Dear Caitlin Clark …

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Dear Caitlin Clark,

This week, I was lucky enough to see you play in person. I brought my 5-year-old daughter to Williams Arena in Minneapolis, where I live now with my wife and two girls. You dominated as usual and were playing at a different level than anyone else on the court. The shots you were making reminded me of when I would play NBA video games with a cheat code.

To be honest, we really don’t have much in common. I’m a first-generation Sri Lankan immigrant, and my parents didn’t really know much about American sports, so I found my own path. I remember watching a VHS tape with a documentary I found of Michael Jordan and was amazed by him. I watched “Space Jam” and joined my middle school basketball team. I was terrible. On my best day, on full stretch, I’m a whopping 5 feet 4 inches. Basketball never was and never will be my jam.

In late middle school I discovered tennis. I was good, not great, but I harnessed the energy of MJ and learned how to outwork and outhustle my opponents and ended up playing in high school and college. I learned a lot of life lessons from sports along the way and I told myself I would teach my kids how to play sports early so they wouldn’t be playing catch up like me.

For better or worse, this imaginary future kid I was teaching was always a boy.

Fast-forward a few years, and I now am the proud dad to two girls. For the first few years of their short little lives, my work prevented me from spending as much time as I wanted with them. I’ve been intentional about building my relationship to these two absolute gems of humans — but at first, it was hard to connect. I played dress-up and dolls and let them paint my fingernails — all of which they loved, but mommy was always better at it. We started regular daddy daughter dates to help foster our relationship.

My youngest daughter was an easy egg to crack. We both love cinnamon rolls and have regular daddy daughter dates exploring various cinnamon roll shops around the Twin Cities. My eldest daughter has been more complex. It took a while, but I found my cheat code.

Caitlin Clark.

Our daddy daughter dates occur whenever you play. We sit back, relax, and watch you dominate. I see the same transformation in her as I did in myself when I first learned of the grit and tenacity that was “like Mike.” Together, I’ve watched my daughter’s confidence soar as we have learned about how practice helps you get better, how to be a good teammate, and how sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but we always try to our best.

Before you came along, I was stuck in a rut in my own fatherhood, because I had only ever imagined raising a boy. I don’t believe this shortsighted childhood perspective was borne of bigotry or pro-patriarchy sentiments. Rather, like many Americans, my fault was that the lens in which I viewed the future was biased by my own personal experience. While I was getting my fingernails painted and playing with dolls, it was hard for me to impart the “be like Mike’ lessons that shaped my own childhood.

This week, I spent an outrageous amount of money to see you in person with my 5-year-old daughter. You were electric as usual and we jumped and danced and cheered. At one point, my daughter leaned over to me and said, “She hits that shot in the game because she works on it a lot in practice, right daddy!” It was worth every penny. You even graciously stuck around and signed our jersey at the end of the game. I said, “Thank you! You are amazing!” I wanted to say so much more, but there were hundreds of other little girls with their moms and dads waiting to see you.

Allow me to try one more time now that the throngs of adoring fans are gone:

Dear Caitlin Clark,

If you read this, I want to say thank you.

Thank you for being an electrifying, transcendent athlete who is actively changing the world of sport. But mostly, thank you for helping me be a better dad.

Dr. Asitha Jayawardena is a pediatric ENT surgeon at Childrens Minnesota.

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