By Amanda Johnson
“Amanda, get back!”
I can recognize my dad’s voice anywhere. Even in the middle of a crowded high school gym, filled with sounds of noisy students, the ref’s blaring whistle and cheering parents. My dad was definitely not one of those cheering parents.
He was the screaming one.
“Dad, stop! Be quiet!”
I screamed right back from the court.
I was in first grade the first time I picked up a basketball. The church my family attended had a youth basketball league and was desperately in need of coaches. My dad, a dentist who had no previous coaching experience, eagerly decided to volunteer to sign up to coach the first and second grade girls team — which I had no interest in joining. I was heavily involved in cheerleading and wanted no part of an activity that didn’t require dancing, makeup or cute uniforms. It took a lot of convincing from my dad to get me to come to a practice. One brand new My Little Pony to be exact. But once my bright pink fingernails touched that ball for the first time, I was hooked. So hooked, the next day I quit cheerleading.
My dad coached my basketball team until fifth grade, but even after that, he was still my coach. Even when I began to play for different coaches, he was the only voice I listened to.
I remember on game days my dad would drag me out of bed and hurry me downstairs so that we could run over plays. He would use different types of vitamin containers to symbolize different players. Vitamin C was always on offense. Calcium was always on defense. Afterward, we would head to the backyard so I could warm up. Our backyard was small, but my dad still managed to make room for a basketball goal — the only present I wanted for Christmas that year. He would stand in the middle of our tall grass, since the compact concrete space only had room for one of us, and pass me the ball. I would step to the pass, catch, square up and shoot.
I was known for my shooting. By high school, I had finally grown, reaching 5’10, allowing me to post up, but I still had outside range from all my years playing as a guard. As a junior at my small, private high school in northwest Oklahoma City, I finished second in the state in scoring in Class 2A. That same year, I took four AP classes. Balancing basketball and rigorous academics was no easy task, but my dad always knew I would be successful.
All the work over the years had paid off. All the times he got on my last nerve by critiquing my performance, every shouting match we engaged in over my defensive effort, the countless arguments we endured over me not working hard in practice had all led to a successful high school career. He instilled in me hard work, staying focused and being confident in my abilities. My dad knew it was always bigger than just basketball.
I can’t remember my dad missing a single game over the course of 12 years. That’s the kind of dad he is. And sometimes, it drove me crazy. Why did he felt the need to come to every game? No one else’s dad went to every game.
My dad always knew where he wanted to go, but he didn’t always know how to get there.
Growing up in Oklahoma City during the 1960s was difficult, filled with economic hardships and high unemployment rates. There was certainly no Devon Tower or Chesapeake Energy Arena lighting up the skyline. My dad lived with his half-brother, mother and father in a tiny two bedroom and one bathroom house in the middle of a dense downtown neighborhood. His mother and father both had previous marriages, and although there was a lot of love, a lot of brokenness encapsulated their home.
My dad scored a 16 on his ACT. A high school football star, academics were hardly a priority for him. He was caught up in the popular crowd, while his parents worked late every night at the small northwest Oklahoma City liquor store they owned to make ends meet, investing little time and attention to what was going on in his life. Soon, senior year came, and reality set in.
My dad’s high school academic counselor asked what his plans were for the future. My dad told her that he wanted to go to college to become a dentist — his dream since first grade. She looked at him warily and said, “Chuck, have you thought about trade school?”
It wasn’t until the end of his sophomore year of college that my dad finally questioned if he would ever get there. As a lifelong Sooner, fan my dad loved the University of Oklahoma, but his grades were poor, and he was distracted. So the next two years, he moved home, transferred to the University of Central Oklahoma and locked himself in his room — only leaving to attend his classes on campus. He raised his grades significantly, but his first two years had hurt him, and his chances of getting into dental school were slim to none.
He got rejected from every dental school he applied to but one. But one was all he needed.
Charles Johnson graduated from dental school from the University of Louisville in the top 10 percent of his class. But the adversity he faced along the way was real, it was challenging, but it never stopped him from believing in himself and his dream. Even when no one else thought it was attainable, my dad always knew it was.
He always knew he would get there.
Just like he knew I would grab the rebound. Get that steal. Hit that shot.
I am a junior at the University of Oklahoma and no longer play basketball. But to me, the impact my dad has on me is bigger than basketball — although it took me a while to see it.
I will never forget the day I moved into my cramped dorm on the sixth floor in Adams Tower. The reality of being away from home had not yet set in, as I casually hugged my parents goodbye and was confident that I would be so enthralled with all college had to offer that I wouldn’t miss them all that much.
I was wrong.
A week later, I called my parents crying to come home, but it was my dad who persuaded me to stay. I will never forget what he told me that day. Between all my tears, I managed to pause and listen to his words, “Don’t give up just because it seems hard. Your dreams are worth pursuing no matter what stands in your way. If I can become a dentist, you can become anything. I believe in you.”
My time at the University of Oklahoma has shaped and changed me more than I could ever have imagined. College was an enormous culture shock and a challenging adjustment for me coming from a sheltered high school. But I learned from many of my dad’s mistakes while forging my own path.
I don’t always know where to go, but I know how to get there — working hard, remaining focused and being confident in my abilities. Although I am still working on that last one.
The University of Oklahoma has allowed me to meet incredible people, many from different backgrounds than my own. These people have taught me so much, and many of their stories have made me grateful. In a country today where more than one in four children lives without a dad, college has made me feel ashamed. Ashamed of what I took for granted growing up, ashamed of what I still have today. While I was so worried about my dad screaming from the stands, I now often wonder what many kids would give to have their dad be as invested in their lives as my dad is in mine.
Many uncertainties fill my life right now. I don’t know what I envision myself doing in the future, and my mind is often flooded with fear and self-doubt. I often find it hard to believe in myself. But in the back of my mind, I remember how lucky I am that I have someone who does. I always hear his voice.
“I believe in you.”
I know Dad, I know.