Dwyane Wade 'Missed Structure' as a Kid, Says He Wants Wants to 'Lead With Love' as a Dad

Dwyane Wade talks to PEOPLE about his new photographic memoir, Dwyane, and how his childhood influences his own parenting style

Dwyane Wade Book
Dwyane Wade with daughter Kaavia. Photo: © Bob Metelus

Dwyane Wade's new photographic memoir Dwyane is a tribute to his basketball career, but it's also a space to reflect on his childhood and his goals as a parent.

In an interview with PEOPLE, the NBA star explains that he "missed structure" as a kid. Wade's childhood taught him what he does and doesn't want for his own family, he says.

"Yeah, of course it impacted me, my parents going through addictions in life, and their addictions took them down a path that was solely for them and about them," says Wade, 39, of his childhood. "When that happens, you kind of lose yourself, and lose place of what's of importance, and a lot of times, if you have kids, that should be what's of importance."

"So I missed a lot of that. I missed family. Besides my sister, I missed structure from parents," Wade continues. (In Dwyane, he writes that his older sister Tragil Wade was one of his biggest support systems while growing up.)

"I missed the ability to be able to call my dad when I go through something. I missed a lot of important moments that I try to make sure I give my kids, but also throughout that journey, I learned a lot."

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Dwyane Wade Book
© Bob Metelus

Wade makes it clear that he doesn't "blame" his parents, Dwyane Wade Sr. and Jolinda Wade, who divorced when he was a baby. The future star, who grew up in the South Side of Chicago, lived with his mom until he was 8 years old. In previous interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Wade opened up about his mom's struggle with heroin and cocaine addiction.

When he was 8, Wade's older sister dropped him off on his dad's doorstep in Miami. Wade credits his dad for both saving him from the dangers of the Chicago streets and introducing him to the game of basketball. Wade is also "proud" of his mom, who achieved sobriety in 2001 when Wade was 19. She now helps others as a Baptist pastor.

In his interview with PEOPLE, Wade explains that he uses the lessons he learned watching his parents to be the best dad he can be to his own children. (The star is father to sons Zaire, 19, and Xavier, 8, daughters Zaya, 14, and Kaavia, 3, and is raising his nephew Dahveon Morris, 20.)

"I learned a lot about what I didn't want, and what I did want. [But] at the same time, I never blame. I understand that we all have our own lives. We all have our own journey," Wade says. "My son Zaire, I'm able to tell him, 'Zaire, don't go left, go right.' My parents didn't have anybody to tell them that. They just went left, and sometimes you take a bad step and that bad step leaves you down a long road. But they found themselves back, and that's what I'm proud of."

Dwyane Wade Book
Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union on their wedding day with his kids and nephew in 2014. © Bob Metelus

Wade says that his goal as a dad is to "lead with love."

"I want to be somebody who my kids always understand, that can adapt, and that is willing to grow and is willing to learn," he says. "Also, someone that they can come to for advice about this, that or the third, and that will not be judgmental about it... I'm always going to lead with love. So that's what I try to be for my kids."

Wade's love of family shines through in Dwyane, which features sweet photographs of all of his kids, his parents and wife Gabrielle Union, 49. The star athlete also wrote tributes to people, like his late friend Kobe Bryant, his Miami Heat teammates, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and past coaches. The book includes more than 200 photos by Bob Metelus, with anecdotes from Wade's time on and off the court. Wade delves into his personal journey, from growing up in Chicago and the 2003 game that brought him to national attention, to welcoming his daughter Kaavia with Union in 2018 and his retirement from the game a year later.

In the book, Wade expresses his love for Union, his wife of seven years.

"We've had a lot of moments where our back has been against the wall, and if we really wanted this relationship, we had to fight for it," says Wade about how their relationship has grown over time. "So it's great to be able to go through this life with a partner who is willing to fight for it, because relationships are very, very, very hard."

Dwyane Wade Book
Dwyane Wade with his nephew Dahveon and Gabrielle Union. © Bob Metelus

The couple rallied publicly and privately around Wade's daughter Zaya after she came out as transgender last year. Wade explains that he "didn't grow up knowing anything" about what it means to be transgender, but quickly gathered as much information as he could to support Zaya, whom he describes as the "bravest" person he knows.

"For her to have the confidence, for her to look at herself in the mirror and say, 'I don't want to live this life where I'm not going to be myself,' " says Wade. "Everybody can't do that. You got grown-ass adults that are 50, 60 that still are not doing that. So I love her fearlessness. I love her confidence, and her vulnerability to be able to share something that is so personal — not only with our family but allow it to be shared with the world."

Zaya shared her story "knowing there's other kids that are going through similar things, and knowing that they do not get the love and attention and the respect from their parents and all these things that she gets," Wade explains. "She understands the privilege in that. Not [just] being a voice, but being loud and being a part of the community, I think is important for her."

His daughter isn't the only person in the family who speaks out about important issues. When Wade and Union welcomed their first child together, daughter Kaavia, they felt it was important to share their surrogacy journey.

RELATED VIDEO: Dwyane Wade And Gabrielle Union "Allow Their Kids' Uniqueness To Shine"

"Going through surrogacy was something new for us. It was something new for our community, right?" Wade says. "I think a lot of people think celebrities go through surrogacy because they don't want to gain weight. They don't want to be fat. They don't want to take time off of work. All these superficial things. We had to go through the process for five years to try to get our daughter into this world, and we had to use other alternatives."

He continues: "Going through surrogacy, to be able to bring our daughter into this world, was a big responsibility for us, and we wanted to share because we know that families out there are having trouble conceiving."

When Kaavia was born in 2018, Wade took two weeks off so he could be at home with his baby daughter. When he and Union first met Kaavia, he says they felt an immediate need to connect. The couple posted a photo of Union holding Kaavia while wearing a hospital gown, which resulted in some public criticism. (Some commenters didn't understand that the gown helps facilitate skin-to-skin bonding.)

But Wade's sole focus was his family. He explains that he and his wife both gave Kaavia skin-to-skin contact. They wanted her to sense how much they loved her, he says.

"My wife didn't carry our daughter, and so she didn't have those intimate moments. 'Oh, she's kicking here. Oh, I can feel the kick,' " he says. "We didn't have those moments, and so when our daughter was brought into this world, immediately we wanted her to feel us and connect with both of us, and so we both did skin and skin. We both laid with our daughter and got that moment so she can hear our heartbeats, and she can feel our love."

Dwyane is on sale now.

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