Let's Play Another
An excerpt from The Wit and Wisdom of Rick DuFour and How He Stood Up To Cancer
Author: Matthew DuFour
Rick DuFour is an accomplished leader, author, lecturer, and team builder. He’s traveled the world spreading his message to hundreds of thousands of educators and sold over two million books. By anyone’s standards, he is an impressive, successful man. But work isn’t everything, right? What about family? Friends? Which of these suffered because of Rick’s dedication to success? The older I get, the more I am truly in awe because the answer to that question is none of them. Rick DuFour is a great friend, brother and husband, as other chapters in this book will undoubtedly show you, but this chapter is about how Rick DuFour is a great dad and I feel honored for the chance to share this story.
At the same time Rick was formulating and executing the (now widely celebrated) concepts of the PLC at WorkTM process, he was teaching me to ride a bike, shoot a jump shot, throw a spiral, do a crossover dribble, and hit a forehand. We played catch for hours. We would practice running football routes in the back yard with friends from the block. Our favorite play was the down and out and long, and we executed it to perfection countless times in neighborhood football games. As a middle school kid, he would take me to the park and challenge “grown ups” to games of 2 on 2 (we usually kicked their butts). In junior high he brought me to the Sunday morning faculty basketball game at Stevenson and always made sure we were on the same team. He came to all of my baseball and basketball games from grade school to high school.
Of course, he helped me with my homework and stayed on top of my performance at school, too. He got mad if I didn’t do my homework, or mow the lawn properly (flash to me whipping around the yard on the riding mower in the fastest gear so I could finish faster and go play with friends). That’s part of a dad’s job after all, eh?
In truth, I have a lifetime of memories with my old man that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Each of those activities above - and many more - have their own anecdotes that show how caring and thoughtful he is and how much I have learned from him, but here I will focus on one of my very favorite father/son activities, our nightly ping pong challenges.
I was lucky enough to have a Ping Pong table in the basement and as you can guess, dad taught me how to play. As I grew older (grade school to junior high-ish), our friendly games of Ping Pong became all out battles, but still, he was the master and I was the grasshopper. He made sure that the games were close, especially early on, so I felt like I had a fighting chance, but I never could beat him. It drove me crazy. So I’d invite friends from the neighborhood to play and I’d spend hours and hours playing all of my friends to practice so that when dad came home from work, I could take a shot at the title.
I used to spend a couple of weeks in the summers at my Grandparents’ house and in their basement they had a Ping Pong table, too. You could barely even see that it was there under the 40+ years of knick knacks that were piled on top of it, but my grandfather and I cleared that baby off and played every day for multiple summers so that I could continue to hone my Ping Pong skills while away from my “home court”. You get the point, I was dead serious about Ping Pong and by god, I was going to beat Dad at Ping Pong or die trying.
I must have been in 7th or 8th grade. Dad came home from work and I was there waiting, Ping Pong paddles in hand (as usual), waiting for my shot at greatness. This, mind you, was probably our 200th Ping Pong match with a lifetime score of Dad - 200, Matt - 0. Dad was damn good at Ping Pong. But there was something special about that day. Maybe it was because I had spent hours earlier playing with friends and whipped all their butts, but whatever it was, I was feeling good. Let’s do this.
We played a grueling match, best of three games. I won the first set (which almost never happened). Dad barely took the second set, but he did. Imagine an Olympic Ping Pong match, with points lasing forever, sweat dripping from each opponent and oh so much pressure. That’s how I remember it at least. I’m pretty sure I was the only one sweating (or feeling any pressure for that matter) but... this was it. This was my chance. The third set was for all the marbles and I was going to win this time! And guess what, I did! The third set was close, but I won. I celebrated like a classy gentleman (a.k.a. running around the basement screaming and jumping around and dancing). Then it happened………
After my completely obnoxious sore winner dance was completed, Dad called me back to the table and said calmly, “let’s play another.” Now this next part happens in slow motion whenever I remember it. As he said, “let’s play another,” he flipped the Ping Pong paddle from his left hand to his right and cracked the slightest smile. That’s when it hit me… like a ton of bricks. HE’S BEEN PLAYING LEFT HANDED THIS WHOLE TIME!?!?!!?!?!
You guessed it. Dad is right handed and it took me another two years before I was finally able to beat him consistently. Then we moved our rivalry to the tennis court, which is a whole other story. (Lifetime score: Dad - 317, Matt - 3)
This is truly a memory I will always cherish and one of my favorite Rick DuFour stories. Within it are many of the lessons he has taught me over the years, most notably (a) success is achieved via hard work and a commitment to excellence, (b) though unforeseen obstacles may arise and challenges may mark your path, don’t lose site of your goals, and most of all (c) that being a father is about being there, no matter how tired you may be, to challenge your children to be their best, to push them beyond what they think is possible and to always take time to create shared memories together filled with love and happiness.
This story is one of many tributes to Rick DuFour included in the charitable book project, The Wit and Wisdom of Rick DuFour. To learn more about the project and purchase a physical or digital copy of the book, click the button below.