By MIKE HERNDON
Everybody likes to say they have no regrets, but anyone who tells you that with a straight face is probably lying. If we think about it, all of us have things in our pasts that we’d have done differently if given another chance – unfortunate words we’d take back, ill-advised decisions we’d reverse, passed-up opportunities we’d jump to take.
One of those regrets for me in a 23-year journalism career might have been passing up the opportunity to take an SEC college beat. I had a couple opportunities in the mid-2000s – one of which I feel like I would have likely gotten, had I pursued it – and taking one of them would have filled a big hole in my resume. I’d covered high school sports for longer than most people stay at it, mostly because I enjoyed it, and I helped out on college and pro assignments when needed. The next step would’ve been covering Auburn or Alabama, two top-tier college beats. There aren’t many better jobs in the country for covering college football.
But I had two young daughters at home at the time and our Alabama and Auburn beat writers were based in Mobile back then – meaning they were on the road the entire fall and quite a bit during the rest of the year too. If you’re not in Tuscaloosa or Auburn, there’s a good chance you’re missing something. One guy who covered Auburn for us for a while basically lived in a hotel in Auburn and paid for an apartment in Mobile he almost never slept in.
I’d have missed a lot. I’d have missed school functions and field trips. I’d have missed plays and dance recitals. I’d have missed soccer games and swim lessons. I felt like I’d have missed being a dad.
I ended up attaining my career goal anyway, becoming a sports columnist at the mid-sized daily where I worked – a role I loved for the several years I got to do it until a reorganization and a massive layoff changed my workplace and my role, and ultimately led to my departure from the industry a few years later – thankfully, on my own terms.
I thought about all that again this week when I heard the sad news about Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people perishing in a helicopter crash in California. The plight of Bryant and the other parents on that helicopter, who had gotten on it to take their kids to a basketball camp and faced the end knowing there was nothing they could do to help their kids, is too horrific to even think about for very long.
But I do find myself thinking about a video that circulated around Twitter a day later in which Bryant explained why he started using helicopters. It was so he could spend more time with his daughters and less time in traffic going to and from practice.
“My wife was like: ‘Listen, I can pick them up,'” he said. “I’m like, ‘No, no, no. I want to do that. Because you have road trips and times where you don’t see your kids. So every chance I get to see them and spend time with them, even if it’s 20 minutes in the car, I want that.”
It couldn’t have been easy, all that flying around, just to drive his kids home from school. But as someone who has made more than a few carpool runs (though not nearly as many as my better half), I get it. You want to make the most of the time that you have, even if it’s just driving them home from school, even if it’s just to listen to them complain about math class or soccer practice.
These are the small sacrifices we make as parents. Just a couple weeks ago, we spent three days and a bunch of money in Atlanta while my 14-year-old competed in a swim meet. Like Kobe and the other parents on that helicopter, we never thought about the possibility of getting into an accident on the way. It could have just as easily happened to us.
Several years ago, that very thing happened to another parent in our swim club, who died in an accident on the way home from a meet in Tennessee. The City of Mobile Swim Association now gives out an award named for her at their annual banquet.
I was never a big fan of Bryant the basketball player. I blamed him when Shaquille O’Neal left and the early 2000s Lakers broke apart, realizing only later that there was plenty of blame to go around and Shaq was nearing the end of his prime anyway. I never cared for his Heroball style of play, though he was one of the greatest shooters of all time. And like some other sports fans, the sexual assault allegations against him in 2003 left me somewhat conflicted as to whether I should be cheering for him at all.
Bryant, like all humans, was flawed. But it seems evident that like most humans, he grew as a person. He discovered what was really important. And he gave back – to the game that made him famous, to the people who helped him along the way, to his fellow competitors, to people he didn’t even really know.
It’s clear, from the outpouring of grief around the NBA and other professional leagues, that he was an inspiration to a generation of athletes. It’s also clear from the way he led his life that he loved his daughters. That love and the world’s reaction to it have spawned the hashtag #GirlsDad this week, with thousands of proud dads sharing thousands of photos of their daughters.
As someone who’s been wrapped around my little girls’ fingers since I first saw them, who has now spent nearly as much time on pool decks as I once did in press boxes, who not only doesn’t need a map at Disney World but can tell when something’s been replaced, that hit home with me this week. That’s how I’ll remember Kobe.
I guess I can’t really say I regret passing up that beat job. Thousands of parents have made similar decisions, and even tougher ones. I sometimes wonder where it might have led, whether I might have been able to manage it and not miss as much as I thought I would. But then I remember that my wife already felt like I was gone all the time as it was, and she was juggling the demands of parenthood and her own career as well.
My oldest will be leaving for college next year and I’m thankful that I had as much time with her as I did. It still seems too short.
If renting a helicopter would get me a little more time, I’d do it too.