable just the same. There are times in our lives when all of us need to go back and revisit a place in the past of full take stock of where we are in the present. I have to do that a lot in my career. The process keeps me grounded and reconnects me to who I am and what matters to me. My preference, naturally, is to try to relive only the good and to take the best of what’s been give to me by parents, coaches, and mentors. That said, there are great lessons from painful moments that get lost unless we have the courage to go back and dig them up.”
There is much to be learned from our past; after all, it brought us to the present. Becoming a man, or woman for that matter, does not entail burying life’s disappointments and pretending they do not exist, but facing those disappointments head on with a resolve to learn from them and improve for the future. Without a healthy dose of self-reflection, we are destined to repeat the mistakes of our past. It may be extremely painful to do so, but with Wade being the example, confronting your failures can set you free and give you the tools to accomplish anything you set your mind to going forward.
Granted A Father First is mostly an autobiography, so we should expect that Wade amplified some of his best qualities and left out the worst, and we would probably all do the same. Regardless, the lessons remain invaluable. If we truly have in faith in our abilities, and ourselves, we can persevere through any adversity. Appreciating the people in our lives is necessary to our personal growth and makes it possible to weather the storm. When we confront times when we have fallen short and become introspective, we can have closure on that failure and move on to bigger and better things. Calling on the lessons from Wade’s inspirational story, we can develop as individuals and eventually fathers.