Nerdy Dad Learns Coaching’s Real Lesson

I’ve been a nerd for almost 58 years now.

Years ago, the greatest shame of my brothers was that I had absolutely no athletic talent. The great thing about adoption is that you don’t rely on genetics. And as it turns out, I won the post-adoption genetic lottery, as my son Zane is the fastest boy in school.

But not his younger brother, Aidan. Oh, he’s very smart about things like bats navigating by echolocation, but on the sports field, he has always stood in Zane’s shadow.

Basketball season started in November. I knew my limitations. But there were no coaches available for third grade.

Lionel, another dad, walked up to me and said, “Hey, I don’t know much about this sport, either; you want to try coaching the boys in basketball?”

I replied, “What, did they run out of straight dads already?”

He said, “I don’t care whether we win or lose, but I do care about the time that we get to spend with the boys.” He wasn’t asking the gay dad at the school. He was asking another dad. I was hooked.

We told the boys to practice dribbling and being friends. One of the league’s shortest teams, they lived by the motto, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.” They ended the season six and one, the league’s best record.

Here’s what I learned: The job of a father is to believe.

We’d had a rough non-sport season. Zane got suspended four times; Aidan, not getting as much attention, went on an Attention Deficit Disorder of Atomic Proportions.

So there we were at the final game, and I was sweating when to give Aidan his ADHD medication so that it would peak during the game.

I told Coach Lionel he didn’t need to play Aidan more than a quarter. There’s something about sports that brings out the straight man in every gay man. I admit it. I wanted to win.

Coach Lionel looked me in the eye and said, “I’m playing Aidan in the first quarter. And I’m going to keep playing him because he knows what to do and I believe in him.”

Aidan, who plays defense, remembered everything we had ever said to him. He stood there, unblinking, as their forward tried to drive him down.

We were down at the half. I asked the team, “Who are we doing this for?” and they yelled “FAMILY!”

And in that moment, the outcome of the game no longer mattered. What mattered was that these Irish and Latino families looked at the Fisher-Paulsons as part of the family.

The bleachers erupted. We caught up 11 to 10. They fired off a shot at 11 seconds to go, and we were down 12 to 10. With two seconds to go, Jonathan took the shot of the year, and, amazingly, we won 13-12.

I shouted, then I walked up to Aidan: “Thank you for showing me it doesn’t matter how much you know about basketball.”

Aidan asked, “What really matters, Daddy?”

I looked at Coach Lionel. He had known the answer long before I did.

“Believing in your own son. When you do that, even a nerd can coach a winning team.”


Kevin Fisher-Paulson is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist and captain of the honor guard with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. A longer version of this story first appeared on, an online community that helps gay dads navigate fatherhood.

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