There isn’t a game that’s too big for Dwyane Wade. The eight-time NBA All-Star and two-time world champion guard for the Miami Heat has long been seen as a role model on and off the basketball court. Now, the 30- year-old has chronicled his life in his new book, “A Father First.” In it, Wade explains what it means to him to be a father to his two sons, Zaire and Zion. He also discusses his troubled childhood growing up on the South Side of Chicago: Wade spent much of his early life watching his mother battle drug addiction, and was sent to live with his father at the age of eight, where he learned discipline and skill in basketball and in life.
Wade will read from his book at at Politics and Prose Saturday, and talked with The RootDC about the open and communicative relationship he’s developed with his children and how he now understands the decisions his father made in raising him.
Growing up, your father assumed full custody of you when you were eight. Did you feel that history was repeating itself when you were given full custody of your boys, Zion and Zaire?
It was done a little differently, but I did look at certain situations and the timing of a lot of it. It was kind of weird how some of the things that your parents did, you thought that you would never do and you didn’t want to do — it ended up being some of the similar things in our own life. I think I do credit my dad for even giving me the confidence to even go and fight for custody in a sense, because he took me in when I was young.
It seems that you are very big on every aspect of your life being used as a “teachable moment” to convey to your sons how to turn negative moments — like losing a game — into positive aspects in your life.
I’m the kind of guy that I always use my own experiences in life as a teacher. Not only for me, but when I talk to others I feel the best way to get through to them is sharing your experiences. Basketball can really teach you a lot about who you are. It can teach you a lot about life lessons as well. I do use basketball as a tool for my boys because they enjoy it.
Both your sons love basketball right now and enjoy what they are learning from the game. How will you handle their exploring different interests once they get older?
I’m the kind of dad [who wants] them to be happy with whatever they choose in life — to do or to be. I’m not saying “You gotta play basketball!” because I know how hard it is. I know I’ve set the bar pretty high, so I know how hard it is to live up to that expectation. It’s a lot, but whatever they want to do and whatever they feel comfortable and confident doing I’m going to support it, if it’s sports or if it’s not sports.
Because of your career, your children have been afforded an amazing childhood, one that you could have only dreamed of growing up on Chicago’s South Side. How will you teach your boys about staying humble and being grounded?
I try to teach responsibility and I have to use the tools that’s in front of me. So right now the biggest tool I have to use is school. How they act at school — how they respect others, the grades that they bring in — everything about that is what I use as a tool to make them responsible, and understanding that you have to work for the things you want. Daddy will take care of the things that you need, but the things that you want you have to work for, and these are the criteria. Just trying slowly to start with that, and then we’ll move into other things.
How do you plan to maintain the strong relationship that you have built with them as they get older?
I want them to respect me as their father, as the disciplinarian, but I also want them to communicate with me. I think the way that I feel that will help them out is them understanding that Daddy will be as open and honest with them as possible. Any questions they have, any situation comes up, I’m there. I’m cool, I’m fun and I also want the best for you. I want to make sure that you have that, whether you like it or not. It’s not always going to be yes, but feel comfortable enough to come to me. It’s just about communication.
You emphasize in the book that you want the boys to know and have a relationship with their mother, even though you currently have full custody of your children. How will you ensure they know her and are aware of their impact in her life as they grow up?
I only can control what I can control. What I control is making sure when it’s time for them to get on the phone and speak with her they do that, and when it’s time for them to go visit her, they go visit her — they’re there. And make sure I keep pouring positiveness into them with their mother. I never speak negative. . . . I always try to be positive and let them know that their mother loves them.
Being a father now and being in the leadership role for your boys, have you been able to go back and think about the experiences you had with your father and understand the reasoning behind some of the decisions he made?
Yes, yes I have. I’ve been able to even tell my dad “I apologize.” Once you become a father — once you become a parent — you really start to understand a little bit more of your parent’s decisions that they made. . . . You understand that they have to make the hard decisions. I understand now what my dad had to do and did do, and I’m not saying that everything was great . . . but I understand that I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.
What is the biggest thing that you have learned about yourself since assuming full custody of your sons?
That I’m able to adapt very well to any situation, and that I will do the work that it takes to adapt. I think I’ve always known that, but it’s really shown its face because no one tells you how to be a dad. I’ve taken classes, but it still doesn’t tell you how if they do X you do Y. And even though I’ve got a lot of work to do, I think I’m doing okay.
Wade will sign books on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave NW.