Man 101: How to be a hypocrite

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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.





2 thoughts on “Man 101: How to be a hypocrite”

  1. I am a little bit by surprised this. I expected to see some stats to back up your decision, but it seems you based the decision on your experience. The thing is that if he is really good at it he will find a way to play it….I bet danny woodhead was told he was too small his whole life, and he went on to play at a division 3 college and broke rushing records, and now plays in the nfl. Or how about RUDY? Not saying that is what would happen to your boy, but does the what if matter. Does the determination of your boy telling you he is good, that he is fast, and that he wants to try even give you a sense of pride. I know u are already proud of him, but that heart of his makes me melt. He would most likely take a lick, but the thing about football is that it teaches lifelong lessons. You have to have the want and determination to go out and battle, get your ass kicked, and then get up and go again. The game is a battle, and so is life. Your boy wont always have dad to HELP determine if he should try something or not. You squashed his dream. He may hear you are too small his whole life, and if he is never given the chance to try he will always have that what if in the back of his mind. I wanted to play football when I was a kid but my dad wouldnt let me son….you are too small too son so u cant play. Not judging here. Just want to try to get another point of view across…we never know if we r good at something until we try. We live in a dangerous world, lots of things can hurt us. Its just amatter of chance. There really are only two things that could happen by letting him play. 1. He gets hiut, which you dont want to happen, and you say I knew it. 2. He is so dang fast and agile that he becomes star, you sWell with pride in your lttle guy, and think he told me so. Which deep down is what you would really want to happen, but something is telling you it is not possible…because….he is too small? Let him try. RUDY RUDY RUDY RUDY RUDY

    1. So, I’ve been thinking about this comment all day. Why no stats? This is my blog, kind of an ongoing diary of my life. A place I go to capture snippets of things I can look back on later. Life is full of details. These are like the filing cabinet descriptions on the manila envelopes. I could spend days filling in information about the stats behind concussive head injures in football. I could also talk about how basketball grew so big this year in our small town of Palos Heights, that they had to add 20 extra teams. The city is also adding flag football in response to all the clamor from parents for an alternative to regular football, but this is not the forum for that.

      Another side of this is that several people thought I was telling my son he isn’t good enough to do this. And that’s just not the truth. Not only is he ridiculously fast, he’s got all the heart in the world. He knows this, because his mother and I constantly tell him this. And we’ve put him in soccer, track and basketball, per his wishes, where he runs all over the place. Small has never been an excuse with him. Yes, it’s an ongoing family joke, since we are all about the size of hobbits, but it’s never held anyone back.

      Football isn’t the end all for proving oneself in life. In fact, If this all holds, I’m going to guess he NFL will be reduced to something shy of its former glory in the next few years due to lawsuits, public image thanks to Ritchie Incognito and a culture of machismo and bigotry. And if a generation of kids doesn’t play the sport because technology can’t solve the issue of what brutal contact sports do to the human body, then we’re looking at a further diminished game that is really only played by one country in the world.

      This post was not about whether or not to allow my kid to play football, it was about my own inability to give up watching the sport that I won’t let him play for a variety of reasons, none of which are because he’s not good enough.

      Yes, I squashed his dream of playing football. He’d also like to have a motorcycle for his first vehicle when he’s old enough to drive. Safe to say he won’t be getting that dream either. That’s the capacity I have as a dad to shape his life, and it is a heavy burden. But it’s one I take seriously, which is why I wrote this post in the first place. It has nothing to do with ability. It has all to do with the hypocrisy of loving something I’ve told my kid he can’t do.

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