From Father, To Son
By David Dykes
He’s carried the letter with him for nearly 52 years.
It arrived in the fall of 1969 as he navigated a big college campus on his journey from a small Catholic high school in northwestern Louisiana. He dreamed of becoming a journalist, but also wanted to play varsity tennis for a big-time collegiate program.
He knew the latter was an uphill climb.
He had done well in high school: His team’s No. 1 singles player, district runner-up and state quarterfinalist.
But at the University of Arizona the odds were long.
As the Arizona Daily Star’s fine sports columnist Greg Hansen (who worked at The Greenville News in the summer of 1976) wrote recently, Arizona’s men’s tennis program was so good in the 1960s that it produced three Wimbledon players: Tucson High’s Bill Lenoir and fellow All-Americans Brian Cheney and Willie Hernandez.
Hansen wrote that coach Dave Snyder established the Wildcats as a national power to rival the hallowed UA baseball program as the No. 1 sport on campus.
In his column, Hansen said the Wildcats finished at the NCAA Tournament under Snyder:
The Louisiana native met with Snyder, who promised no scholarship but said the 18-year-old could compete in a qualifying tournament for a walk-on spot.
In the six-page handwritten letter, his father wrote: “I know how important it is to you to make the team and I believe you know that we are behind you 100%. On the other hand, we know that the U of A has one of the finest teams in the country and – even though you play well enough to make most college teams – it is possible that you won’t make the cut.”
“…If you don’t make it, I hope you have already learned a lesson that comes hard but is absolutely essential in this life. In order to accomplish one’s potential, a person must establish goals which challenge him to the ultimate.”
One thing is certain, his father added: You will inevitably fall short of some of your objectives. And if you’re not prepared for that, you could wreck your life.
He then repeated what he had said before: “There is something I can do better than any man I meet and any man I meet can do something better than I can. Since this is true, we will all go through life winning some and losing some.
“But, if you use what the Good Lord has given you to the best of your ability – the absolute best – you must rest equally content with victory or defeat and go to the next page.”
He also reminded his son “the name of the game is education. You know this…
The freshman from Louisiana made Arizona’s varsity that fall, but was cut before the 1970 tennis season when Snyder said he had to trim two spots from his roster. He never competed in an intercollegiate match for the Wildcats.
But every June, Father’s Day reminds him of the advice in that letter airmailed to Tucson.
What’s especially important is that it was written by a father concerned about his adopted son’s happiness and welfare. They shared a bond for fishing, hunting and college football, and their trip to the 1964 World Series in St. Louis cemented the passion for baseball.
“I am very proud to have you for a son,” the father wrote. He then signed: “Love, Dad.”
He died in 1985 with lung cancer.
I keep that letter close. Heeding his advice, I studied journalism, graduated with a degree from the UA and found a purpose in what I wanted to do.
It also serves as a reminder that we all should be supportive of groups such as the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition, selected as the class project earlier this year by the 2021 Class of Leadership Columbia.
The class got to work renovating space for the Dad’s Den, which will serve as a community room for MFC dads to encourage and promote healthy relationships, bonding opportunities and a safe place for one-on-one time between dads and their kids.
It will give them access to education tools and games, serve as a technology-access point for dads who need to work on their resumes, apply for jobs and pursue opportunities and connect dads and kids with community resources and organizations that promote positive relationships, family-centered approaches and healthy lifestyles.
It’s important because dads make a difference.
I’m living proof.
- David Dykes is editor of Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly and Charleston Business Magazine.