As my father took off my skate and held my bare foot in his hands, we suddenly made eye contact.
We both had a rush of feelings—mine of happiness and connection to my father who was taking care of me in front of all of my friends and teammates. My father’s feelings were similar, but they came with some obstruction.
I saw my father suddenly start to blush, fumbling awkwardly, but also gently and lovingly. His hands nervously tried to handle my swollen ankle while he began to realize his surroundings.
People were watching him, maybe judging him as he was trying to be a father, and he got tackled by self-doubt and shame—he had not learned any of this from his own father who died when he was just five years old.
The physical touch with his boy gave him a feeling of closeness that morning, but it was accompanied by fear and unquestionable doubt and nervousness about how to care for his son.
My father had to generate his own confidence and learn how to create a relationship with me.
He had no guidebook.
We would talk about this moment later in our lives and actually create mock scenarios together, physically acting them out, to make light of that day, and find humor to share.
The memories so vivid—how his hands shook and pulled away as he said, “you’re okay, you’re okay,” and sprung back, as he wasn’t able to stay in that moment with me as a 35-year-old man to my 13-year-old boy.
But here’s the thing. As I grew up, that day at the rink had much significance for me and my relationship with my father.
I could see what he wanted to do that morning, as his gentle ways and tender heart were on display that day.
Clumsy and unsure, he tried to find his way through a scenario between a father and a son that he had never seen or been a part of as a boy himself.
He made the effort and found himself smack dab in all the emotions caused by growing up without a father of his own.
And for me, that day taught me all I needed to know about what it means to be a father.
It’s just about being there and doing your best.
You gotta be there.
My relationship with my father had long gaps of silence, but it never took him away from me, and it never took that morning from us.
Wanting to be a good father comes naturally to me. I do my best. I am there. Whether in person or not, it doesn’t really matter.
And today, I’d like to give my father credit for teaching me that on that morning at the rink.
It’s been six years since he passed, and his presence will never leave.
I’ll leave you with a story.
When I was in my 30s, I picked my dad up from the airport as he was returning from a work trip to the Daytona 500. I saw him come up the ramp from the plane. He was alone.
He didn’t see me, but I saw him, and I tucked myself behind a post, and watched him for a few seconds.
He had that nervous look again…
And I smiled.