Another Mother’s Day has come and gone, and I have not followed through on my promise of a Cadillac. Since I was young, I have read about how athletes, the ink barely dry on their multi-million-dollar contracts, buy their mothers shiny 1)Cadillacs so they can “cruise to the games” 2)in style. So, long ago, I promised mama that one day, when I made it to the big leagues, she too would get her own Cadillacs. She would always laugh and talk about how ridiculous she would look rolling by in a candy-paint 3)Coupe De Ville. She never mentioned how ludicrous it was to imagine her 4)scrawny, slow-footed son playing pro ball.
My mother has taught me many things over my 22 years, but there are two for which I will be forever grateful. One was to read. The other was that I wasn’t going to be the next Michael Jordan.
One slow dog of a day in mid-August of my sixth summer, after she had grown tired of listening to me whine about how I wanted a Super 5)Nintendo like the rest of my friends, she retrieved a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird and placed it on the table in front of me.
“We don’t play video games here,” she told me. “We read. That book will keep you company. You can never be bored when you have a book.”
“I’ll do anything but read,” I replied boldly.
“Then you can go play outside,” she replied calmly. “Those are your two options.”
Enraged as only a six-year-old 6)hellion can be, I turned defiantly and ran out the back door into the triple-digit heat and humidity stewing in our back yard.
I returned a few hours later, after two dozen laps around the block, 300 jump shots and a half-hour of tossing the football to myself. Too exhausted to gripe about how I wanted to play Tetris, I grabbed the tattered hardcover book that my mother had placed in front of the sofa.
As soon as I read about Jem’s 7)affinity for passing and 8)punting, my fears were assuaged. I read on. I did not stop until one long summer had ended, a fall had taken its place, and Boo Radley had come out.
I had learned to love to read.
The subscription to 9)Sports Illustrated followed later that year on my birthday. My mother knew her firstborn was sports-crazed before I could even tell her in words. She suspected as much when, at 18 months, I lined up my stuffed animals in the 10)wishbone offense. But I doubt she envisioned the obsession that would grow over the coming years. I read every page—the stories of spoiled, overpaid underachievers and the sagas of 11)gritty, hard-fought success; the accounts of thrilling overtime upsets and heartbreaking collapses on the back nine. When I wasn’t reading SI, I was 12)honing my skills, certain that one day I would grace its cover.
It must have been hard for my mother that day—after making sure Santa brought me the football uniforms I had asked for each Christmas, after watching me re-create 13)Super Bowls in the front yard every day after school, after addressing and stamping all those 14)illegible letters I wrote to the University of Texas football coaches telling them how to do their job—to tell me that I wasn’t going to be a pro football player. It must have been hard for her to tell the awkward, freckle-faced first grader the truth.
“You weren’t made to be a great athlete,” she told me. “You weren’t born big enough or fast enough to play football. If you want to play, you’re going to have to work really hard at it.”
I took her words and ran with them. And lifted weights. And rehabbed injuries. And lifted. And ran some more. I wasn’t 15)Rudy, but I was damn close.
My mother is the kind of person who can’t tell you how the 16)Redskins did last night. She can’t even tell you what they were trying to accomplish. But, from early 17)Pop Warner Saturday mornings to lazy 18)Little League afternoons to Friday night’s bright lights, she never missed a game. Were it not for her telling me the truth that day, I would have never seen the field.
I should have thanked her after every 19)touchdown I ever scored in high school. I should have run up into the stands and hugged her with each jump shot that fell through the net. I should have thanked her after every track meet and 20)rugby match and baseball game.
I should thank her every time I reach the end of a great book. I should thank her every Thursday when I race home to pluck my Sports Illustrated from the mail slot. She gave me all of this.
My mother gave me a perspective that allowed me to see why and the ability to articulate that passion. For that, I owe her more than a gleaming 21)Escalade, more than a dream house, more anything else I can possibly give back.