Sunday, September 9, 2012

Are you ready for some football?

Psalm 139:17-18 (NIV)

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
   they would outnumber the grains of sand —
   when I awake, I am still with you.
Today is the first Sunday of the National Football League’s regular season. Judging by my social media connections, it might as well be a national holiday. (At least two churches in the country encouraged people to wear gear representing their favorite team to Sunday morning worship.) I’m by no means a football fanatic — I much prefer baseball — but I’m enough of a general sports fan and a Chicago sports media consumer to have football on my radar. Not to mention my three fantasy football leagues.

Fear not, this isn’t going to be all about football. Rather, it’s about tradition. Since we moved back closer to my parents, and especially as Jack has gotten older, I’ve thought on and off how nice it would be to have a men of the family tradition of going over to my parents’ house after church to watch the Bears game. And while I do still think it might be fun, it’s been far too easy for me to come up with reasons not to pursue the idea. Specifically:
  • We’re often busy with other stuff on Sundays, or at least could be doing something more productive. Same for my parents.
  • We don’t exactly have a generational devotion to the Bears or any pro team in any sport. My dad’s dad grew up poor in Western Illinois in the 1920s and 1930s. Most “family” fandom starts with my dad, and he grew up a Milwaukee Braves fan.
  • Along those lines, I don’t really care if the Bears win or lose. If there were meaningful Cubs games on a September Sunday (don’t laugh, it’s happened in my lifetime) I would be fighting tooth and nail to be plopped in front of a screen. But when the Bears lost the Super Bowl in 2007, I wasn’t emotionally crushed. I more or less walked away from the TV and started to clean up the kitchen.
  • Jack has expressed very little interest in watching any sports on TV. (By the time I was his age, I was far more into all types of sports.)
  • Thanks to TV schedules, the days of the Bears reliably playing nearly every Sunday at noon are long gone.
  • Our kids watch enough TV as it is, so I’m not inclined to push for more.
  • During the school year (of which football season is only a subset) our family schedule fills up quickly and I hesitate to add anything else, especially for such an insubstantial reason.
  • It’s not like Pops is sitting home alone just wishing his son and grandsons would drive down to enjoy the game. Live sports on TV was a part of our house when I was a child — not dominating, but much more prominent than it’s been around here since my kids were born — but we never really had any rituals or routines associated with games.
I’m not jealous of other families who have similar traditions to the ones I envision. Neither do I judge them for how they spend their Sundays. Interest in sports is something I share with my dad and brother. If any of my boys grow into enjoying sports, playing or watching, I’ll be happy to facilitate. Yet as much as I loved playing Little League baseball from the end of first grade into summers home from college (I really should have stopped sooner because I was never very good) I’ve never had much interest in pushing Jack into team sports.

After we moved here, Jack did about a year of gymnastics. He played one season of soccer in the spring of 2011, and he did two years of youth bowling, which we stopped this fall in favor of Cub Scouts. We also tried tae kwon do, a horrible experience which I am trying to forget in its entirety. Maybe some day another activity will grab his interest. Max probably is old enough, and for several reasons better suited than Jack, to try something like T-ball. What eventually grabs Charlie’s attention is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps my angst about becoming pushy dad, and forcing my child into something they hate, has caused an overreaction to the point where I don’t encourage the kids to try anything. I never felt my parents pushed me into anything, though they were good about making sure I kept commitments (I was not allowed to quite piano lessons in the middle of a school year, for example). We’re unlikely, as parents, to have our first real moment of sincere concern in this arena until the end of fourth grade, when students here select instruments for participation in school band.

I’ve been perfectly fine not being a Little League dad or even tossing a ball in the yard. But If Jack shows little or no interest in any instrument, his band geek parents are going to have to swallow hard. I don’t really want to buy a drum set, and there’s nowhere good to fit a marimba in this house. But if he resists joining the school band, it’s going to be difficult for us to accept his choice and not try to force the matter. It was much easier to promise to be cool about that when he was Charlie’s age.

None of this is a particularly spiritual matter, but in quiet moments when my mind wanders, sometimes this is a direction it heads. I can’t help but think about the future, how the kids will change and how I might change as a result. I think it comes with the territory of fatherhood. Thankfully prayer can help settle my mind and direct my focus elsewhere — always.

A prayer for September 9:

Lord, thank you for the peace you provide a wandering mind. Even when I am not in physical danger, your presence calms my heart. I am grateful you reach out to me even when I don’t make the first move. Your love guides my way, your light is upon my path that I might follow where you lead. Please always keep me close, as I will try to keep my focus firmly where it belongs. Amen.

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