Friday, September 01, 2006

Why my sons play football -- or -- why The Curmudgeon is not a psychologist

Oldest Son was short for his age back when he was in the 5th grade, 11 years ago or so. Short and reed thin. Spindly, even. This came as no surprise to me and my Long Suffering Spouse; after all, we'd seldom seen this child eat anything more substantive than air molecules.

No, what surprised us was when he announced his burning desire to play football.

Long Suffering Spouse is one of three sisters – no brothers, football-playing or otherwise. I never played football. We had no practical experience. But we immediately had the same thought: This kid is going to get broken in half if he plays football.

I recovered first, realizing that he'd be competing against others his own age, and reasonably close to his own size. Long Suffering Spouse still had visions of muscle-bound behemoths turning her son into paste. She was adamantly opposed to the entire idea and she was not keeping her opinions to herself.

But Oldest Son was most insistent. And that's an understatement.

As the first day of summer practice approached, tension reigned in the Curmudgeon household.

I finally thought of a way out of this dilemma – or so it seemed when I explained it to my wife. I told her that football practices begin during very hot weather; the kids run constantly and otherwise exert themselves for hours at a time. Oldest Son would surely come to his senses after a even brief exposure to this torture. And, just to cover ourselves against a recurrence of the problem, I proposed a little flourish. My wife thought it potentially cruel, but she understood my thinking.

So I called Oldest Son into the room. Long Suffering Spouse stood behind me, pale, not speaking a word, radiating displeasure. Oldest Son was of course oblivious.

"Son," I told him, "your mother and I have decided to let you go out for football – but on one condition."

"I'll clean my room," he said.

"Besides that," I said. I saw Oldest Son tense. To a kid, cleaning your room is the equivalent of any of the 12 Labors of Hercules; what other impossibly onerous condition could I possibly have in mind?

I didn't keep him in suspense very long. "You'll have to go to every practice. Even if they have two-a-days." Actually, those don't start until high school – but, as I mentioned, I had no practical experience at this point. "And I don't care how much you complain. How much you cry or carry on. You can not quit for a week. No matter what."

Now I could feel Long Suffering Spouse tense even more behind me. She'd bear the brunt of that, of course, and she wasn't looking forward to it.

"Do you understand me?" I asked. I probably straightened my tie before calling the kid into the room. This was serious Father Knows Best stuff.

"Yes, Dad," Oldest Son said.

Of course he didn't ask to quit. Not once. He played eight years, through high school. He's still playing dorm football at Notre Dame. Pads and equipment and referees and the works. Very serious stuff indeed.

And by 6th grade, Oldest Son had the "first day of hitting" – when contract drills begin – circled on his calender.

He didn't get broken in half. And Long Suffering Spouse got over it. But that's another story.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Father knows best! Well done!

Patry Francis said...

You've pinpointed the great value of sports: discipline, commitment, developing a work ethic.

The Curmudgeon said...

Oldest Son's away message tonight:

"last first day of hitting ever"

The more things change, the more things stay the same....

rdl said...

I felt the same way as yr. wife when my son started back in 4th Gr. but a nurse reassured me:most broken bones happen in the backyard and look at all that padding. This yr. in 7th Gr. during Summer practice, he broke his wrist. It is such a disappointment for him (and me)not to be playing with his teammates. So he is patiently waiting for basketball season.
Nice post!