WTF – September, 1983
I’d never worn cleats before. Pads either. Or those goofy pants that ride just below the knee and squeeze your junk. But there I stood, on the practice field of Kokomo High School, about to embark on my first season of football.
I did it to impress my uncle Jerry. He had played and been a coach for many years in various programs at both the high school and college level. He who owned his own gym and used to max all the Nautilus machines just for a warm-up. He’d talked me out of playing the clarinet and into trying out for the team. Horn players didn’t have the Eye of the Tiger.
I figured maybe I could be the center. I had good hands, like to help people out by giving them the ball, and had played center on the playground in middle school a few times, once with a bloody nose. I’ve got this, I figured.
I lasted three days.
FTW – January, 2012.
My son took the mat for his first junior varsity match of his second year of wrestling against a kid from Indian Springs. Behind him, a pile of losses from the past year and hours of training for a new season. I sat down my bag of popcorn, pocketed my cellphone, cupped my hands and shouted, “Come on, Beefcake,” his nickname now a matter of record. They shook hands, locked up and tossed each other around for a minute or two. And then my son pulled a move out of his bag of tricks, rolled the other kid over, flattened him to the mat and stared at the ref as he waved . . . waved . . . and then blew the whistle. Sweet victory.
Ethan didn’t win again that season, but he never quit. Not even when the other kids on the team put shit on his backpack. Not when they ignored him and walked away when he tried to scrimmage with them before each match. Not when they ignored him as he tried to high five them after their own victories. I screamed inside at the cruelty and arrogance of children, but wore the face of a proud and passionate father on the outside.
Ethan is no quitter. Not like his dad.
In many other ways, however, he is exactly like me. As I was as a kid. He’s kind and compassionate, often to his own detriment. He’s sentimental to the point of occasional tears. Real, honest tears. He has a few good friends who accept him, and many other acquaintances who belittle him for their own amusement, even as he laughs it off, the willing butt of the joke. He’s solitary at times, keeping to himself when things get overwhelming or confusing. At other times, he’s the life of the party, even if it means starting some trouble in order to get noticed. Not all wallflowers are tame and easily put out of mind. His shortcoming are familiar as well.
My wife and I discuss our children often. Our dreams for them and our frustrations with them. Ethan is the one that puzzles me the most. Understanding him means understanding me, the way I was and the way I am. Confronting issues with him means dealing with me. Instructing him, guiding him, even yelling at him, often means staring down demons I am all to familiar with. They fuck with him just like they fucked with me. Yet he doesn’t seem to recognize them like I do. Hindsight being what it is, I sense the cauldron brewing and ache at the remembrances.
There is a battle ahead. One that we are going to have to fight together. And I’ve been trying to formulate a strategy. To come up with a way to begin to tackle the one thing that we’ve both wrestled with.
He’s thirteen-and-a-half and, at his last doctor’s visit for his asthma, he clocked in at 173.
I’ve shared about my own battle before, and how I eventually fought back with the big stick of surgery. This, of course, is not the road I hope he travels. I’ve searched and scoured for books and articles, hoping for something that I think will motivate and inform without being condemning or talking above his head.
And I’ve struggled with how to even bring it up.
It’s not like it’s a secret. He’s expressed his own earnest desires to slim down and even came up with an idea or two, but other things encroach and the steam evaporates. I tell him how I’ve been there a thousand times and we’ll keep looking for a plan that will stick.
Today, at the library, my wife came across fifteen-year-old Tiger Greene’s book Sacking Obesity: The Team Tiger Game Plan for Kids Who Want to Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Win on and off the Playing Field. Of course, my skepticism set in. The kid probably had a bunch of free support from this or that organization underwriting his efforts, or wealthy parents who paid for the best doctors and the priciest foods and the latest snazzy exercise equipment. I can’t do that. I’m not about publicity stunts or telling others they can do with so little what you did with the help of a benevolent universe.
I’m an idiot like that.
Turns out, the kid has a heart of gold. I’ve read most of it already. The parts that matter anyway, where he writes honestly about his own weight and how he tried to be like that guy from Man v. Food and how weight isn’t easy to lose when those that are meant to provide for our needs fail us.
That part hurt.
Yet he never blames others. And, at the age of twelve, he made a plan and made it work and tells kids – and their families, with the help of some expert, practical advice – that they can do it too. He seems like the kind of kid you’d want to have over for a game of touch football and carrot sticks. Carrot sticks that taste so freaking awesome they’ll make you forget the cheesesteak you thought you wanted.
Sure, he got some help. But he pays it forward in a way that doesn’t belittle you because you don’t have the advantages he had. Not really advantages. Just people who came alongside and gave him exactly what he needed. Ethan will get this kid. He’ll read this and get fired up and make a plan and some changes and things will get better. I sense that he feels it’s time, and I plan to be there when the light bulbs click on.
And yet, I guess I fear that I’ll quit on him.
Like I’ve done time and time before. Not give up on him. Or his dreams and plans and successes. Even through the failures, I will never give up on him. But I fear that I won’t always be the model that he needs. He’ll forgive my shortcomings and sidesteps, I’m certain. But will he lose heart?
Will he fail if I continue to fail him?
Or will this be the time, the beginning of a long string of times, when I don’t? Choose not to? Buck up and be what he needs? Will I press on this time?
FTW . . .
Ethan read this before I hit “Publish.” And we had a nice, long talk. We’ve agreed to read the book together. Let the journey begin . . .