What I learned from my father, and what my father taught me growing up, most people would assume to be one and the same. What I learned from him continues to evolve, years after our nostalgic escapades. What I was taught by my father was simple: (1) how to make the most of the one life we are given, and (2) to always find the fun. Don’t get me wrong: my father was not naive with this twofold advice. He was well aware that making the most out of life while still managing to find the fun cannot be achieved by simply wishing it to be so. My father’s unparalleled work ethic, in combination with his unwillingness to accept no for an answer, is the most valuable quality I’ve learned, and one that I have strived to embody my entire life.
Even things my dad didn’t teach me how to do, I still picked up, as a result of our special Sager bond. Any time I’d get discouraged after losing, he would rub it in my face a little more and then remind me that I would be able to beat him at everything one day and to keep practicing. This father-son rivalry shaped me.
He was my teacher, and I wanted to make sure I made the most out of what I had. I could learn from his successes and find the things that he wasn’t doing that I could do. I began to search for any possible advantage I could use to become better than him when I was older. I developed the mind-set that if he was this good without doing these particular things, then how good could I be if I did do them?
He is a good athlete, but they didn’t really lift weights when he was growing up, I’d think to myself. That motivated me to start lifting weights. When he was growing up, they didn’t have nutrition plans. I started studying nutrition and used my diet to gain another possible edge.
My entire family was always challenging one another to be better. My dad just happened to be my toughest challenge and biggest motivation wrapped into one. I felt the pressure to follow in his footsteps every day of my life. That stress was suffocating until a challenge came my way. Then it became my fuel and my biggest source of strength.
These lessons and beliefs changed the moment my dad got sick. I thought I had to become my own teacher, even though I hadn’t yet found the version of myself I’d be teaching. Unlike my dad, who was always a Pollyanna and unapologetically himself, I was an unintentional pessimist with a full assortment of emotions. I had worn every emotion over the years and let them all guide me at some point.
I started to look back at all the things I had learned from my dad that could help me get through the frightening road ahead. I began to realize that what I learned from him and what he taught me were one and the same. All those years, he was unwittingly teaching me how to teach myself. The unpredictable lifestyle, the work ethic, and his unshakable outlook on life weren’t just the fundamental skills I thought they were when I was growing up. These were the invaluable qualities that he passed on to me that could prepare me for the curve balls life would throw. The ability to adapt and to embrace change was already a part of me.
Two years after his battle with AML, his influence continues to structure my attitude toward life. When a difficult situation comes about, I no longer ask myself, How will this change my life? He taught me that it will change my life however I choose to let it. The goals that I used to let control me can now guide me. By placing more meaning in the “little things” and the present moment, rather than the goal itself, it has been more rewarding and effective in improving me as a person.
I doubt I will ever be able to be as positive as my father, but I have never met anyone else able to replicate his positivity, so I can’t really blame myself. What I can do and what anyone can do is bring the same passion into each day that he did. I no longer fear my emotions or let them hold me back, because he showed me that being positive is always possible. No matter how hard life may seem to me at times, I know that my dad would still be able to find the fun somewhere. And that promise of hope that he gave me will always be my strongest suit.
Adapted from Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer, and the Things Worth Fighting For. Copyright © 2016 by Craig Sager, Craig Sager II and Brian Curtis. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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