Fathers have a way to inspire

More than 30 years ago, my father set me on the path I am on right now.

Shortly after I was born, he introduced me to the world of sports, well before I could speak or was aware of what was going on in front of me.

There’s a photo of him holding me at home as I’m decked out in a tiny Chicago Cubs T-shirt along with a Cubs hat and a bib.

Not too long after that, I referred to every team on TV as the “Cago Cubs.” That didn’t last, but my love for sports definitely did.

By the time I turned 5, I could name every Major League Baseball team, NFL team and NBA team along with the league or conference each played in and almost all the NCAA Division I college nicknames.

I entertained people at parties with my “skills” and my dad’s friends from college would come up with lists of nicknames to try to test me. I passed every time and I could tell my dad took great pride in that.

My dad always found time to play catch or indulge me in whatever strange idea I came up with. Whenever there was a game on, he oftentimes would drop what he was doing to come watch with me. One time he sat down and watched a game of competitive roller hockey with me for an hour. I’m sure he was bored out of his mind, but he wanted to make me as happy as possible.

He even bought rollerblades to hang out with me. I imagine that wasn’t an easy thing to do, but I give him a lot of credit for doing so. Not many fathers would be willing to do that.

Growing up, I was a perfectionist and I felt terrible whenever I fell short playing sports. However, he was always there to console me and helped teach me that it’s OK to fail sometimes. I still am hard on myself, but whenever I do, I try to remember what he taught me and it helps me get through it.

He also helped me when I couldn’t sleep in the best way he knew how, connecting it to sports. He’d tell me to just imagine the two of us at a baseball game and it always worked.

Seriously, that tactic still works today, even though I’m a grown man. I couldn’t sleep the other night, so I imagined myself at a game with my dad. Five minutes later, I was asleep. What can I say? The guy knows me.

When I was in college, I battled depression and anxiety a lot, almost breaking down completely at one point and having to go to counseling. My dad was there for me through all of that and I know it gutted him to watch me suffer mentally and emotionally, but he would always be there when I needed it. Talking to him about sports would postpone my misery, even if it was just for a short while.

I still deal with those issues today, but whenever I need an outlet, I’ll turn to sports or I make sure to talk to someone. My wife is usually the first option at this point in my life, but my dad is a close second, ready to step in out of the bullpen to alleviate my pain and close things out.

I used to be a teacher and I did enjoy being around kids of all ages, but deep down, I knew my dream was to cover sports in some way, whether it was for a newspaper or for a television or radio station. I just wanted to be part of what I truly loved. I wrote a note to my dad one night telling him how I felt and the next day, he encouraged me to follow my dream.

He even drove with my brother and I to find my apartment in Indianapolis. He didn’t have to do that, but he wanted to help in any way that he could. After all, sports made me happy and he wanted to help me get to my goal.

Within a couple of years of graduating, things started to go downhill for me, although they probably weren’t as bad as I thought. My hours got cut at my previous newspaper and I was forced to take on a second job to make up for that.

It was tough during that period, but my dad encouraged me to keep at it and I’d get through it. Once again, he talked to me about sports and it helped those dark thoughts go away again.

Last year, I went back to Minnesota to spend Father’s Day with my dad, and not surprisingly, we went to a baseball game as a family. The game sucked as the Twins got obliterated, but spending time with him and my family was still a great experience.

I won’t get to do that again this year, but maybe this column can make up for that and I’m sure we’ll talk later today. Our record chat is two hours and I’m sure in today’s talk, 90 percent of that will be about sports.

Some of you may also not get to see your dads this weekend, probably for much sadder reasons than mine, but if you do get to see him, make sure you take advantage of it. It’ll mean a lot to him and it probably will to you as well.

My dad is who I look up to the most and if it wasn’t for him, my passion for sports would’ve never been ignited and you wouldn’t be reading this now. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.

There are times where I still wonder if I’m on the right path in my career or in life, but when I get depressed or worried, I know my dad will be there. I may doubt myself sometimes, but I know my dad never will.

He’ll always get me back on the right path and I’m sure sports will be part of that journey.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.