I'm on the road a lot during the NBA season. Needless to say, I miss my sons, Zaire, who's 9, and Zion, 4, so much when I'm gone. As a single dad with sole custody of my children, keeping the lines of communication open while I'm traveling is the top priority. Zaire has a BlackBerry, and he loves to text and use instant messaging. Some days, we exchange up to 50 messages between us. Zion keeps asking if he can have his own phone, but I told him he has to wait until he's at least 7. For now, phone calls and Skype will have to do.
When I'm away, we always set aside a specific time to talk every day, no matter what. I was recently in China, but we still had our daily phone call. I always ask how their day was. Even though I'm not there, I still want to share in the experience of being home: something new they learned in school that day, or an accomplishment they made on the basketball court. It comes down to two words: attention and affection. You never want your children to have to look outside of their parents for those two things.
Zion and Zaire occasionally do get into trouble, and they don't always save it for when I'm home. Even if I'm on the other side of the planet, I get on the phone to set them straight. I explain to them what they've done wrong, why it's wrong, and why they should never do it again. Then, when we're together again, we sit down and have a more in-depth conversation. I want to make sure that they always do the right thing, whether I'm there or not. Luckily, I have a great support system to back me up. My older sister, Tragil, moved from Chicago to Miami last year to live with me and the boys, and my mom visits often. Basketball is just like family. You have to work together to win.
At home, my kids are the priority. I'm there for their special moments, and make every effort to never miss a birthday. Sometimes we have to move the date around, like when Zion's birthday fell on a Sunday, we celebrated on Saturday since I had a game. Zion's fourth birthday was actually the day after the Heat won the Eastern Conference finals. I didn't get home from Chicago until 3 a.m. By the time I woke up, Zion had already left for school. So I surprised him with cupcakes. You should have seen the huge smile on his face when I walked into his classroom. It's a moment I'll never forget.
That's my goal when I'm with my children: to make the most of the time we have together. Like I said before, it's all about attention and affection. Sure, we miss each other when I'm on the road, but as long as I come in the door with a basketball in my hand, ready to play, then they're happy. I may be a role model to millions of kids around the world, but it all starts with being a role model to my two boys.
NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade is entering his ninth season with the Miami Heat. This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Parenting magazine.