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Q&A: Dwyane Wade on Being 'A Father First'

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Dwyane Wade is an eight-time NBA All-Star and two-time world champion guard for the Miami Heat. One of the most popular players in the league, Wade has lately been drawing praise for his performance off the court.

Wade is a single full-time father of two, a distinction unprecedented for an athlete of his caliber and notoriety. But the 30-year-old survived a troubled childhood of his own on Chicago’s South Side, and fought hard to gain full custody of his two sons, Zaire and Zion, after a very public and bitter 2007 divorce from his high school sweetheart, Siohvaughn Funches.

Now, the all-star athlete has chronicled his life in his new book, “A Father First” in which Wade explains what fatherhood means to him. It’s a genuinely touching book that is remarkable for having been written by a role model to thousands of boys and young men.

With great heart and tenderness, Wade recounts an at-risk childhood spent dodging gang recruiters and watching his mother slide into addiction. He was sent to live with his father at the age of 8 at the urging of his older sister. It was there that he learned discipline and the rudiments of basketball – and life.

All the while there was clearly something inside driving him to exceed expectations and strive for more. Now that he’s achieved greatness on the court, Wade’s devotion to his sons is all the more moving when you consider the countless other lifestyle choices a rich and famous single young athlete could make for himself.

Wade spoke with Parenting.com about his book, fatherhood and shooting hoops with Barack Obama. Excerpts:

Why write this book?
To lend myself as an example, share my life experiences, share my failures--my divorce, my mom being addicted to drugs, everything I deal with in my life. There are other people in the world dealing with the same issues I did. And these issues don’t have a color. I focus on everything.

What was your experience putting it down in writing?
This is a time where a lot of positive light is being shown on being a good father and an understanding that there is a need for it. There is a generational moment of people speaking out about it more so than not.  Once I started writing down everything I went through, people would approach me about it. And either it was them wanting advice, or them telling me that what I was going through resonated with them.

Where did this deep-seated desire to be a good father come from?
I just feel like I was bred to be and wanted to be a dad.

Does it worry you that you’ve raised the bar for yourself to be a good dad awfully high by putting this out there?
[Laughs.] As I say in the book, I don’t have all the answers. We all make mistakes. There is no guide to being the best dad in the world. I tell my kids I am going to learn just as much from them as they are from me.

What’s the key to being a good father, for you?
You have to understand the personalities of your kids. You can’t parent each the same way. I know how--and what--to give them. I know how much love and encouragement they need. It’s not like when a situation comes up and X happens, Y is how you deal with it. I do it depending on the child, depending on what they need, depending on their history.

Your own relationship with your father has had its ups and downs.
From a positive standpoint, he instilled in me the drive to work hard, and the stuff he taught me in the game of basketball you can use in the game of life. His shortcomings became strengths for me and made me want to work harder and be better. And hopefully the same is true for my kids--they’ll work harder and be better than me.

By all accounts you seem like you’re trying to put the divorce and custody fight behind you. In the book you reprint a thoughtful, moving email to your ex. Have you guys gotten closure at all since the book came out?
She’s not ready yet, but hopefully one day.

You played basketball with the president at the White House. How’s Obama’s game?
[Laughs.] He’s actually a pretty decent basketball player. He’s a point guard. He dishes the ball, doesn’t shoot a lot. He could play low division 2 basketball somewhere.

Is Miami going to go all the way this year?
Man. I wish I knew.

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