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Asitha Jayawardena just wanted to write a thank-you note.

The pediatric surgeon didn't expect that a simple gesture of gratitude addressed to Iowa Hawkeyes basketball standout Caitlin Clark would capture so much attention, though. Jayawardena isn't a writer by trade. He only meant to tell Clark that watching her on the court felt like unlocking a cheat code in the video game of parenting.

"This is kind of out of my realm," Jayawardena said in an interview.

His Star Tribune opinion piece, titled "Dear Caitlin Clark," quickly went viral. Jayawardena, who works for Children's Minnesota hospital, wrote the note thinking it would be something he could clip out of the newspaper and hold it as a keepsake. Instead, he's been inundated with requests for interviews — he has about a half-dozen teed up over the next week with various local and national outlets.

Jayawardena has also had other fathers approach him to share their struggles in finding inroads with their daughters.

And it's all because of a 723-word letter he wrote to one of the most influential figures in modern sports, thanking her for helping Jayawardena connect with his 5-year-old.

His daughter's infatuation with the record-breaking player began last year when the Jayawardena clan — Mom, Dad and two daughters — attended a Big Ten conference tournament game in Minneapolis. He long ago discovered that the road to his 3-year-old's heart is paved with cinnamon rolls and icing. Their daddy-daughter dates consist of finding the sweetest confections in the metro.

Jayawardena's older daughter was a tougher nut to crack. And he wasn't necessarily expecting either girl to sit still during their visit to Williams Arena. He said it felt like a gamble taking his daughters, then 4 and 2. But Clark's court performance transfixed the 4-year-old. She cheered along with her father whenever the Hawkeyes made an impressive play.

"I have to continue to foster this relationship," Jayawardena recalled thinking.

So he started a new slate of daddy-daughter dates, this time revolving around Iowa women's basketball. Jayawardena and his daughter watched the games together. He would also make sure they took in some of the post-game commentary. As pundits and other athletes beamed into their living room and declared Clark among the greatest college basketball players of all time, the praise made Jayawardena's daughter realize that she and her father weren't the only people who thought the Iowa standout was special. Clark was a living legend.

"She could also see it transcended the relationship we had," Jayawardena said.

As a kid, Jayawardena idolized Michael Jordan. He recalled playing "NBA Jam″ on the Nintendo 64 and plugging in a cheat code that could make any character catch "on fire." That meant their shots almost always dropped into the net, no matter from how far. Nobody can make those baskets in the real world, Jayawardena said.

But Clark seemingly can. And when he sees her on the court, Jayawardena thinks back to the days he spent emulating his favorite players — virtually and in real life. Now his daughter and her friends do the same, but as the full roster of the Iowa Hawkeyes basketball team.

Jayawardena was grateful that he found such a powerful way to bond with his older daughter. The family is visiting Target Center this weekend for the Big Ten women's basketball tournament to see the Hawkeyes play, and even the 3-year-old is getting hyped up to see Clark on the hardwood.

As for the advice he'd give other fathers on how to relate to their kids, Jayawardena said, listening is key.

"I wish there was a manual," he said. "Every kid is different."

Dads and daughters: Have you recently forged a strong familial bond through the power of sports, whether it was Taylor Swift's presence at NFL games, Caitlin Clark's record-breaking performance on the court or the return of professional women's hockey? We want to know!

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