My father always wanted sons, and was fortunate enough to have 3. Unfortunately, he did not know how to communicate with us.
I remember when I was little, between the ages of 4 to 6, he took me to the park and tried to play catch with me. I could not do it and gave up quickly, eventually refusing to play. When I was age 14 or so, I brought this up to him, and asked why he never tried to play with me again. He told me that I had refused to play, that I, the 4 to 6 year old, was responsible for the fact that he, a grown man, never played with me. I was as contemptuous as a 14 year old can be. My father was a clinical psychologist with a school for emotionally disturbed children; I had watched him for years pour time, energy, and love into helping the worst-behaved children imaginable. “Big psychologist,” I said. “Lets a 4-year-old tell him what to do.”
Later in life, my mother would tell me my father could not stand our squeaky high voices as children; men are supposed to have deep voices as he did. [Big psychologist.]
At any rate, my father was entirely more skilled at ignoring us than just on the field of play. Sometimes I would sit beside his armchair as he watched television after work, and say, “Dad.” No response. “Dad.” No response. “Dad.” No response. Talk about feeling invisible and unimportant!
But over time, I discovered that he would talk about sports, even to me. He had attended the University of Oklahoma during the Bud Wilkinson era. Oklahoma was a mighty football power. My father was fond of saying he carried me as a baby to the football games. Somehow that baby knew how to bond with my father the way the 4-year-old never figured out.
I would watch the Oklahoma-Nebraska game with my father on Thanksgiving Day. And he would actually talk to me…if I talked football. I had no interest in sports of any kind, especially not football. BUT if I talked football, I was no longer invisible. My father would talk to me. I became Oklahoma’s #1 fan. I learned about quarterbacks, and the virtues of the running game over the passing game, how Oklahoma recruited those lanky farm boys because they were speedy.
And eventually, I branched out. My brother was going to dook university (they spell it “Duke” but they pronounce it “dook”), so I picked the rival university, North Carolina. And the sport was basketball. I learned about the 4 corners, and the mascot, and Dean Smith. And my father would be a regular Chatty Cathy about it to me. When I went away to Carolina, my dad would come visit and we would go to the football game, as if I were important to him. I’ll never forget the game at dook, where they pulled the Statue of Liberty play (which was downright obsolete) and won the game with that trick play. Dad was there, and told me about how Notre Dame had used that play to beat Oklahoma.
So here’s the thing: I’m stuck with this legacy. Somehow I got caught up in the whole sports thing. I have tried to give it up, but it seems that I get pulled in deeper and deeper with passing time. I now follow women’s basketball, women’s soccer, men’s soccer, wrestling, lacrosse, tennis, and on and on. For a while I followed professional teams, not just Carolina and Oklahoma. I lived in Eugene, OR, and started following the Ducks. I follow baseball—baseball—the most boring spectator sport in the world outside of golf. And I actually started following golf when Tiger was at his peak.
Can I seriously blame my father for this addiction? Is it possible that when I went to Carolina, the other boys would have dragged me to the games anyway, and I would have gotten caught up in game day, the excitement of thousands of people jumping up to cheer a spectacular play, the joy in singing, “Go to Hell dook.” My friends and I went to Keenan Stadium in the pouring rain one year to mock the football team which seemed destined to go 0-9, only to see Carolina upset mighty Florida and go 1-8. How ironic.
But no, by the time I arrived at Carolina and was seduced by the band playing, and the crowd cheering, and the fall chill, and the spiked soft drinks, I had been prepped for years by watching sports with dear old dad. I had started to learn the rules some of which seemed arcane to the casual observer. One memory I would like to bury is standing up and shouting, “Touchback, touchback, we want a touchback.” Seriously. I suppose I didn’t have to tell you that.
Have there been positives to it? I mean my life rises and falls on Carolina, Oklahoma, and Oregon sports fortunes. Not so good. Why must I be depressed if they lose? And there are aspects to college sports that violate all my principles of social justice. Why are the students not paid when the universities make millions? There is corruption galore within the sports programs. And often the objective seems to be violence and injury, even in the women’s sports. I engage in shouting, “Kill them. Destroy them. Mangle them.” These are not my values. And I always wonder, would these students be my friends? Would I want to be their friend?
Knowing sports did not really help me meet people at the local gay bar I hung out at in New York City. If I tried to talk sports, I was looked at as a freak. Not saying there aren’t many gays in sports or who are supporters of sports, but not at the gay bar I attended.
And yet, if I am stuck in conversation with a straight man I have just met, often I can break the ice by talking sports. Hell, I have used it to bond with women who play sports; recently a graduate assistant at the center who plays soccer complimented my knowledge of the women’s game (well, I have to be knowledgeable about it—Carolina has won 22 of the women’s soccer national championships since its inception—most recently this year).
Men and talking sports: it’s big business in America. Worldwide.
So why does it feel like a trap to me?
I wonder what my life would have been like if my father had talked to me about art?
Poor dad. If he hadn’t been such a Freudian, I might not blame him today for who I am. LOL.