A Father First - How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball is a well written and moving biography of NBA superstar Dwyane Wade and his determination to be a superstar father. A Father First traces D-Wade's life from childhood in Chicago's Southside through his basketball career, his marriage, divorce and very public custody battle for his two sons Zaire and Zion. His commitment to responsible fatherhood as he raises his sons as a single father with a job that takes him out of town much of the basketball season is an example to all fathers whatever their situation.
And in a time when many professional athletes have abandoned children and family responsibilities, Wade had become an amazing role model for fathers everywhere.
The story of the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade is certainly inspiring from a basketball perspective. Growing up on the south side of Chicago living with a loving but drug-addicted mom, divorced from his dad, playing basketball in the mean streets and then coming to a place where he is at the pinnacle of NBA success is a true rags-to-riches story. The skills he developed in the streets of Chicago and honed at Marquette University have served him well in the NBA.
But the story of his youth and his learning the importance of being drug-free, crime-free, gang-free and family committed is even more inspiring. While A Father First is clearly an autobiography, it is written from the perspective of learning the importance of family and how that attitude has impacted every aspect of Wade's life and career.
He sees clearly that he is a better basketball player and team member because of his commitment to family and particularly to his sons.
Dwyane Wade's mother and father separated and divorced before he had his first birthday. He stayed with his mother who succumbed, like most of her siblings, to drugs and crime.
Dwyane's older sister Tragil took on the role of primary caregiver as his mother battled her addiction demons and was in and out of jail. Dwyane relied on Tragil and his grandmother for stability and nenjoyed occasional visits with his dad.
While Dwyane was yet a child, Tragil took him on the bus to his father's home (telling Dwyane they were going to the movies), left him playing basketball with his dad's girlfriend's kids and told the father that they were going to lose Dwyane to the gangs if he didn't step up and raise him. Dwyane's dad did just that and set Dwyane onto the path toward success.
Playing basketball through high school and college allowed Dwyane to find new stability in his coaches and teams. Much of his basketball skill he attributes to his father who mentored and coached him, and his trajectory toward success was furthered by amazing coaches and teammates.
Dwyane's journey through life included marriage and having two sons, Zaire and Zion. They were the light of his life from their births forward and he worked hard to build relationships with them even through the rigors of his NBA career. After Dwyane and his wife separated and divorced, the boys' mother retained primary custody and stayed in Chicagol, visiting him in Miami as often as possible.
The story of the divorce and the custody battle were well documented in the press. Dwyane's ex subjected the boys to classic parental alienation, which eventually led Dwyane to conclude that if he were to have any relationship at all with them as they grew up, he would need to obtain legal sole custody. The accusations from the boys' mom toward Dwyane flew through the press, all intended to deter him from seeking custody and to win it in the end. Allegations of abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and more played out in the popular media. But in the end, Dwyane was successful in gaining legal custody.
The story is truly heartbreaking, especially from the perspective of the boys. Dwyane has tried to maintain a good attitude and he still believes that children are best served by having both parents having good influences in their lives.
He has been committed to the visitation standards imposed in the custody decree and the boys still have a loving relationship with their mom. But Dwyane won the battle that so many fathers face today and offers hope to those having similar experiences.
The Bottom Line
Having heard from so many fathers trying to combat parental alienation and fighting to gain custody of their children, I was excited to read A Father First. It lived up to my expectations in every way. First, it is an interesting autobiography of a man who is successful in so many ways and who got there overcoming serious odds. His story is inspiring on so many levels, and I know that fathers particularly will be able to identify with his story.
It seems to be cool in some elements of popular culture for men to walk away from family responsibilities. It seems particularly so among many professional athletes. But D-Wade breaks the mold in that regard. Here stands a father who came from the same challenging background of multiple generations from homes without a father, and yet who fought against the odds to take responsibility for his sons and raise them by teaching responsibility by precept and example.
A Father First is a must-read for any man who values fatherhood. It is a plus to have a passion for basketball, but any dad will appreciate the story, the example and the commitment. The book is well written, easy to follow and hard to put down. The depictions of life in the streets are vivid, as are the experiences that gave him purpose in escaping that life and learning to embrace the elements of personal responsibility and success.
If you are looking for an inspiring and fascinating read, then order A Father First. You will be glad you took the time to read and appreciate the example of responsible fatherhood that Dwyane Wade has shared with the world.