For a long time, I was hurting from your absence but deep down I always hoped someday we would repair our relationship.
We share the same name and for a long time, that gave me a chip on my shoulder. You were a very good local athlete, who played football and baseball and ran track. I wanted my shoes to be bigger than yours. I wanted to train harder and be better.
You were in and out of my life and I channeled that hurt into my athletic career.
After you introduced me to sports as a child at six years old, I started playing football in the local Cleveland youth league. You coached my team and encouraged me to pursue athletics. Back then our relationship was good and I saw you regularly.
At age 12, my brother and I moved to Solon, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, with my mom. She got remarried.
Dad, I have no idea why, but this was a turning point in our relationship, as you began to jump in and out of my life and slowly we saw less and less of you.
However, I didn’t let your inconsistency as a parent slow down my development as a person. While I continued football without you, my junior year I found track and field. One day I was working out in the weight room and I saw guys throwing discus. One of the guys on the football team competed, so I asked him about it.
He told me, “Reggie, you would probably wouldn’t be any good at track and field. You should probably stick to football.” I saw that as a challenge and I went out for track and field. The first time I tried discus I threw 140, which was farther than guys who had been doing it for four years. From there, I excelled at the sport – to say the least.
Despite the fact that I was not highly recruited because I didn’t have a lot of experience, I received a college scholarship to Kent State University. I became a five-time All-American and ended my career the NCAA runner up, while also getting a degree in sports administration. The Cleveland Sports Commission named me Male Collegiate Athlete of the Year. After college, I turned pro and I am consistently ranked among the top discus throwers in the world.
Now, I have my eyes set on becoming the first African-American to medal in the discus at the Olympic games.
I could make some serious history.
But even if I do, you won’t be here to witness it.
See, when I went to college that became another barrier in our relationship. I didn’t speak to you much at all. My focus was on competing, training and getting good grades.
When I would receive awards or appear in commercials for the school, your friends would tell you. Now and then you would call to tell me you heard how well I was doing in my athletic career but that’s about it.
When I turned pro and started training to represent the U.S., you saw me on TV and in the newspaper. Again, you reached out and called. At this point, it felt like you were gloating about my success even though in my mind you had no part of it.
I felt angry and annoyed.
My feelings toward you completely changed last year. I was at a track meet when I received missed calls from your side of the family. When I called back they told me you passed away. You died from blood cancer and you never even told me you were sick. It was a shock. One moment I had a dad and the next I was without one.
I wasn’t prepared to lose you, even though I didn’t feel like I ever completely had you.
When I went to your funeral all of your friends told me how you talked about me all of the time and you were honored that I was your son. It confused me. If you loved me and you were so proud of me, why weren’t you there for me? Why were you so absent from my life?
Dad, I want you to know instead of searching for answers, I decided to find forgiveness.
I have let go of the hurt. I have let go of the resentment. Life is too short to hold a grudge.
Now, every time I compete I look up and pray to you.
Last Father’s Day was my first Father’s Day without you. I was competing in a tournament, and I thought of you during my final throw. I finished top 4 among the best in the world. See, Dad, I no longer use a hunger to beat you to drive me. I now use my new desire to make you smile to motivate me.
I no longer see us as sharing a name but rather I see our name as one, which means I hold a piece of you and your memory.
While you had your faults, I want our name to represent a warrior- someone who was battle-tested and persevered.
I am not only working hard to be the best version of me. I am striving to be the best version of you.
In doing so, I am no longer holding on to the brokenness you made feel but I am finally repairing our bond by creating a legacy we can both cherish.