My parents split the summer before I started 5th grade – a time when kids start trying to prioritize friends over family. I imagine it was difficult for my suddenly-single father to try to connect to my sister and me, two tween girls obsessed with *NSYNC and Lip Smackers -- things he didn't quite understand. Despite our differences, my dad managed to create a close bond with us through his ultimate obsessions: the Syracuse University basketball team and the NCAA college basketball tournament.
I believe that I'm close with my dad because my parents are divorced. College basketball is a common interest I share with just him (my mom is a fan, but less extreme) which guarantees I'll turn to him first to chat about games. I encourage all single parents to find an activity that they share with a child as a way to bond.
One thing's for sure – my dad didn't strategically plan any of this out; but what he did worked! Here's how my father used March Madness to bond with my sister and me:
Start 'em young: The Syracuse Basketball obsession has been passed down through generations of the Assimon family (who live in Syracuse, NY; I'm from Rochester, NY), so it's no surprise that I received a stuffed version of Otto the Orange, SU's mascot, from my extended family when I was born. Six weeks later, I was already "watching" games with my Dad.
Get Them in on the Fun: Game time is "Dad Time." My dad has always had four basketball season tickets to games at the Carrier Dome so neither of us were left out. If the game was away, we'd go to our Dad's house to watch them on TV. Aside from games, our family donated to the team, so we'd attend events like team practices and special dinners with the players. My sister even joined the 'Cuse Kids Club (I was too old) and went to fun events thrown by the team with my dad.
Force Them to Get in on the Fun: By the time middle school came around, going to an event with either parent just wasn't appealing. In order to spend time with his tweens, my dad always let one of us use our extra season ticket to bring a friend. Win-win.
Immerse Them in March Madness: My earliest memory of March Madness was in 1996 when Syracuse made it to the Final Four. I've never seen my dad act that happy about a basketball game before (the team can always do better in his eyes) and I realized that the NCAA tournament was special. It was an exciting time for our entire family and I've never looked at March the same way.
He started hosting tournament viewing parties at his home, and whenever Buffalo or Syracuse hosted early rounds of the tournament, he'd take us for the thrill of the experience. My dad and sister went to New Orleans in 2003 when the Orange won the National Championship, and to Atlanta last year when SU made it to the finals.
We've also participated in his office pool for as long as I can remember.
Get Them to Go to That School: It's no surprise that I went to Syracuse University for college. This was a dream come true for the both of us: I LOVED everything about the school and my dad LOVED that I had proximity to the players. I'd get many calls from him asking me to see if injured players looked like they were limping when I passed them on campus or if I would I ask my friends at the radio station if they'd heard anything about a rumor he saw on message boards. Sure, it was annoying, but at least it got us talking!
Continue the Fandom Into Adulthood: When I moved to New York City after college, my dad would take me to the Big East Tournament (back when Syracuse was in the Big East). It was great father-daughter bonding time, plus he got to experience a bit of my adult life. In a few weeks we'll embark on the ultimate March Madness experience – we're going to the Final Four (my first time) in Dallas! (Aside from basketball, another reason we're going is to meet up with my sister who works for the NCAA and will be working at the tournament!)
March Madness is especially important to me now that I usually only travel home for holidays. It's wonderful that we have a common love of college basketball to bring us together; I'm very lucky and so thankful to have such a loving father who so successfully passed one of his hobbies on to my sister and me.
Photo: Me, my dad, and my sister at the Carrier Dome for the Syracuse vs. Duke game in February 2014.
Bond with your kids over craft time with these cool ideas.