Bryan was 11 years old and had a mustache and was going to kill me. You should also know he was gigantic. During dodge ball, he hit a kid in the head with the ball and that kid forgot all of the third grade. He stood so tall he blotted out the sun when he stood over you. He used toothbrushes as toothpicks and made a glass of pineapple juice by squeezing it right out of the pineapple.
He was a giant and I was not and on my first day of football practice I was lined up across from him for blocking drills and I was going to die. You see, Blue, in this world there are Goliaths and there are Davids. One time, David got lucky and pinged Goliath in just the right place with a pebble, but every other time, David got murdered hard.
So, on that dusty evening that seemed to last an eternity, I was shoved to the ground over and over and over again. I didn’t eat dinner, on account of the mud shoved into my sinus cavity. When I arrived home, I calmly removed my practice jersey, my shoulder pads and the rest of the gear, took a long bath, contemplated existence, and then told your grandfather, “Hey, I don’t think football is for me.”
I’ll never forget your grandfather’s reply. Just off a shift at work, he paused for a moment, stroked his chin thoughtfully, and said just one word. Just one very wise word.
I learned two very valuable lessons right in that moment. They were:
1) I was prepared to do anything to meet my father’s approval, even if it meant getting murdered by Bryan the Giant with Shoulder Pads every day for the rest of my life.
2) My father loved me very much, since he did not wish to see any further murder of his eldest son.
This is a story partially about broken dreams, Blue. I was never going to be the star football player your grandfather wanted. But I say it’s partially about broken dreams because really, this is a story about so much more: expectations and patience and understanding and knowing that rather than have a dream for your son, it’s better to help them discover their own.
Football was the not the first chapter in this story.
When I was three, your grandfather had to fix his car. The radiator was broken on his Pinto or Rabbit or Goblin. The make of the car isn’t important here, Blue. I was three and it was a metal box with wheels that couldn’t stay cool. Your grandfather and his brother (your great uncle) spent the whole day taking out the old one, putting in the new one and just as they were about finished clamping down all the hoses and screwing in all the bolts, I decided to help. So I took a screwdriver and impaled one of the metal coils. Green antifreeze gushed out the wound, all over the ground, and this was how a day was lost. Your grandfather looked at me, boiling inwardly with rage, shook his head in order to reset his expectations about his idiot son who just eviscerated his radiator, and said, “Okay.”
When I was five, your grandfather signed me up for baseball. Now, the bar for acceptable performance in baseball is set pretty low. Most five years old can’t even tie their shoes well, let alone hit or catch a ball that isn’t made of balloon or bubble.
Even given that standard, I was terrible. I mean turribull. I struck out during t-ball. The only time I ever got to third base was when the pitcher hit me with a pitch. Then, as I was attempting to steal second, the tail of my mullet flapping gloriously in the wind under my batting helmet, the catcher threw the ball and plunked me on the head again, thereby awarding me the extra base. I played right field on the worst team in the league. Tru-Color Paints. We were like the Bad News Bears or the Mighty Ducks, except we never got better. So really were the More Bad News Bears. Year in and year out, we just got crushed by every other team. I played right field, which is kiddie baseball for, “We need to put you somewhere. Go where we don’t need you to do anything but avoid bees.”
After five years of this, I told your grandfather, “Hey, I don’t think I want to do this anymore.”
There was also soccer, which lasted exactly one season. Again, I was terrible, and again, my team was equally terrible. We were coached by two guys who may or may not have been doing community service hours, because they clearly knew nothing about soccer. We didn’t score a goal the entire season. Not one game, Blue. THE ENTIRE SEASON.
“Dad, I don’t want to play-“
“Soccer sucks, son. I get you. Okay.”
On and on, the fail train kept chugging along. Athletics was not my big. Academics, however, that was a whole different story. Math and science came very easily to me, so much so that in middle school I refused to bob for apples during a Halloween carnival because I figured that the lighter density of the apples made them harder to pin down underwater.
I joined the quick recall team. Guess who was there to pick me up every day after practice?
This is the shift in the story, Blue. There’s this wonderful movie called Billy Elliot. In the movie, Billy is just your average Irish schoolboy. He wants to be a boxer, but is crap at it. One day, after a sparring session, he stays late and accidentally stumbles upon a ballet lesson. Much to his surprise, he likes ballet. Even more, he’s good at it. So good, in fact, that his teacher encourages him to apply for ballet school. All he has to do is convince his father. Of course, this is the major conflict of the movie. What working class Irishmen wants their son to do ballet? Eventually, though, the father relents and agrees to allow his son to go to the school. In the final scene, we see the father and Billy’s brother shuffling into their seats in a crowded theater. The lights go down, the curtain rises, and there is Billy. Not just a ballet dancer. But THE ballet dancer, the lead in Black Swan.
All because a father had the courage to allow his son to follow his own dreams.
Like I said earlier, this is a post about broken dreams. It’s also one about patience and understanding. Fathers have a very important responsibility to their children. Everyone says to shoot for the stars, but it’s up to fathers to help their children aim for the right galaxy, even if it is far, far away from their own.
You should know, Blue, that your grandfather proclaims that he is not a reader. He tells me all the time, “The last book I read was Jaws in high school.” He proclaims it proudly, like he’s setting up some kind of record steak. You also know he’s a liar. Because you know what he does read? This blog. Every post. Even the one where I mocked him for his reality tv fetish.
And you know, Blue, who was the very first person who told me I should be a writer after I got an A in journalism in high school? You know who was the first person to buy my first book? You got it.
Thanks, dad. From you, I learned that not every dream will be attainable, but they should be permissible.