After a lengthy and well-orchestrated campaign by my two young sons, I finally purchased a basketball standard for the driveway. It’s the typical rolling model with height adjustment for the rim and a large base to fill with water or sand.
The rim is a bit small — it seems to clunk out more of my 3-pointers than other hoops I’ve used — but that’s another story.
One recent evening, my youngest took advantage of being home alone with me to shoot around without having his older brother there to block his shot. As I mowed our front lawn, he two-hand heaved from every angle. The rim was at regulation height, 10 feet, and most of his attempts barely brushed the bottom of the net.
After a few passes with the mower, I took a break and lowered the rim to its lowest setting. We played together for a few minutes and I showed off my soaring, rim-thundering, ground-shaking LeBron James dunk.
I also demonstrated how to miss that dunk, but only for instructional purposes.
Soon I was back to mowing, and each time I crossed the driveway, I watched him make at least one attempt. After several minutes on the side of the house and out of view, I passed back in front and spotted my son standing on the base and straddling the pole. He’d released the latch that secures the rim and backboard in place and was pushing up as hard as he could.
I quickly killed the mower. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to get it back to the top,” he answered without looking away from his project.
It was an odd case of father-son question-and-answer role reversal.
“Because I want to shoot at the regular dad height.”
I approached and helped him remove the pin that would allow the hydraulic mechanism to raise the hoop. Then, I did exactly what any thick-headed dad would do — I told him he wouldn’t make many shots at the regulation height.
“That’s why they make it adjustable, bud.” I tousled his mop of sweaty brown hair.
Reflecting on the exchange, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment he quit listening to me.
“Look,” I continued, “it has different heights so you can shoot at the kid levels until you’re bigger.”
All right, maybe it’s not so hard to pinpoint the exact moment he quit listening to me.
He galloped into the yard, retrieved the ball and began taking and missing shots at the 10-foot height. He missed from close, he missed from far away, he backed all the way down the driveway and took a long and winding road to a layup. His eyes were locked on the rim and he carried the ball most of the way, running fast and stopping a few feet from the rim.
Eager to make another "dad mistake," I offered to lower the rim for him before returning to my yardwork.
“Nope,” he said before missing another shot, and another, and another, then one more. I smiled and stepped back to the mower. But before restarting it, I turned and watched another attempt. He launched with both hands and we heard the unmistakable clank of the ball hitting the rim.
“Almost!” he shouted, and his head swung around to check whether I’d seen it or not.
Finally, for the first time all evening, I did something right. I invited him to keep shooting and promised not to leave until he’d made one. I chased his misses into the garage, the yard, the neighbor’s yard, the bushes and the road.
Some were close.
Some hit him in the head.
Then, with all his might, he aimed for the square on the backboard and pushed the ball from his chest with every ounce of little boy energy he could muster. The ball hit the square and nearly every inch of the rim. As it fell through the net, he raised his noodle arms high over his head.
I raised my arms, too.
“Yes!” we shouted together, and I raced to give him a high-five. But he was already chasing the ball down for another attempt.
Back at work, I watched my all-star miss many more shots that night than he took. But I smiled knowing he was shooting at the 'dad height.' "
Later, as we said goodnight, he thanked me for playing basketball.
"You're welcome," I whispered. "But you did a lot more than play ball."
That night, a son taught a dad that lowering the hoop, or personal expectations, may be a missed shot for giant success — 10 feet higher than expected.
Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and "The Wednesday Letters." Learn more at jasonfwright.com, or connect on Facebook at facebook.com/jfwbooks or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.