I am not a hugger.
Okay, maybe that’s a little too strong. I’m not completely anti-hug, but I don’t usually initiate them. In other words, I’ll accept hugs most of the time, but rarely am I the one who sets the embrace in motion.
Despite that general stance, I’m sure there have been numerous times in my 19 years of life where I’ve initiated hugs (though often reluctantly). But if I’m being honest, I only remember one.
My high school soccer team and I had just won our conference championship in my first year starting on varsity. We beat our biggest rival to claim the title on a rainy, cold and insanely perfect night.
When the final whistle blew and we officially became conference champions, there were two things that I needed to do. First, I needed to celebrate with my team. And second, I needed to find my dad and give him a hug.
I did both.
Hugging a parent after winning a championship isn’t all that uncommon, I know. But for me — an established non-hugger — it was a pretty big deal.
My dad knows that too. Almost three years later and he still goes on and on about that hug. And for all the times that he’s brought it 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 verbally expressing my feelings (a quality that probably isn’t very surprising given my stance on hugs). So, Dad, here’s a little glimpse into what that hug meant to me.
I started playing soccer in kindergarten. I dabbled in a few other sports as a kid, but I never connected with anything else the way I did with soccer. It just felt right.
And as far back as I can remember playing, I also remember my dad on the sidelines. He was not a crazy soccer dad, the kind that yells at the referees and gets angry when their kid has a bad game, nor was he just playing the part of a devoted parent. He truly cared about the sport as much as he cared about me being a part of it. That was the best part. During my games, I could usually find him hanging off to the sides by himself, leaning on the fence. He wasn’t there to socialize in the stands, he was there to watch.
After playing my first year on JV, I made varsity as a sophomore in high school. Our varsity team had very strong upperclassmen and returning players (especially at my position), so I didn’t see the field much. The vast majority of my time that season was spent on the bench.
But my dad was still there.
Like I said, he truly cared about what happened on the field, whether I was out there or not. So he still showed up even when I didn’t see a minute of game time. He joked — constantly — about my increased potential for splinters due to my lengthy time on the bench, and despite my annoyed glares and mocking laughter, I appreciated the lighthearted remarks. He didn’t just tease me, though. He also told me that he could hear me cheering for my team on the bench all the way from the sidelines. That will always be my favorite post-game comment.
The morning of that conference championship game my junior year, when I had solidified my spot as a consistent starter on varsity, my dad sent me a text message. It was his version of a pre-game pep talk, and the most accurate description I can give you is that this message is (quite literally) the epitome of my dad. In fact, this article would be incomplete without it.
For context, Lucy is a nickname that my parents (and only my parents) call me. St. Joe’s is the name of our rival and opposing team, Jack being the St. Joe’s head coach (who also happened to be one of the coaches at my club team, so we knew each other). Oh, and my dad is a proud Michigan alum.
Here is the message in all its glory:
“Good morning Lucy. Today’s a big day. Play harder than you’ve ever played. Tune out the noise (especially from Jack). Play with the talent and intellect you know you have. Win every ball. Beat every defender. Be the best teammate. Play to win. Don’t (ever) play not to lose. Be (extra) aggressive. Leave nothing on the field. Don’t think. DO! And most importantly — smile. If Jack barks your way, just smile at him. Smile that confident smile that says ‘fuck you buddy, you ain’t getting in my head — I’m getting in yours, though.’ Play for the love of the game. For the love of competing. And for the love of winning. Think of St. Joe’s as Ohio State and Jack (for today) as Urban Meyer. Kick their fucking asses.
And know this (always) — that Mom and I love you no matter what. But maybe just a tiny bit more if you guys win this game. (Just kidding, kinda).”
I’ll let his words speak for themselves, but I will say that they paint a pretty perfect picture of the type of soccer dad that he was.
He understood that I never played for him (or anyone else, for that matter), I played for me — always. But it meant a lot to have someone on the sidelines who cared almost as much as I did.
As you probably gathered from the anti-Ohio State sentiment in his text message, my dad is very passionate (or crazy, depending on how you look at it) about his alma mater. Suffice it to say, he has a tattoo on his wrist of a block M with the phrase “Those who stay will be champions” written underneath it.
And he certainly passed that passion on to his kids — myself included.
I used to spend my free time in middle school researching Michigan football prospects and contemplating depth charts. When Ohio State beat the Wolverines with that controversial fourth down call in 2016, I cried in my bathtub for two hours. One of my high school friends told me that before he knew my name, he knew me as “the girl obsessed with Michigan.”
Now, am I proud of any of that? Debatable. Embarrassed? A bit. But for better or for worse, my dad shaped me into the girl who was known for her Michigan obsession, the girl whose dream came true on January 29, 2021 when she was accepted as an incoming freshman.
Sure, I might be a little embarrassed about crying in the bathtub for hours after Michigan lost a football game, but I can’t imagine my life without that passion.
I wouldn’t have been the same soccer player without it, the one who lived for competition and never gave up.
I certainly wouldn’t be the same Michigan student, the one who taught her friends the fight song during Welcome Week and didn’t hesitate to cut her Thanksgiving break short for the Ohio State game.
And truth be told, without my dad and his Michigan craziness, I wouldn’t be the same person.
So, Dad, that’s what the hug 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 soccer field and who I am today.
I am not a hugger. But on that day, it didn’t matter — I wouldn’t change that moment for the world.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.