I suspect my Dad wanted to be a sports legend. Because he’d “missed his shot”, Dad tried to achieve his goal through me instead.
At first, trying new things was fun.
“Netball!” Dad exclaimed one day.
“Huh?” I didn’t even look away from the TV. I’m a couch person, me.
“All Aussie girls play Netball, we’ll sign you up for this year’s team tryouts”.
I ran around confused on the Court a week later — appointed the team’s “Wing Attack” which to this very day I don’t know what they’re responsible for. Something about running all over the court except for in the semi-circles where only the Goal Shooter and Goal Defender (?) were allowed. I knew I was tired from running about and I couldn’t catch the ball or take it from someone as viciously as the other girls did to save my life.
“Darl, you’ve got to be more competitive” Dad was exasperated “Try to not help everyone so much, you’re supposed to be playing with gusto, love.”
I’m not the competitive sort. I didn’t make the team.
Dad wasn’t put off.
“What you are, my girl — is a tennis pro” Dad decided.
Tennis looked like hard work to me, but to make Dad happy, I was willing to give it a go.
Dad spent a fortune on a new tennis racket for me, new ‘tennis whites’ and super cool matching white “Nike Air” sneakers (I thought they were so pretty) to complete the look.
“My mate got you in with the leading tennis Coach” Dad said on the drive to the tennis Courts. “Give it your all, Janet — try everything and try your best”.
But I couldn’t seem to hit any balls. The Coach seemed to be acting out some kind of vengeance when he served and try as I might, I couldn’t return the serve. All I saw was a green blur fly by me hit after hit. After 20 minutes of attempting to be the ‘Tennis Legend’ my Dad had excitedly told me about, I struggled to raise my racket. No one had told me that if you hold something (and raise it up and down) for long enough, what started out as barely 2 kilos starts to feel like it weighs a ton.
“Golf’s better, anyway” Dad said on the drive home. I had to hand it to him, Dad was not easily put off. I was asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. Tennis is exhausting.
Golf would have been awesome if I had ANY hand-eye coordination. It would have been a lot more successful if the guy I was crushing on at high school wasn’t ‘on the green’ at the same time — with his sexy little ‘90’s boyband’ hairstyle, cute polo shirt and canvas chinos. And OMG you guys, he was wearing low boat shoes with no socks! My heart!!! Trent looked like a Tommy Hilfiger model. I was too busy drooling to pay attention to anything my teacher (or Dad) were saying to me.
“Nevermind” Dad told me on the long walk back from the 18th hole “Golfing might not be our thing, but we’ll find what it is and when we do — woohoo!”
“our thing”. Bless.
We tried Karate. This was hugely unsuccessful as I kept running away whenever someone came towards me. I didn’t want to get hit and I didn’t want to hit or kick anyone else. I even felt empathy for the wooden boards we were supposed to be able to magically break in two with our bare hands. I just touched mine gently and whispered “I’m sorry” to it. I refused to hit it.
Dad rolled his eyes affectionately “You have a big heart, babygirl” he said on the walk home; draping an arm around me. “That’s a good thing”.
We tried gymnastics. I was not flexible enough or brave enough for the balance beam. I was also the smallest on the ‘team’ and my legs and arms weren’t as long and lithe. I really struggled.
We tried fishing. I was in copious tears when we took the first little silver fish off the hook. Dad told me much later as an adult that he had to walk away, or he would have screamed.
We tried basketball (I was far too small), lacrosse (I just kept getting hit by the other girls — kneepads are not as protective and pain-free as they’re made out to be), boxing (Dad either hadn’t learnt from my fear of physical contact from Karate classes or was in denial, bless him), running (I admit, as a black girl, I liked the wind in my afro and I could MOVE (surprising to both Dad and I — his whole face lit up when he watched me sprint). I liked running a fair bit, but I didn’t have the willpower to get up before 5am to meet at the track every single day — even on weekends (which to me were sacred and set apart for much-needed sleep-ins). “We” attempted cycling (I got tired easily and couldn’t keep up the pace of the other trained cyclists my age — when did they start training, for goodness sakes? At 4?), skating (to this day I can’t skate), surfing (I spent the whole day faceplanting into the ocean over and over AND OVER again) and squash. I thought of squash as a mini and more torturous version of tennis. It was a no from me.
I’d tried out for so many sports teams and was completely exhausted. Even Dad was slowly getting worn down. This was a hopeful sign to me.
“You’ll be the next Gold medalist at swimming” Dad proudly announced as we walked in the blistering heat towards the town pool the next day.
Dad patiently taught me how to swim. I was rubbish at being any good at it and liked to lazily float on my back and gaze up at the sky.
“Chook, you need to be a bit…faster” Dad would encourage.
I liked bobbing under the surface and shouting swear words where no one could hear me. I loved being able to do successful handstands. I couldn’t do them in the gym — but in the water, they were “easy peasy” and I loved it.
I think whenever Dad looked at me, I was doing something goofy and not very “sportsmanly” in the pool. I was having a great time!
Dad shook his head.
“You need to be serious about this, Janet” Dad tried in vain.
I was serious about scooping up struggling bees and dragonflies and gently putting them onto the concrete sides of the pool.
“Oh Darl” Dad sighed.
We moved on…to diving.
Since we were already regular visitors to the pool, I guess Dad thought diving was the natural progression of things.
After my first dive, I climbed out of the pool, found Dad and nudged his shoulder. Dad was savouring a meat pie (his favourite) and had started talking to another patient parent.
“Yes, darl?” he asked.
I rubbed my head “I’m not feeling well, Dad” I admitted.
“Why? What’s happened?” Dad put his pie down. This meant he was taking me seriously.
“I hit my head really hard on the bottom of the pool” I gingerly touched the ‘egg’ that was already forming on my skull.
Dad quickly inspected it. All my life, I think Dad’s secretly wanted to be a Doctor, too. “Are you feeling dizzy?” he asked. I nodded. “Okay, follow my finger with just your eyes, don’t move your head” and he moved his finger side to side and up and down in front of my face.
“Well, I don’t think you’ve got concussion, but we’ll take you to the Quack (Australian for ‘Doctor’) for a checkup just in case, ok?”
In the car on the way to the hospital, Dad asked how I’d hit my head.
“Well I dived in at the deep end the way you told me to” I shrugged, feeling lightheaded. The bump on my head was starting to throb.
“But Chook” Dad insisted — “When you dive, you put your arms out in front of you to cut through the water and protect your head”
“You do what?” I was genuinely surprised by this new information.
Dad pulled the car over to the side of the road and demonstrated a dive with his arms out ahead of him, hands crossed over each other “Like this, Janet”.
“I didn’t do that”
Dad started to laugh.
“Well…” Dad gasped “How did you dive?” he managed to say, giggling.
“I just jumped in — headfirst” I shrugged.
Dad started to howl. Tears were running down his face and he was gasping for air. His face was bright red and he was laughing so much the car was shaking with it.
“Oh babygirl…you pillock” Dad was almost screaming he was so surprised and found it hilarious.
I knew I was being made fun of, but Dad’s full belly laugh is like nothing else, and I couldn’t help but join in.
At the Doctors, the receptionist laughed when Dad explained why we were there. The Doctor laughed heartily before examining me. Once it was declared that I wasn’t concussed and would be fine, the Doctor called Nurses and medical students in to retell the story (Dad beaming away the whole time)— they all laughed, too.
That was the end of trying out to be a sports star and Dad didn’t make me try out for anything again. I had a sore head for a few weeks, but didn’t have to get up early for the skateboarding ‘try outs’ that week — so really, I think this was definitely a ‘win-win’ situation.
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