Crash! The ball smashes through the head pin, the pins scatter leaving two on either side of the lane glaring at me like the uprights of a field goal. I tilt my head back in frustration, subtly covering my raised middle finger so you can’t see it from lane behind me, an admittedly bad trick I’ve picked up in high school bowling.
“Relax,” my dad says as he sits behind me. “Your line has changed. Move three and two on your next shot.”
“I know,” I laugh forcibly, bitter about the shot.
“You know I can’t give you that kind of coaching in a meet,” he adds in smugly as I pick up one of the two remaining pins.
“Oh, shut up. Sir,” I add in at the end. That used to be a prospect that would’ve scared me, not having him there to coach me. But in the past four years, he’s become less and less of a coach to me.
But only less of one to me. You see, he’s the head coach over at Olathe East, one of the best bowling squads in the Sunflower League, and a squad I bowl against every year.
* * *
I can’t remember how old I was the first time I went bowling. All I remember is that my feet were so small at the time the bowling alley didn’t have shoes small enough to fit them so I bowled in socks.
My dad’s had me in leagues since I was five. Every summer, he’d take me up to Mission Bowl and try to coach my little five year old brain not to bounce the ball off the bumpers.
When I was seven, bumpers were no longer allowed and I began bowling in father-son leagues with my dad. Every single year we’d bowl in a league together. With his help, my average started to rise. He was there when I shot my first 200, he was there to see my first 600 series. When I beat him for the first time, announced my name over the intercom at Mission Bowl.
But those little summer leagues came to an abrupt stop when I turned 10. My parents got divorced. In the chaos and turmoil of it, I nearly lost bowling. But worst, I was scared I’d lose my dad.
I only got to see my dad a few times a week back then. My relationships with my parents had always been strong. Through the divorce, my relationship with my mom held strong, but for awhile, I was worried my relationship with my dad would crumble beneath the weight of the divorce. So my dad turned to something that we’d always done together; he turned to bowling to help bond us.
We signed up for a Thursday night league. Every Thursday night, we’d be up at King Louie Lanes. He’d coach me, I’d listen and I started getting better. And our bond started growing stronger. I could hear the pride in his voice when he’d shout “boom baby” after I’d throw a strike.
While he was coaching me over at King Louie, he picked up the head coaching job at Olathe East. On our bowling nights, he’d tell me about how their meets went, how the bowlers did, what his hopes were for the season. And that’s when I started thinking about joining the bowling team when I got to high school.
When I got to Shawnee Mission East, the good East, I was set on going out for the bowling team. That week of tryouts, I was nervous I wouldn’t even make the team. I must have called my dad at least twice a day to talk to him about it. Looking back, I’m not really sure why I was nervous. I shot a couple two hundreds, and, not only did I make the team, I ended up at the number three spot on varsity when meets started rolling around.
That year, my dad made sure his squad bowled ours; his squad that won State the year before, anchored by their returning State Champion bowler Nicky Hurmence.
In that first meet I bowled against him; his team was stacked. To be honest I was a little terrified. My dad was there, we were bowling one of the toughest teams in the state and I was just a tiny, little freshman.
But I ended up being a tiny, little freshman who shot lights out that day. I shot in the 650s, placed third in the meet beating the defending State champ by 30 pins and I did it all in front of my dad. I know my dad’s proud of me, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him prouder. Out of all of the moments in my high school bowling career, that was the best.
* * *
I’m back up at the line. My feet a few boards to the right. I make my approach and swing the ball right over my new mark. The ball spins through the oil, catches the lane and *crash* smashes right through the pocket. Pins go flying across the board. Nothing’s left standing.
“See? What did I tell ya?” my dad brags as I strike.
“Hey, I knew what to do already,” I smile back, cocky as can be.
It was the same advice he’d given me time and time again. Advice that’s built up over the years, becoming my own knowledge. His coaching has helped me become the bowler I am today, but bowling has bonded me and my dad stronger than anything else could.
He is my coach, he’s my rival, but most importantly, he’s my dad.