Candace Parker: ‘Shelden is an amazing father’

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Friday, June 17, 2011 at 9:44am EDT

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By Ben York / @bjyork

For the past two years, Father’s Day has held an entirely new meaning for Shelden Williams.

On May 13, 2009, he and wife Candace Parker welcomed Lailaa Nicole Williams into the world. From the second he first held her, he knew his life would never be the same.

“By far, the best part about being a father is looking at my child and knowing my wife and I made her,” Williams says, beaming with pride. “It’s just priceless.”

It’s not difficult to see how much Williams and Parker love their daughter. If you spend any amount of time around their family, it’s a guarantee that you’ll come away smiling and full of joy. Lailaa, and her happiness, is their one and only priority.

“He’s a huge softie,” says a smiling Parker of her husband. “My daughter gets whatever she wants, whenever she wants. She has him wrapped around her little finger. I can say that I would have no problem leaving her with him for weeks on end because he can do everything. From the get-go, he changed diapers, knew how to feed her and knew how to burp her. He’s extremely hands-on.”

Make no mistake about it, though, their situation is unique and takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to make it work.

But they’re more than happy to do it.

Being in the WNBA, Candace Parker plays basketball all year long. Literally. From May through September she plays in the WNBA, then completes her commitments to USA Basketball, and in January heads overseas to play in Russia. Williams, on the other hand, begins his chaotic NBA season in the fall and usually isn’t done until the start of summer.

“The easy part is that we kind of play two different seasons,” Williams says. “It becomes complicated when she leaves in January to go overseas until the first week of May. That’s the difficult part – epecially the first time she went. I remember seeing her [Lailaa] when she just was rolling over then I got a chance to see her overseas during the All-Star break and she was already crawling. Then, when they came back in May, she was walking! Those gaps can be hard. It’s amazing how people in the military make it work and for a longer period of time. It’s tough, especially with a new child.”

Although it may seem unusual to many, Parker and Williams made a commitment early on to make their relationship work while apart for extended periods of time. Parker first met Williams on an official recruiting visit to Duke, where Williams was starring. Parker ended up deciding on Tennessee but the two struck up a friendship right away and eventually started dating.

“We started our relationship as a long-distance relationship,” Parker reflects. “We realized early on that in order for it to work, it would have to be long-distance. Though, we’re not apart as much as everyone probably thinks. He’s here with me during my season and I’m there with him during his season. While I’m overseas it’s obviously tough to see one another but we do a lot of Skyping, BBM’ing [BlackBerry Messaging], texting, all that stuff to stay connected and involved.”

It’s hard to find the right words to describe what it means to be a father; it’s a different experience for everyone. For Williams, being a father has changed him both as a person and as a player.

“Before her, I was much more stoic and quiet,” Williams says. “Now, I’m singing her favorite songs and just having the best time with her. I’m definitely more outgoing. She is a pretty energetic child so I’m always trying to keep up with her. It really has changed my whole persona.”

Parker has experienced a similar change in mindset.

“Our perspectives have changed now that we’re responsible for another life,” says a proud Parker. “It’s pretty special to know that you’re responsible for taking care of this life and making sure it will always be okay. I think we take things a little more serious now. I mean, we’ve always worked hard but now we want to try and make sure that she never has to work for anything. It has given our lives a whole new meaning. I want her to look back and be proud of me.”

Parenthood and marriage are about give-and-take and compromise. This is especially the case for Williams and Parker. This is the time of year where Williams assumes an increased responsibility due to Parker’s hectic WNBA schedule. Williams loves it. It has become commonplace to see him and Lailaa at Los Angeles Sparks games cheering mom on night after night.

This also means that Williams understands the rigors of what Parker is going through as a professional athlete and vice-versa. They can empathize instead of sympathize.

But is that a good thing?

“It helps…sometimes,” Parker says while laughing. “Sometimes if you have someone that doesn’t know basketball you can go home and they’ll tell you it wasn’t your fault. But he knows! So, if I go home sulking he’ll say, ‘No, that was your fault.’ He tells it to me straight and that’s what I really like. We can vent about basketball and help each other but there is also a period of time when we don’t want to talk about the game. He helps me and I help him. We are each other’s biggest critic and biggest fan at the same time.”

It also helps that Williams is a huge fan of the women’s game and has been for a long time. He was good friends with Alana Beard and Monique Currie during his freshman year at Duke and immediately garnered immense respect for what they go through. Williams says being around the women’s game can help any basketball player gain a better grasp of the fundamentals of the sport.

“I tell people all the time that if you want to learn basketball — true, fundamental basketball — go see the women’s game,” states Williams. “All the fundamentals are right. If people go to a women’s basketball game they’ll see truly how plays are ran and all kinds of other important things.”

It has been said that the best thing a father can do for his children is love their mother. For Williams, the love he has for his family is unmistakable. Though, his respect for Parker and the women’s game isn’t a new thing; it has always been there. He knows how hard they work and appreciates their dedication to the game.

“He never had that perception,” Parker says about those who knock the women’s game. “He always truly respected it. He often comments on the fact that he doesn’t know many men’s basketball players that could do what we do in terms of playing year round. I think that he has gained a true respect for what a lot of women professional athletes do. He’s never been the type to have a typical male perspective of women’s sports.”

Though it may seem complicated keeping their relationship thriving while raising a daughter, it’s actually pretty straightforward for Williams and Parker. It’s all about loving each other, and their daughter, more than anything.

As long as that remains their foundation, everything else will work itself out.

“He’s truly involved,” says Parker with a loving smile. “Shelden is an amazing, amazing father.”

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