Friday, December 16, 2011

On Sports and Bonding

I love sports. There was once a time when I loved playing them. My body doesn’t really allow that anymore – at least, on a sustained basis. Fortunately, I love watching them, too. My body has no issues with watching sports. I’m pretty certain my body thinks watching sports is swell.

When Susan was pregnant for the first time, and we found out we were having a boy, one of the first things that went through my head was how fun it was going to be to share my love of sports with my son. My dad never minced words about how he thought sports were a colossal waste of time. So, there was not even one occasion in my childhood where I sat down and watched a game of any kind with my father. This always made me a little sad. A mutual interest in sports between a father and son would provide a great excuse to spend time together; countless hours of potential conversation; and a unifying, single-minded bond that would hold strong through any boundaries.

So, when Pax was barely big enough to walk, I started introducing him to sports. As soon as he reached the minimum age, he was signed up for soccer; and I signed on to coach his soccer team. Other sports followed: baseball, football, golf – even indoor soccer. And with each sport, I volunteered for the privilege of coaching his teams. And when he wasn’t playing, we were watching. I have wonderful memories of little four-year-old Paxton, sitting on our big couch with his legs curled beneath him, snuggled up to me with my arm around him as we watched whatever game was on the television. This was what fatherhood was all about! I would have the experiences with him that I never had with my father.

But as he started getting bigger, I started to see signs that my love for sports didn’t seem to be in his DNA. By the time he was nine or ten, he stopped talking about wanting to sign up to play the sports he had played when he was younger. For awhile, he seemed to almost defiantly reject my invitations to watch sports on television, or in person. I felt sad about this. But I knew that pushing him to do something he didn’t want to do would cause more harm than good. One of my favorite truths is that life is long; and it’s filled with its ebbs and flows. I hoped that some experience might someday light a fire under him – that he’d one day feel at least some of the passion I felt.

As a sports fan, one of the most magical experiences I’ve had was the shocking run of baseball’s Colorado Rockies in the late summer and autumn of 2007. All but left for dead with only a month left in the season, the team had a run of success that was unprecedented in baseball’s long, illustrious history. National baseball writers took to calling them “the team that didn’t know how to lose” – an apt description for a team that won 21 out of 22 games, snuck into the playoffs on the season’s last day, then swept through two playoff series to get into the World Series. Every game that September and October was a must-see event, and Pax apparently found my excitement to be irresistibly contagious. For the first time ever, I started seeing him genuinely hooked on the drama of a game. I was thrilled. To add fuel to his fire, I even started to check him out of school when the Rockies had afternoon games. I figured that a few missed afternoons in elementary school was a small price to pay for the memory of the autumn he spent with his dad, watching the Rockies make their magical run. I would put an out-of-office responder on my work email, and Pax and I would hole up in our man cave – hoping against hope that the Rockies could keep the magic flowing.

The season ended with the Rockies in a tie for the last playoff spot – setting up a one-game, winner-take-all playoff with the San Diego Padres. The game itself was a microcosm of the Rockies season – one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced. The Rockies kept falling behind, and then battling back – finally winning in the bottom of the 14th inning, with Matt Holliday sliding under the catcher’s tag at home plate. Pax and I were jumping around and screaming – embracing each other. In my elation, I said, “Buddy, if they get into the World Series, we’re going!” Fast forward three weeks later, and Pax and I were sitting behind home plate at Coors Field on a brisk Colorado night – watching as the evil Boston Red Sox put an end to the magic. While the Red Sox were jumping around in the infield, celebrating their world championship, I looked down at Paxton and saw tears running down his face. It was bittersweet. I was sad that he was sad; but I was thrilled that he was so invested.

It felt like one of those cheesy credit card commercials. Tickets to the deciding game of the World Series: $2,600. Colorado Rockies World Series garb: $320. Watching as your son falls in love with baseball: Priceless.

But as much as I love the Rockies, it pales in comparison to my passion about the Broncos. I had always looked forward to sharing that love with my son - dreaming of getting together with him every Sunday to watch them, for years and years to come. But football seemed to genuinely bore him. He’s only thirteen; so I had always hoped that he might develop an interest. But then again, by thirteen, I was a fairly rabid Broncos fan. Pax hasn’t shown any real interest.

On a typical Sunday, he'll sit in the living room/theater room with me, playing either on his iPad or Nintendo DS. Then came the first San Diego game, in week five of this season. The Broncos, as they had all season, looked horrible. And when they took the field to start the second half, Tim Tebow was warming up – set to get the first meaningful playing time of his NFL career. You could see the energy it brought to the team, and in the stadium. And I think Pax could feel the change of energy that I had. At about the start of the 4th Quarter, I looked over and noticed that he had put his iPad down, and was watching the game. And as Tebow continued to play in the weeks that followed, the season became interesting – the Broncos dialed up improbable win after improbable win. As the streak has progressed, I've seen Pax paying less attention to his electronic stuff, and focusing more on the game. He’s also started asking me questions about the subtleties of the game – things that would normally get on my last nerve; but that I gladly take the time to explain with Pax. Finally, at the end of the last two games (Vikings and Bears), he's been all in. Specifically, when the Bears game ended, he had his arm around me; and when I looked down at him, he was beaming - he even had watery eyes. He just kept saying, "I can't believe that, Dad! That's the most incredible thing I've ever seen! I can wait until they play the Patriots! I wish it was next Sunday already!"

And so, it begins! I believe that moment might be called "The Point of No Return!" Once it gets in your blood, there is no antidote.

No comments: