Daddy’s Little Goalie

The U.S. women’s soccer team lost to Japan in the finals of the World Cup but the game to remember was the absolutely thrilling quarterfinal against Brazil, which I would call one of the greatest games (of any kind) I have ever watched.

I have taken great joy from being a fan and cheering for my children and wife in countless games and tournaments. My parents were avid fans of my sports career. I will never forget my Dad setting up a movie camera at one of my basketball games and my mother shouting above everybody else in the crowd “give the ball to Lloyd”. I felt both joy and chagrin.

Robert Strauss has written a dozen pieces for TMW over the last several years. As a freelance writer he was able to maneuver his schedule around his girls’ sports participation schedule. Robert has written a wonderful new book, Daddy’s Little Goalie; A Father, His Daughters and Sports, and wrote this terrific article for The New York Times. I hope you love it like I did.

You go girls.

Question: What’s the greatest game you ever saw? Professional or little league.


Read the New York Times article below.

Savoring the Small Victories With My Two Little Girls

By Robert Strauss

When my younger daughter, Sylvia, was about 10, she was on one of those alleged super-duper basketball teams. She was in a tough tournament game at a dank gym one Sunday, and after the game, I put my arm around her with a twisted grin.

“Congratulations on being the high scorer,” I said as she grimaced.

Unfortunately, Sylvia ended up with 1 point after a girl from the other team mistakenly fouled her as she attempted a buzzer-beating shot before halftime. She made one of two from the foul line — making the loss only 44-1.

Now, if that game were, say, 44-38, I would have hardly remembered it. As the often-perplexed father of two girls, Ella and Sylvia, who took sports as second nature, I have been smitten with everything they have done on the court, the field, the track, the pool and assorted other places. In the age of the controversy over Tiger Mothers, I resolutely stand as the Pussycat Dad of sports parents.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in suburban New Jersey, I wasn’t sure how girls got around to playing sports. Even when they did, it was of a different form. Girls basketball was six on a side, only two of whom could play the full length of the court, presumably because girls had no stamina. They played softball, with 10 players and the squishiest ball they could find, so no one could possibly get hurt. Lacrosse and field hockey had so many penalties, the whistle seemed to blow at every turn to save them from even the tiniest welt. They always had to wear skirts, not practical pants or shorts.

But when my girls turned 5, they were in the vortex of T-ball, biddy basketball and the inevitable soccer. Everyone played everything all the time. Girls sports became a given, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it.

Because they were girls, I guess, I never envisioned them playing in stadiums before 83,000 drunken alumni or being on gum-sugar-encrusted playing cards. Still, they insisted on trying almost everything: baseball, softball, tennis, cross-country, hurdles, diving, swimming, crew, basketball, lacrosse, soccer and probably 16 other sports I can’t remember.

And as time went on, I knew nothing but to cheer them. I arranged my schedule to go to every game I could and resolved to be omnipresent and unobtrusive. I could be a martinet when it came to schoolwork, but on the sideline, I resolved to cheer and to laugh as much as I could at the goofy plays.

I saw the tenseness in the other parents and coaches, then looked at their children and saw the jaws set and the brows furrow. Oh, I have had my moments of silent curses, but in general, my glasses have been the brightest hue of rosy, and the cups have not just been half full, but overflowing like Mauna Loa over Hawaii.

Sylvia was once the goalie of a soccer team that scored one goal for the whole season, but sometimes, I couldn’t wait to go home to tell my wife of the wonders of losing “only 2-0.” Ella went to a diving meet where she came in 26th. Out of 26. It afforded me the opportunity to rev up the Knute Rockne speech about giving it her all, not leaving anything on the board and getting them next time.

Mia Hamm’s father may have all of her Olympic goals, but I have the day when Ella, about 11, drove to the basketball hoop as her mouth guard popped out. She leapt, grabbing the mouth guard in midair with her left hand and making the basket with her right. Venus and Serena Williams’s father has their Grand Slam victories. I have Sylvia’s magnificent 44-1 loss.

My N.C.A.A. career might be the worst ever. I played five minutes of freshman basketball at Division III Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., during a winless season. In the last second of those five minutes, I threw a left-handed, behind-the-back pass to my friend Paul Stiegler under the basket. With that assist, we lost by only 105-53 to St. Olaf. I’ve been giggling about that for more than 40 years.

My girls have had their moments, too. Ella, for instance, was a co-captain of her high school’s state championship tennis team, a guard on the basketball team and was recruited by colleges as a crew coxswain. What I liked best, though, is that she was a co-captain even though she was the 14th-best tennis player and won the coach’s award in basketball as the most inspirational because, at 5 feet, she might have been the smallest varsity player in the state. Yet she chose to attend Davidson College for its academic record and now takes every conceivable spinning and boot-camp class.

All those years and all those games taught her leadership and moxie and perspective. Excellence is fine, to be sure, but laughing at the funny parts — the 105-53s and the 26ths out of 26 — is what kept our relationship sane.

This weekend, I am attending a lacrosse tournament in Maryland with Sylvia. I guess that is the way men like me should spend Father’s Day.



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4 thoughts on “Daddy’s Little Goalie

  1. Dave Tebben

    Greatest Game ever watched–Miracle on Ice. Mens hockey team winning the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics. I was 12 years old. My dad came in from chores on Sunday morning and said that he and I weren’t going to church (the only time in my life I ever remember my father missing church). We sat on the couch to watch the hockey game (the only time in my life I ever remember my father watching a hockey game). As the game was winding down, I remember looking over at my father and tears were running down his face. He passed away in 1994, but that is still one of my favorite memories.
    Dave Tebben

  2. Todd Miller

    The greatest game I ever watched in-person was Game 5 of the 1984 World Series in which the Detroit Tigers, led by Kirk Gibson’s 2 home runs, clinched the Series title with an 8-4 win over the San Diego Padres. The atmosphere at Tiger Stadium was electric throughout the game as the TIgers won their first World Series in 16 years — an accomplishment they’ve yet to duplicate.

    The best game I ever watched on TV was Game 6 of the 1975 World Series in which the Red Sox’ Carlton Fisk hit a home run in the bottom of the 12th inning to force a 7th and deciding game against the Reds. I watched the game with my father, who grew up a Red Sox fan, so I was hoping his team would come through the next night. Unfortunately, he had to wait nearly 30 years for that elusive World Series Championship.

  3. Noah Graff

    One of the most dramatic exciting games I’ve seen was the bulls vs Celtics game a few years ago that went into triple ot and the bulls won. My dad and I listened to most of it on the radio driving back from PMTS. We finally watched the overtime at Applebee’s.

    Michael Jordan’s game in the finals where he scored 40some points with the flue.

    The best I can think of is Kerry Wood’s 20k game. I felt privileged just to have decided to turn on the game after school. I watched as I talked with my dad while he was at “work” watching tv.:) Truly a riveting performance.

  4. Lloyd Graff

    The memorable games are always experienced with people you love. It isn’t the event, but how you take it in.

    Here are a few of my most memorable.

    Watching the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in the World Series on a bloopers hit while talking to Noah who was watching in a bar in Florence Italy at the same time.

    Cheering for my wife Risa in a local Tae Kwon Doe tournament and Noah yells “put her in a body bag, Mom”.

    Standing in the ticket line for hours at Wimbledon with Noah through intermittent rain on a rare Sunday session.

    The game Noah alluded to Bulls vs Celtics. A million overtimes, pulling into Applebees near our house after an eight hour drive so we could see the epic game on TV before it was over.

    Watching Ernie Banks hit a home run with my Mom with Jack Brickhouse joyfully yelling “hey, hey” into the mike.

    Watching the Cubs vs Marlins playoff through a mirrored contraption after a nasty eye surgery for detached retina with my whole family supporting me and my beloved Cubs. So what if they lost.


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