Most of our dinner table conversations are good.
My kids amaze me with their global prowess, though my wife will complain that we spend too much time talking sports.
With three boys to two girls, I’ll admit that sometimes we do take over the conversation a bit.
Tonight was not a good conversation. And it’s my fault.
I brought up my son’s basketball practice after he started talking about going to play for the local Catholic school.
He talked about playing football for the local Catholic school.
Football is something we bond around. I went to the University of Oregon, so my kids are Duck fans. We have been lifelong San Francisco 49er fans. Some of us for more than 30 years, some of us for more than 10 years, some of us for more than 5 years and some of us are brand new to the sport.
But there is a big difference in our house, one which I’m starting to have doubts about.
One is playing football. The other is watching football.
Our oldest son is a cross-country runner with a photographic memory of football stats. His sport has risks, especially if you’re a cross country runner in Alaska.
There are bears, for which your coach often carries a shotgun along with the blankets, hand warmers and energy drinks.
But the risk of head injury in cross country is pretty low.
My middle guy, as I call him, has been obsessed with football as long as I can remember. He lives it like I do journalism.
“I’m fast dad, this is what I’m good at,” he told me tonight at dinner.
“I know you’re fast, son,” I said. “But you’re small, and I worry about what football will do to you.”
Big tears welled up in his eyes as I explained all the evidence against the sport he adores, the players he idolizes and the league he loves.
He sobbed quietly as he stabbed individual peas on his plate, which made me want to carry on with my diatribe.
There is no graceful explanation of parents’ concerns for their children in situations like this. Nothing that soothes or makes sense.
It’s all just raw and angry and no.
Such a short and powerful word.
He was still sniffling an hour later after he emptied the dishwasher and brushed his teeth and went to bed.
I stopped in to say goodnight, but he wouldn’t talk to me.
I can’t blame him either.
As a former football player. I feel like a complete hypocrite.
I wasn’t any good, mind you. I played my freshman and part of my sophomore years in high school, but the term played is pretty generous when you apply it to me.
While trying to learn the offense, which I never really did, I was hit several times in the back, which tore some rib cartilage.
It so happens that I had a condition with my ribs called decalcification, or whatever the doctor termed it back then, which meant that every time I got hit, I ended up with microtears in the non-calcified parts of my lower ribs, which was really painful.
None of that is enough to hang out my son’s desired career to dry though.
“I just want to try dad,” he said. “I know I’m small, but I’m fast.”
Something I’ve never been able to say. The fast part at least.
I know he does, and I want him to so bad.
But I don’t want him to suffer head injuries that will ruin his life.
Or maybe it’s my life.
“I don’t care dad,” he said. “I just want to try.”
“But it’s my job to care about you, to take care of you when you don’t think of these things,” I said, sounding just like my own father.
It’s not an easy matter when dealing with dreams of glory.
I don’t want to shorten my kids’ dreams for fears that are driven by media and public hysteria.
Or vice versa.
The question that really torments me is this – how can I watch football, when I believe that it is a racket that endangers the lives of thousands of young men every year?
How can I endorse something every Saturday and Sunday in the fall, when I wouldn’t let my own child play it?
I’m not ready to answer that question, but I should be.
I should be able to simply reinforce my words with my actions.
It’s easier than you think to break your kids’ heart at the dinner table, which is moronically wrong in every sense of the word. But to give up something you keep telling them is wrong is somehow difficult.
The journalist in me would say we have our priorities in the wrong place.
But I need to own this as a dad.