For Dwyane Wade, neither love nor life beyond Chicago nor even a career in the National Basketball Association was certain. But one thing was, according to his new book, "A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball" -- being a good father.
"Given my history and the examples set for me, my sense of responsibility as a parent and spouse was already well developed," Wade writes in one introspective passage of the book, which candidly details both his rise to the NBA and the long legal battle with his former wife, in which he ultimately gained full custody of his two sons.
For Wade, breaking the cycle of "babies having babies" -- one that he says ran in his family and his community -- was at first a priority and then a challenge to be the best full-time dad he can be and to get out the word to other men about how they can do it too.
Following Tuesday's release of "A Father First," Wade sat down with The Huffington Post at a pop-up shop for the one-time Harlem mainstay Hue-Man Books, to discuss how he spent the summer before sending his baby boy off to kindergarten, what he plans to teach his sons about women and how single fatherhood is playing out.
"Just last week, fellow NBA players gathered in Harlem to discuss the issue of fatherhood and the fatherless crisis in the black community. Why do you think this topic is getting more attention right now?"
"I think it's great that it's picking up steam and a lot of guys are really talking about it. I think it was something that everybody expected. You expect to be someone like, 'Yeah, my father wasn't at home.' I think you have so many fathers now saying, 'Listen, I am a good father, and I can be a good father.' It's time to help the ones that don't really understand and get it.
"But going through this process -- and it's not an excuse for it -- I have seen that it's very hard, and it can be hard for a lot of different reasons. We don't understand that when we're young and our father's not there. But there's a reason why. Unless you sit down and talk to your dad and say, 'Why weren't you there?' and he says, 'I'm going to really tell you the truth,' then you won't know. So I'm glad that a lot of light is being shed on it."
"If you could give your sons advice about relationships or women or even what you learned from your experience, what would it be?"
"Relationships? I don't think I should be giving them advice [about that]! [Laughs] Take it slow! I'm already on them like, 'Take it slow! Enjoy your youth, your childhood. Don't rush anything.' I want my boys to be good men, obviously. I want them to, whenever they are in a relationship, to be very respectful of the person that they're with -- treat her like a queen. I want them to be patient and just wait. Don't rush into anything like their daddy did."
"In the book you talk a lot about your relationship and the whole ordeal with your ex-wife, but toward the end you write this email to her that seems like a moment of closure for you. Was it?"
"It was. I've moved on from it, and even though it continues to go on, I continue not to deal with it. I have closure. I felt that I've done all I could to this point, and I'm not going to worry about it or be concerned about it anymore. I understand that I'm not perfect. I made mistakes and I had a hand in everything that's happened to me, good and bad. For me, it was just a good way to end it."
"Your youngest son just started kindergarten. What was summer like with the boys [Wade's sons and nephew], before heading back to school? What was your best summer memory?"
"For us, when we traveled to London and Switzerland, going to Europe, taking my kids to Europe. I mean I'm 30 and I'm just traveling to these kind of places, and they're only 10 and 5 and 7 and they already travel. So I think one of my cool moments was [in] Switzerland, we took a helicopter tour of the mountains and my son looked at me and said "Dad, I don't know no kid that's done this before. This is cool." And it was kind of a proud moment for me, but I could see for him that it was touching that he was able to do something that another kid he's had a conversation with has never done before."
Read an excerpt from "A Father First" below:
March 11, 2011
At Home in Miami
Yes, it’s true -- I love the roar of the crowd. When the fans are with you, their voices come together in a big booming rush of sound that you can actually feel in your body -- almost like a wave that lifts you and carries you past your own limits.
I love the chants, the stomping of feet, the eruptions of cheers, hoots, and hollers. Besides the fact that I’m lucky to do what I love for my living, I’m blessed every day on the job with the joy of hearing fans and announcers call my name. Not to mention various nicknames -- from “D‑Wade” to “Flash” to just “#3.”
But as much as I love the music of the crowd when they’re with me, none of that comes close to the thrill of hearing my sons call out my most favorite name of all: “Daddy!” Any time, anywhere, any day.
So, needless to say, on the evening of Friday, March 11, when I open the door to greet Tragil [Wade's sister] and the boys, hearing their chorus of “Daddy! Daddy!” it’s enough to bring on another batch of tears.
Zaire bounds in first. No surprise there. But Zion somehow edges his brother out and takes a running leap up into my arms for the first hug. Swinging him up on one side of me, I lift up Zaire in my other arm. (Yeah, I’m strong.) Then, spotting Dahveon -- nicknamed Dada -- shyly standing off to the side, I gesture for him to come on over to get in on the action.
This is crazy. This is pure happiness. Tragil, fighting her tears, joins in, along with [girlfriend] Gabrielle [Union] and some of our friends who have been helping out for most of the afternoon, arranging appointments at schools, shopping for extra clothes and school supplies, measuring for the bunk beds, and making sure the kitchen’s stocked with more than a weekend’s worth of kid‑friendly food. My mantra all day to everyone has been that we need to establish a set routine that gives them a sense of normalcy and security. Routine, I’ve learned, is key.
Meanwhile, we’re all also trying to be restrained, not wanting the boys to suspect something dramatic is up. That conversation needs to happen.
But not yet.
“Let me look at you three. C’mon now.” We break out of our hug so I can admire each one of the boys, rubbing on their heads, giving each a compliment, and then more hugs. Can’t help myself. In the parenting school I come from, love and praise are fundamentals. As basic as the air we breathe. Love comes first, second, and last.
I start with my nephew Dahveon -- whose father hasn’t been on the scene regularly in his life. Same age as Zaire, Dada’s an old soul, sensitive but also fun‑loving. After his mom, my sister Deanna, gave her okay for him to start traveling with his cousins to visit me, Dada quickly became a steadying force for them. And for me. During the worst challenges of the custody battle, when my visitations with the boys were so infrequent and my relationship with Zaire was strained as a result, I’d invite Dada to come for a visit, too, and he always made Zaire feel more comfortable and able to enjoy the fun.
Dada and I high‑five and low‑five as I tell him how much I appreciate his help. So proud of himself, he struts off, then stops to show me one of the latest dance moves from Chicago.
Zaire, never one to stand still, waits excitedly to confirm that everybody’s going to the [Miami] Heat game the next day. When I assure him that the game is early enough for the three boys to attend, he does a couple of dance moves he’s learned from Dada to show his pride. Everyone cracks up. Not a shy kid whatsoever, Zaire has that ability to let his spirit lift the spirit of others. In fact, before I can say much more, he starts making small talk with the other adults in the room -- like a seasoned conversationalist. He throws in comments on everything from the latest YouTube music video he’s seen to traffic on Biscayne Boulevard. And he’s hip, too, coming up with his cool little catchphrases to respond to the adults, saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.”
“Zaire,” I start to laugh, “you don’t know nuthin’ ’bout that. You just makin’ comments like you know.” I hug him again, amused. He shrugs, enjoying my admiration, full of his nine‑year‑old swagger.
I swear, if I could live my childhood over, I wouldn’t mind being Zaire Wade at his age. He’s an all‑around cool kid, with a lot of personality, excellent athletic skills, and a real gift of gab, all on top of being very handsome. Not that I take the credit. Yeah, I see some Wade in his expressions and features but he has his mom’s eyes and lips. And that outgoing, talkative side of him is much more like her than me.
Zion got his mom’s smarts big‑time. But as far as looks go, he’s a mini-me. Pictures of me at his age look so much like him we have to check closely to tell who is who. He scans the room, making sure nobody is standing close by, and motions me closer to say something. When I lean down to hear, he jumps up again, hugging on my neck, laughing.
“Zion, you are awesome, ya know that?” I say and watch his face light up.
“I know,” he nods.
Like his brother, Zion has major confidence. For someone not even four years old, he is smart beyond his years. Sometimes too smart. It’s crazy how well he can converse with adults. Being a Gemini, though, he can be as standoffish as he can be friendly.
Unlike Zaire, who is Mr. Mayor, holding court wherever he goes, Zion looks at everyone with a crooked eye. Takes him a while to warm up. When he does, though, he loves you unconditionally. But he’s very careful in general, which to me, someone who now most likely has some trust issues of my own, might be a good thing. In some ways, because the boys were prevented from seeing me for long periods, Zion and I are just getting to know each other. We’re definitely going to be making up for lost time.
One of the many special traits that I admire about Zion is how he is just his own little person. He doesn’t feel the need to be as passionate about basketball -- say, like Zaire and Dada, who are both getting into it as players. Especially Zaire. Zion likes getting into the mix but apparently he has his own dreams. I’m not sure what they are yet, but whatever he throws himself into in the coming years, I mean -- watch out world!
When our arriving travelers hear snacks being offered, the three boys dash off together to the kitchen to see what Rich has cooking.
This is when Tragil and I have a chance to talk and hug again in relief and joy. A few people close to us understand the hell of these last several years but she is perhaps the only person who has been there at almost every step of my journey. Right now, Tragil knows that I have my own process for making decisions and that I’m intensely thinking through how to talk to the boys about the custody news. She also knows that part of that process, painful as it is, involves reflecting on the past and our own childhood.
My sister has always said that one of her jobs in the family has been to remember everything that’s happened along the way. “So I can remind you in case you forget” is what she says.
Not that I’ve forgotten anything. It’s just that up until now, I’ve had to block a lot of it out.
But no more. If I want to be the Daddy I promised myself as a child that I was going to be, it’s time to go back there and do the remembering myself.
Posted with permission from William Morrow. Copyright © 2012 Dwyane Wade.