The dadcraft Life: Darius Wise & Navigating Sports and Hard Conversations

  by Chris Horst

How Darius Wise helps his four kids balance sports and navigate the hard conversations in life.

Tell us about your family.

My wife and I met in college. She was my college sweetheart. We got married in 2004 after dating all the way through college. We started having kids that next year. We now have four: Chelsey (11), Daniel (10), Darius III (9), and Chloey (7). Four kids in five years. We were crazy, man. That’s our bunch. Our favorite time of day is dinnertime and bedtime, because that’s when we are all hanging together.  

Children’s sports can consume family’s lives. How are you helping your family think well about sports?

My wife grew up as a competitive dancer. I grew up playing football. Sports has always been a part of our lives. So my wife and I wanted that for our kids, too, based on the developmental aspects that come from it.  But, we decided we wouldn’t allow our kids to play multiple sports at one time. We have four kids. It’s for our own sanity.

We allow them to pick one sport per season. That’s part of the rhythm we started early on. Sports are an outlet for us. Although I’m no longer any good, I still try and stay active by playing sports a couple times a week.  They’re also an outlet for the kids. We started by allowing them to try everything: basketball, soccer, football, baseball, volleyball, cheerleading…everything.

As they’ve grown older, they’ve narrowed in on their specific sports, and it allows them to focus. My oldest son, Daniel, tends to be laid back and less aggressive. After each season, we like to talk with our kids about the year and reflect on the season as a family. I pose the question, “What was the single most formative growth moment of the year for you?”

Daniel’s response was, “Dad, the most formative was tackle football because there were moments I was scared and nervous that I wouldn’t do well, but I did it. I feel like I grew a lot by playing football this year.”

His response embodies one of the primary reasons we place a high priority on sports. I hope our kids have success with sports, but it’s more about how they’re being formed and who they are becoming that matters most. The struggle, the perseverance, the triumph. All those dynamics are part of playing any sport, which undoubtedly prepares them for life in general.  

We live in a world that aims to divide us. How are you navigating that in the life of your kids?

This is one of those things that’s near and dear to my heart. I want our family to be about building bridges and not walls. That’s a value of ours. We try and work within our divided world, across many spectrums, on how we can be bridge builders. One of the ways we do this is by engaging the difficult topics head-on.

Denver, where we live, is a majority white city. So our kids are an ethnic minority in most environments they’re in. It’s something we’ve chosen to not ignore, but to engage.

For instance, when the fatal shooting happened in Dallas of the police officers, that shooting was prompted by the ongoing shootings in the African-American community by law enforcement. We were sitting at home watching this play out on TV. I felt a sense of conviction about how we raise two African-American young men in my home. That evening my wife and I had an open and honest discussion with our kids about what was happening and why, and furthermore, what role we could potentially play as bridge builders in our community.  The next day, the boys and I grabbed a box of donuts and took them over to our neighborhood police station to help ease the growing tension between the police force and the black community.  It was a small, bridge-building gesture that I hope planted a seed in their lives.    

My wife and I have chosen to not be fearful, but to be proactive in educating and communicating with our children around some of these issues. We believe that formation begins first in the home. It’s not primarily our school’s or church’s responsibility to teach my kids. It’s our job first. These are tough discussions that often don’t have resolutions. The point isn’t to put a bow on it, but instead to engage in the discussion as a father and see where it goes and allow my kids to develop their own worldview.

Children are bright. They have minds of their own. It’s our job as parents to help develop and frame their worldview, but also to give them space to think about these issues critically.

How do you help your kids hold onto hope among all the hard stuff in our world?

The faith we profess as a family is Christianity. I believe Jesus is the source of all hope. For me as a dad, I’m constantly pointing our kids to the hope that lies in Jesus. For us, what we communicate and pour in on a constant basis is that our hope lies in Jesus and in the work he’s doing in us and in the world, and that the kids have an active role to play in the betterment of their world. They can choose to either perpetuate the problems in our world, or they can be a part of the solution.  I think that hope is often derived from knowing that better is possible.  And as a father, my hope is to imperfectly, yet consistently model what it means to positively impact the world around me.    

We always ask: How has becoming a dad made you a better person?

Being a father has helped me become more emotionally accessible. That’s the best way I can say it. It sounds pretty macho, but before having children I wasn’t the most sensitive guy. I wasn’t the type of guy who accessed emotions as readily as others or as readily as I needed to. Becoming a dad has made me a more caring and vulnerable man.

As an example, the way I relate to my wife now is very different. Prior to having our first daughter, I was less emotionally available to my wife. But after Chelsey was born, I became more aware of my need to be more present emotionally at home. Chelsey invited me into that space. In some ways, she demanded I enter that space. When your baby is screaming at the top of her lungs because she wants a bottle or is sleepy, you can either scream back, which makes you a horrible father, or you can fight that urge to scream and learn to be patient and understanding.  

We always ask: What do you believe is your finest fathering skill?

Attention to details. As a parent, it’s critically important we’re attentive to things that are happening in our kids’ lives. They’re changing so rapidly and, if we’re not careful, we’ll miss significant moments by simply being distracted by the cares of daily life. When my son stops liking his nickname in public or my daughter doesn’t want to hold my hand when she was walking up to the school door—those are moments. Being attentive to those details cues us into something that’s happening in their hearts.

We always ask: What’s one thing you’ve learned from your father?

How to keep it light. My dad was a master at that. He was so good at relating to me whether it was through sports or awkward topics like girls or cracking jokes when things got too serious. My dad had a wink and a smile that made everything OK. He’d give me that wink and it was this message that he cared for me and affirmed me. In my older years, it was this trait that made me want to be friends with my dad.  

We always ask: What is your favorite activity to do with your kid?

It’s what we did just the other night: The kids get on their bikes and scooters, we take our dog and a football, and we head to the park. We’ve got a dog toy in one hand and a football in the other. We throw the ball with our dog and with each other. We did this on Father’s Day. It’s the best.

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Postscript: Like Darius, Dan reminds us that being present is more than being there. And, check out some of our interviews with other great dads.