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Thank you, Dad! (Kayode S. Koiki, 1948-2014)

Though never reaching the level to play at Wimbledon someday, my father was an avid tennis player when he was younger, and he told me many times that he idolized Rod Laver.
Though never reaching the level to play at Wimbledon, my father certainly dressed the part in this undated photo. He was an avid tennis player when he was much younger, and he told me many times that he idolized Rod Laver.

The real founder of this web site – and the inspiration for this particular journalist to be the reporter and person that I have been able to become – lost his near two-year battle with multiple illnesses, including cancer, in April. To be honest, as much as the past two months without my family’s patriarch has been hard, my near diurnal personal struggle also has centered on how to pay tribute to the greatest man I have ever had the pleasure to be in the presence of.

On Father’s Day, like the past few days that have led up to it, there will not be any shopping for ties, power tools, or even an old reel-to-reel tape deck (my father loved to play oldies music from his near endless collection of reel-to-reel recording tapes that he recorded so much of his music on). It is now a burden off my chest that I can give my dad, who wasn’t much into talking about himself to many other people, the platform he deserved to speak about his numerous exploits, and I would like to do so through a (hopefully quick) summary of how he paved my way to becoming Adesina Koiki: caring friend, free spirit, sports journalist and, most importantly, the proud son of Kayode Koiki.

My initial seminal moment influenced by my father was on Jan. 31, 1988 – the day of Super Bowl XXII. He had made me watch sports alongside him prior to that day, but this was the first time he turned his passion for sports into my passion. Doug Williams, the quarterback for Washington who ended up winning Super Bowl MVP that evening, did not get off to a good start against the Denver Broncos. During one of Williams’ not-so-great moments early on, he was sacked. I remember uttering in my prepubescent voice I didn’t understand what being “sacked” meant, only for my dad to engage me in the behavior that would come to be his trademark – driving home his knowledge of topics that he knew about professorially until you understood the concept.

He explained it to me. He demonstrated the action of it physically, using me as a mini-Doug Williams while my dad played the role of Broncos linebacker Karl Mecklenburg. The next play, he explained what occurred and its significance to the game. Then again. And again. By 11 o’clock that evening, the 42 points Washington scored in winning the Big Game paled in comparison to the fireworks that went off in my apartment as my father taught me the game of football inside and out. I loved every second of it, and he could see that in my eyes.

He knew I was going to be an insufferable sports nut. Thank you, Dad!

From the New York Jets helmet to the Emmitt Smith jersey to the football to the wristbands and Nike warmups and turf sneakers, my father, figuratively and literally, covered me in sports from head to toe at an early age.
From the Jets helmet to the Emmitt Smith jersey to the football to the wristbands and sweatpants and turf shoes, my father, figuratively and literally, covered me in sports from head to toe at an early age.

Knowing that I was going to go in neck deep in everything sports that I could learn about without apology, he made sure I possessed that same zeal when it came to my education, and, channeling the way his dad raised him back in Nigeria, he did so in a strict, near dictatorial manner. On a green Raggedy Ann and Andy chalkboard that we owned in our apartment, my father became the teacher my kindergarten and early elementary school educators could never have been, at least without the threat of rebuke: I knew my multiplication tables before others my age got the hang of adding and subtracting; the areas of a circle and a cone became rote before I had down the rules of how to play tag; while my teachers in school regularly taught with a smile and a deft touch to put all of my classmates at ease, my father sported a steely, intimidating glare through all of our math lessons after dinners. No sports would be watched on our television sets until I mastered each of his lessons and did my homework with pinpoint accuracy. The sessions with my father in front of the chalkboard was as invaluable as it was a high-wire act without a net for me. My first schoolboy fear wasn’t that of the dark or the boogeyman.

It was chalkboards. Umm, thank you, Dad?!?!?

It had to be that way because, in part, of the neighborhood we grew up in – the Pink Houses project complex in the East New York section of Brooklyn. Yes, there were, and still are, many good people that lived where I was reared, but there was no way my father wanted me to be mixed up in the many ills that plagued so many people in our neighborhood, from drugs to gangs to gunplay to general indifference about education. I could not have known what my dad knew then, because even with the harsh teachings and reminders of reality outside, I ended up developing a happy-go-lucky attitude, a near stark contrast to the personality that any of my other immediate family members possessed. But with every correct answer I got from my dad’s quizzing, the easier it would be for me at school, and in turn, the easier it would be to use my education to rise above the milieu that we resided in and into the best colleges and professional institutions in offer.

He knew where I was going to be in 20 years before I knew whom the New York Mets were playing that night at Shea Stadium. Thank you, Dad!

Though I rarely took the time to reflect how much influence he had on my educational life, the results the next 20 years of my life produced does all of that talking: Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School scholar, Syracuse University graduate, a professional radio and television broadcaster, reporter for ESPN The Magazine, and so on. I wasn’t the Ivy Leaguer that he really, really wanted me to be (the one thing I did out of spite of his iron-fisted will was intentionally not apply to Ivy League schools out of high school…HA!), but we both knew that he was much prouder of the person I became, and not the titles and awards attached to my name. He never really was one to outwardly show how proud he was, disguising it with that same steely countenance he showed to me as a child in front of the house chalkboard. (I became the same way as well, but I masked my achievements and possible boasting because of it by being genuinely self-deprecating.) I’d like to think he was jumping up and down in joy for every straight-A report card and every diploma and every promotion I ever earned. The cool demeanor he showed, now thinking of it, was his way of being like the running back and NFL great Barry Sanders; for every figurative touchdown that I scored, I wanted to spike the ball, but my father tacitly implied to me that I should just hand the ball to the referee, get on with the game and get ready to perform once again.

In other words, act like I’ve been there before. Thank you, Dad!

When I laid the seeds of starting my own business on the side in the summer of 2012, I wasn’t sure if to tell my father. Obviously, it was tough to please my old man, and proposing the idea of a being involved in an endeavor such as entrepreneurship, given the success/failure ratio of such an action, was only going to invoke more questions and skepticism than anything else. I chose to keep quiet about it, going about growing the company (which would become A Lot of Sports Talk) with my older brother acting as the computer whiz and I producing content, going out into the field and hoping my work would stick and have a following. In September 2012, I had set up interviews with a few former NFL greats, including former San Francisco 49er running back Roger Craig and Pro Football Hall-of-Fame cornerback Willie Brown on the day of the season opener in the NFL. As much of a breakthrough that would be for my fledgling business, it was a bittersweet moment, as I remembered almost immediately that the first person to make me aware of those players’ existence as sporting heroes when I was a child was the same person whom I chose to not to inform that I was interviewing those same people.

What a mistake that was. I’m sorry, Dad. (And I’m sorry for so many other moments of weakness that I exhibited that you didn’t deserve.)

The pride that welled up in all of our family's successes, as well as his fiery personality,  belied the icy facade and cool demeanor my father exuded many times - all traits that I believe I picked up from him.
The pride that welled up in all of our family’s successes, as well as his fiery personality, belied the icy facade and cool demeanor my father exuded many times – all traits that I believe I picked up from him.

Later that month was when the battle for his life earnestly began, as he was rushed to the hospital after complaining of intestinal pain. This was not too long before I had to cover an NFL game in Washington D.C. in October, a game that I eventually chose to dedicate to my father and make sure I did him proud despite the first priority usually being to serve my readers and listeners the best pieces of journalism they deserve. There were two things in mind when coming back to New York afterward: going to the hospital to see my father, and showing him the video work that I had done while there in hopes of boosting his already sinking spirits. The story had turned out to be the first bit of work designed for my site that I showed him since starting my business. Thankfully, the vignette did do the trick, and I remember him nodding along in approval, and saying, “You’re going to be great at what you do, with this web site. You’re going to be great and everyone will see it. I know it.”

The motivation derived from hearing his enervate-sounding, yet assuring words while sitting on the edge of his hospital bed has been a driving force for me to succeed in my business, and any other endeavor, ever since. Thank you, Dad!

The next 18 months had seen my father in and out of the hospital, some days being better than others. But two months ago, he was in too much pain. Our family was informed that our time having him physically as our father was limited to 24 hours at best. Never experiencing loss hitting this close to home before, my mother and two brothers bonded like we never had before. Inevitability became abject sadness, then became resignation, then became hope that his pain would be taken away.

Given 24 hours, my father made it almost 72 hours before succumbing to his illnesses on the morning of April 28, 2014, aged 66. Although it was not the time to crack a smile or a joke (and it wasn’t), knowing my dad held out much longer than expected gave me one more reason to take one last playful jab at his almost legendary stubbornness.

Thank you, Dad, for fighting until the very end. You couldn’t have done it any other way.

For almost 32 years, I never was able to give my father the perfect Father’s Day gift, whether it because I was too young, too broke, too stupid or too busy to do so. Hopefully, during this time of celebrating all of the paternal figures in our lives (male or female), penning this essay about the man who shaped my life more than any other finally can make up for every single instance I came up short in trying to encompass how much he really meant to me in my life and molding my character, of which I am proud of possessing every single day.

Thank you, Dad!


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