I’m not a hugger.
Okay, maybe that’s too strong. I’m not entirely against hugs, but I don’t usually initiate them. In other words, I accept hugs most of the time, but rarely am I the one who sets the hugs in motion.
Despite this general stance, I’m sure there have been many times in my 19 years of life when I’ve initiated a hug (though often reluctantly). But to be honest, I only remember one.
My high school football team and I just won our conference championship in my first year at university. We defeated our main rival and took the title on a rainy, cold and insanely beautiful night.
When the final whistle blew and we officially became conference champions, I had two things to do. First, I needed to celebrate with my team. And secondly, I had to find my dad and hug him.
I did both.
I know it’s not uncommon to hug a parent after winning a championship. But for me, a deep-rooted cuddle-hunter, it was quite important.
My dad knows it too. Almost three years later, and he still goes on and on about that hug. And in all the time he’s brought this topic up, I think he has a pretty good idea of what made it so special. But he’s never heard it from me, and I’m not the best at verbalizing my feelings (a quality that’s probably not very surprising given my relationship with cuddling). So dad, here’s a little glimpse into what that hug meant to me.
I started playing football in kindergarten. As a child, I tried myself in several other sports, but I never connected myself with anything else as much as with football. It was right.
And for as long as I can remember, playing, I also remember my father on the sidelines. He was not a crazy football father who yells at the referees and gets angry when their child does not play well, and not just played the role of a devoted parent. He really cared about the sport as much as he cared about me being a part of it. This was the best part. During my games, I could usually find him hanging off to the side, leaning against the fence. He wasn’t there to chat in the stands, he was there to watch.
After playing my first year at JV, I entered the university in my second year of high school. Our varsity team had very strong high schoolers and returning players (especially in my position), so I didn’t see the pitch much. I spent the vast majority of my time that season on the bench.
But my dad was still there.
As I said, he really cared about what was happening on the field, whether I was there or not. So he still showed up even when I didn’t see a minute of playing time. He joked—constantly—that my long time on the bench had increased my chance of splinters, and despite my annoyed looks and mocking laughter, I appreciated the light-hearted remarks. However, he didn’t just tease me. He also told me that he heard me rooting for my team on the bench throughout the game from the sidelines. This will always be my favorite post-game commentary.
The morning before that conference championship game in my junior year, when I solidified my position as a consistent starting player at the university, my father sent me a text message. It was his version of the pre-game pep talk, and the most accurate description I can give you is that the message is (literally) the embodiment of my father. Actually, without him, this article would be incomplete.
For context, Lucy is the nickname my parents (and only my parents) call me. “St. Joe” is the name of our rival and opposing team, and Jack is the head coach of “St. Joe” (who was also one of the coaches on my club team, so we knew each other). Oh, and my dad is a proud Michigan graduate.
Here is the message in all its glory:
“Good morning, Lucy. Today is a big day. Play harder than ever. Tune in to the noise (especially from Jack). Play with the talent and intelligence you know you have. Win every ball. Defeat every defender. Be the best teammate. Play to win. Never (never) play lest you lose. Be (additionally) aggressive. Don’t leave anything on the field. Do not think. DO! And most importantly, a smile. If Jack barks in your direction, just smile at him. Smile that confident smile that says, “Fuck you, buddy, you don’t get into my head, but I get into yours.” Play for the love of the game. For the love of competition. And for the love of victory. Think of St. Josas as Ohio State, and Jack (today) as Urban Meyer. Kick their fucking asses.
And know this (always) — that Mom and I love you no matter what. But maybe a little more if you guys win this game. (just kidding, like).”
I’ll let his words speak for themselves, but I will say that they paint a pretty perfect picture of what a father of football he was.
He understood that I never played for him (or anyone else, for that matter), I played for myself – always. But it was very important to me to have someone next to me who cared almost as much as I did.
As you probably gathered from the anti-Ohio sentiment in his text message, my dad is very passionate (or crazy, depending on how you look at it) of his alma mater. Suffice it to say that he has a tattoo on his wrist in the form of an M block, under which the phrase “Those who remain will become champions” is written.
And he certainly passed that passion on to his children, including me.
In high school, I spent my free time studying Michigan football prospects and contemplating depth charts. When Ohio State beat the Wolverine with a controversial fourth call in 2016, I cried in the bathroom for two hours. One of my high school friends told me that before he knew my name, he knew me as “a girl obsessed with Michigan.”
Am I proud of any of this? Controversial. Embarrassed? A little. But for better or worse, my dad turned me into the girl who was known for her obsession with Michigan, the girl whose dream came true on January 29, 2021 when she was accepted as a freshman.
Sure, it might be a little embarrassing for me to cry in the bathroom for hours after Michigan lost a football game, but I can’t imagine my life without this passion.
Without that, I wouldn’t be the kind of player who lived for the competition and never gave up.
I definitely wouldn’t be the same Michigan student who taught her friends a fight song during welcome week and didn’t hesitate to cut her Thanksgiving break off to play in Ohio State.
And truth be told, without my father and his Michigan madness, I would have been a different person.
So, dad, that’s what hugs meant to me. It was my way of saying thank you. Thank you for being there, thank you for caring, thank you for helping to shape who I was on the football field and who I am today.
I’m not a hugger. But it didn’t matter that day—I wouldn’t change that moment for anything in the world.
Happy Father’s Day, dad. I love you.