Sorry this week’s is a little late. I was getting married and stuff.
My son loves football! This, of course, was a part of the plan. He was born on a Friday. We stayed in the hospital through the weekend and the first thing we ever watched together was playoff football. We watched Peyton Manning and the Colts take down the Jets and Drew Brees and the Saints beat out Brett Favre and the Vikings in overtime. He was only a couple of days old, but I know that on some level he was absorbing the experience. Of course, as he’s aged he has received copious amounts of Steelers gear from family members. One of my favorite pictures of him is when he was only 8 months old. His little butterball frame was stuffed into a little Steelers shirt. The cute still overwhelms me.
When his mother and I separated, football became one of the things that kept us bonded. On one of his kindergarten assignments he had to fill out a sheet about his family, a potential minefield considering the many configurations that family can take these days. One of questions was bout his daddy’s favorite things to which he either responded “football” or “The Steelers”. He wasn’t wrong, but it has always stuck out to me that that is what he remembered (or was reminded of) as a thing that I love. It’s always been a connection point for him. When the Steelers lost to the Broncos in the AFC playoffs in 2015, he was inconsolable. His mom put him on the phone with me, I reminded him that it was just a game and that we would do better next year (technically, I was right). It was hard to cheer him up when I was also a bit of a mess at the time, but sharing the grief of a playoff loss with my son felt like the kind of thing that makes family bonds real.
Earlier this year, he discovered Madden. We have a Wii and the version of the game that I have has the 2011 teams, but he doesn’t care. Just as it had for me, Madden met him at the intersection of his love for football and his love for video games. We played a few times at our house then I let him take it home to play at his mom’s house. In those interim periods, he got really good. I’ve never let him win. He either legitimately beats me or he doesn’t, and now, it’s about a 50/50 proposition. I love that he’s learning to love the what I love about the game; the strategy, the chess match. We’ve started talking about what various positions do, when it’s better to run or pass, when you should blitz or drop into coverage. This is why people have kids, right?
This fall he’s started playing flag football. He likes to play running back. He wishes that he got thrown to more often. He hasn’t gotten to play quarterback yet, but he’s not too upset about it. The QB on his team is “really good”. After his first game he called me and told me he had a few really good plays on defense but that the team lost. I told him that I was proud of him and asked him if he had fun. His answer was a resounding “yes!”. I told him that that’s what matters. Right now, he totally buys into that. When he and his sister went to Virginia Beach with his mother and grandparents, they bought me a little black football that says “Virginia Beach” across it in green letters. This past weekend, we played catch for a good half hour or so. He’s got a good arm. Maybe he should be the quarterback on his team? I mean, they haven’t won any games… maybe its time to shake things up? Anyway, on a weekend where I got married and spent most of the weekend with many of my favorite people, playing catch with him was still in the running for highlights of my weekend. I love his enthusiasm! He’s so like me! He overthinks things and I have to encourage him to get out of his head and trust his body to make catches.
I haven’t told him about my boycott yet. He’ll call and ask if I saw the Steelers game and I say “No, buddy, I didn’t. Tell me what happened!” HIs description of the games is hilarious. For instance, the Steelers played the Bears a couple of weeks ago. In his recap, he kept referring to them as the Cubs. A natural mistake and really, Chicago, you could have made that one easier! I loved his description of an interception that the Steelers got against the Ravens. “So this one play required a lot of really good teamwork,” he started as he went on to explain how one of the Steelers defensive linemen batted the ball in the air while another defender dove to make an interception. I love that that is what he got from watching that play!
We’ve watched a couple of college games when he’s been in town since the season started. Neither of us has the attachment to the college teams that we have to the NFL, but his enthusiasm for the game isn’t diminished. As our friends gathered at our house the day before the wedding, the Michigan/Michigan State game ended up on the television. One of my friends came up to me later and told me, “Thomas is really fun to watch football with!” It’s true. He gets worked up, he jumps around, he yells at the screen! He’s a true fan!
Before the season ends, I will tell him about the boycott. I want him to know that even though I love football, it’s really important to stand up for things that we believe in and sometimes that means sacrificing things we enjoy for things that really matter. I won’t make him stop watching. I enjoy his recaps too much for that! I will explain who Colin Kaepernick is and why he’s important. It’s not nearly on the same level, but I imagine it is the same kind of conversation that parents had during the Civil Rights era. I also imagine that one day we’ll have to have a conversation about his future with the sport. I wouldn’t be comfortable with him playing tackle football at least until he’s in middle school, if then. I started around then. I have to be honest, when I think about playing as a kid, my regrets are that I didn’t play longer, not that I played at all. If he really loves the game, that will be a decision that he, his mother and I help him make with as much information as we have. At the rate things are going, playing anything but flag football may not be an option for him.
It’s amazing to me, with all the things for which I have enthusiasm, my love of football is what has stuck with Thomas. He kinda likes Star Wars. He’s maybe a bit more into Marvel. He’s okay with Jesus. But football is what he loves and I know he loves it because I love it. The day before the wedding, I took he and his stepbrother to our local garden store and told him that it was favorite store in the world. “Really?! Why?” “Because daddy loves gardening!”. He knows that, of course, but it felt like maybe he was a bit more engaged because I said it was my “favorite”. Maybe. I might be imagining things. Maybe one day he’ll find some of my enthusiasm for growing things…
Speaking of growing things, I wanted to highlight a woman and a book that literally changed my life. The woman’s name is Natasha Bowens. For a while she ran a blog called Brown. Girl. Farming. From the work she did on the blog, she wrote a book called The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience, and Farming and moved her work over to a site of the same name. I say her work changed my life because she was the first person I saw explore the concrete connection between racial injustice and food justice. Most people of color in this country have a deep agricultural connection that involves inequality and exploitation. Whether that is the slave labor of African Americans, the stolen land of Native Americans, or the indentured servitude of Hispanic Americans, there have been deep ties to using brown bodies to build the agricultural infrastructure of this country with little or no compensation. Bowens ties reconnecting to the land to liberation for black and brown people through a captivating photo documentary. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. It’s one I hope to read to Thomas someday and tell him about his namesake, my grandfather’s love of the land and gardening.