I have no interest in sports. You may be able to convince me to watch the Super Bowl. Possibly March Madness. But that’s where it ends. However, for all my apathy toward almost all things athletic, there is one aspect I’m a sucker for: inspirational sports stories.
Judge all you want, but the feel-good themes that govern sports memoirs — particularly the ones with athletes overcoming all odds and finding success on not only the football field or basketball court, but in their personal lives — are a nice break from ever-serious lit.
And Dwyane Wade offers up one of these inspirational tales with his new memoir A Father First.
Background: Wade grew up with a drug-addicted mother in a gang-ridden neighborhood on Chicago’s south side before moving in with his verbally abusive father. ”Everything was in plain site,” he writes, “people snorting, smoking, shooting, getting busted, being handcuffed by the police and carted right off in the open for using and/or selling, many going to jail or winding up dead.”
Of course, family relationships are never that simple. Wade’s now-sober mother spent years in a downward spiral of drugs, but he never had any doubt of her love for him. And while Wade’s father could be horribly cruel, he was also Wade’s first basketball coach, providing such intense training that Wade credits him for the championship skills that led to his professional career.
Growing up poor and surrounded by crime, Wade managed to avoid dealing drugs, even though it seemed the only way anyone he knew found monetary success. Instead, Wade tried to avoid disappointing his always-supportive grandmother by staying on the straight and narrow. With his older sister Tragil acting as a mentor and protector, Wade worked hard in school and threw himself into sports.
But it never occurred to him that he would one day be an NBA all-star. In fact, it was his older stepbrother Demetrius whom everyone viewed as the talented one. Once Demetrius graduated from high school, however, Wade started to shine. Colleges came knocking and Wade accepted a scholarship to Marquette University in Milwaukee.
This is where many inspirational stories would end — the boy from the poor family makes it to college on a sports scholarship. Things were just getting started though. At 19-years-old, as he was gearing up with his team at Marquette, his high school sweetheart, Siohvaughn, announced she was pregnant. Scared but excited, the couple decided to keep the baby, and Wade faced the challenge of balancing a new family, school, and a soaring college career in which professional potential was beginning to appear.
While Wade loved his newborn son Zaire, his relationship with Siohvaughn began to deteriorate. In an attempt to form a stronger connection after Zaire’s birth, the young parents decided to marry; but things only got worse.
Meanwhile, his career was about to take off. Professional teams were showing serious interest, and with a new family to support, leaving college for the NBA seemed the best option. The Miami Heat chose Wade in the fifth pick of the 2003 NBA draft.
So, now this is where the story ends, right? The kid from the inner city making it all the way to the NBA — that would wrap everything up nicely. Not quite. Any hopes that money could save his marriage faded fast. In some ways, financial security made things worse. Siohvaughn took charge of the finances, and, according to Wade, didn’t allow him to employ a financial advisor. (Not much of a spoiler: money went missing.) But a much bigger issue for Wade than the money was her possessiveness of Zaire, as well as her overwhelming jealousy — she even (again according to Wade) followed through on a threat she made to slash his tires. Although Wade raced to his house upon receiving the threat, it was too late — the car was already vandalized. “At first I didn’t think we could get past this,” Wade says. “I’d seen instances before of what I perceived to be anger issues and a volatile personality. But more and more I seemed to be the target of her resentment.”
Be it stubbornness or good intentions, Wade still didn’t give up on his marriage. In one last effort, he and Siohvaughn decided to have another baby. The birth of their second son Zion brought him happiness, but, unsurprisingly, failed to save his marriage. Siohvaughn moved back to Chicago, taking the boys with her, and prevented Wade from seeing them. She accused Wade of abusing her and Zaire. She filed a court claim that he had cheated and given her an STD — something that was later discredited and withdrawn. Wade finally decided to sue for sole custody, and won; a sizable victory, he claims, considering courts tend to favor mothers in custody disputes. The judge agreed Siohvaughn loved her sons, but her actions were wrong. The judge said in a 102-page judgement that the evidence illustrated Siohvaughn’s pattern of conduct was “designed to limit, restrict, or simply deprive her children of a loving and devoted father,” and that such conduct had “caused such damage” to the family.
Since Wade tells his story in flashbacks, we know the court’s verdict by page 12. However, there’s something very compelling about his story that keeps us cheering for him throughout the book, even if we already know he’s won. It may be simply that he seems like a truly good guy — a loving father, son, and brother who never forgot where he came from. In essence, a perfect hero in a classic sports story.
Where: Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables)
When: 11 a.m., Sunday, September 9
Price: Autographing only/Book vouchers required. Customers must purchase a book voucher for A Father First from Books & Books to enter the event line. Vouchers are available while supplies last, but selling fast, so buy yours today.
Contact: Visit booksandbooks.com