I distinctly remember the homework assignment for my grade nine English class in the fall of 1990: Write a report on the person you admire most.
The words had barely escaped the mouth of our leathery old teacher Mrs. Bush—who was always highly annoyed with my passion for sports—when I knew I would write my piece about Patrick Roy. So I went home and wrote a captivating report about how the Montreal Canadiens goaltender had a profound impact on my life. He had guided my favourite team to a Stanley Cup championship a few years earlier, and once a goalie does that, he instantly becomes a hero for life to a young fan. His poster hung above my bed, so his masked face was actually the last thing I saw each night before going to sleep. (It’s a wonder that I didn’t have more nightmares.)
I was surprised when Mrs. Bush asked us to read our pieces aloud to the class instead of handing them in. The first student had done his report on his dad. In fact, the first five students had all written about their parents. I was starting to see a trend, and my piece about a millionaire hockey player was going to look awfully shallow compared to these poignant tales of family bonding.
I was squirming in my desk, thinking, “Please, for the love of God—somebody has to have written about MC Hammer. Or a cast member from Saved By The Bell. I can’t be the only one who went down this path, right?”
But I was. I felt pretty superficial trying to explain the deep bond I had with a complete stranger who I saw on television once or twice a week. Other kids were talking about how their parents had taught them valuable life lessons and were guiding them down paths toward success. Meanwhile, the closing line of my report was something along the lines of, “Patrick Roy’s ability to handle pressure in tough situations makes him the person I admire the most.” Mrs. Bush was hardly impressed.
I should have done my report on my own father. Without him, I wouldn’t have had a passion for sports in the first place.
My parents immigrated to Canada from Tanzania in 1976, just a couple of months before I was born. My dad immersed himself in North American culture by following professional sports. He latched on to the Montreal Canadiens because they were dominant in the NHL, and he also took an immediate liking to the Dallas Cowboys—though I think the cheerleaders may have had something to do with that. When I was old enough to watch games, I would sit by his side and cheer for the same teams.
When I was seven years old, I’d look out the front window of my house and wait for my dad to come home, like an anxious little puppy. No matter how tough his day at the office had been, he always made time to take me to the park to play catch. He often surprised me with tickets to baseball or hockey games, scooping me up on a Friday night and driving to the stadium in our black Ford Malibu.
When I was a teenager, my dad gave me books from Anthony Robbins and other motivational speakers. Long before it was en vogue to talk about mental health with teens, my dad was on top of it. He once told me, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” I have never forgotten those important words, and it’s a major reason why I have such a positive attitude toward life. I like to joke that my dad gave me two key things: self-confidence and massive eyebrows.
My childhood memories overflow with moments where my father helped shape me into the sports fan I am today. But even more importantly, he provided a road map of what it’s like to be a good person, and a good father.
When I worked in television, my dad would send me emails wishing me luck with my broadcasts: “Knock this out of the park” or “We’ll be watching!” We still text each other during every Dallas Cowboys game and, in many ways, it’s like I’m sitting on the couch next to him—30 years later.
Read more: Why I left a career in TV for my family>
My dad has never said the exact words “I love you” to me, because he’s not an emotional man. But I have never needed to hear them from the father who has given me everything. I may have misunderstood the definition when I was in grade nine, but today, I’m grateful to have the chance to write these words with meaning: My dad has always been my hero.
Follow along as Ottawa-based sports radio host Ian Mendes gets candid about raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with his wife, Sonia. Read all of Ian’s The Good Sport posts and follow him on Twitter @ian_mendes.