Turf & Rec

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My son, the football player


October 5, 2011
By Ian Robinson

IT is fall.

Once upon a time, all fall meant was I’d rake leaves into big piles.
Not that I’m one of those guys who cares if his lawn is littered with
leaves. In fact, I’m one of those guys who doesn't really care about
his lawn at all.

Last summer, I built a new deck—and increased its size over the previous structure by about 250 per cent—which means it now takes me seven minutes to mow my back yard—and that includes five minutes looking for the key to the garden shed.

Trying to figure a way to get that down to zero.

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Anyway, I used to rake leaves into giant piles because my kids liked to jump in them, run through them, hide in them and leap out growling at innocent passersby.

That was about all the fun fall held for me, except for Halloween. I’m the guy on the street with the black, old-school-original-Dracula coffin that he breaks out every year around this time. I lean it up against the house on the front porch and hide in it Oct. 31 and, yes, I have my own fangs and a cape.

It’s kind of a rite of passage for little kids in my neighbourhood to pee themselves on my front porch on Halloween.

As they get older, when I jump out, they throw apples at me, but, hey. I don’t mind. You spend 20 years on the same cul de sac, scaring the crap out of five-year-olds … they’re gonna grow up and get even. I have it coming.

But a couple of years ago, all that changed, when my son gave me a reason to rejoice in the turning of the leaves.

He became a football player and I became a football dad.

This was a surprise, because he was kind of a round kid, a bookish kid, a basement-dwelling-video-game-fiend of a kid.

When he announced he was going to start watching what he ate, not to mention try out for football—full-contact football—I asked him why, and my bookish 10-year-old looked at me and replied: “Because I do not wish to die a virgin.”

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I said, “Huh? What? Whafu? Come again?”

He explained, using little words the way he does when he suspects the person he’s talking to isn’t terribly bright, that he noticed girls were more interested in athletic guys than the basement-dwelling-video-game fiends. That he was planning ahead. That when he started to date, he wanted to date somebody pretty.

And four years later, he is.

So my evenings are spent on the sidelines with the other football dads, talking trash and football and politics and the sad and sorry fact that, as a bunch of middle-aged men, we still know about as much about women as we did when we were the age of the kids on the field in front of us.

Well, except for the fact that most of us have learned how to duck.

More importantly, having a kid in football has taught me things about my son that I did not know.
I leaned my son is tough.

His nickname, bestowed upon him by a coach at the beginning of his first season, and emblazoned on the sleeve of his football jacket is “Xbox.”

This is how he got it: There is a hill about 20 feet high at the end of the football field. The players call it The Hill. When the real grown-ups are gone and it’s just me, they call it The %$#@! hill. These boys learning to be men learned a big part of that on The Hill because the coaches make them bear crawl it, on their fingers and toes in full equipment, over and over again, in the sun and the rain and the sleet.

During one of his first practices, a chubby couch potato trying to become an atom football player, my Jake crested the hill on fingers and toes, vomiting through his face mask and crying a little. A coach asked him if he was OK.

He spat out a mouthful of puke. He grinned through his tears. And told the coach if he’d known it was going to be this hard, he wouldn’t have spent his whole life sitting on his ass playing Xbox. And then he finished the drill.

Coaches eat that kind of thing up with a spoon.

That’s the day they started calling him Xbox.

I learned my son is brave.

One game, when my son was still a fat, round centre, he walked out onto the field. He was five feet tall. The opposing team’s noseguard was already there. Jake walked up to him and looked up. And up and up and up. The other kid—at the age of 11—was just under six feet tall and weighed around 200 pounds. I could see Jake’s helmet bobbing as he started beaking off. Then I saw the giant kid’s shoulders shaking as he started to laugh and then they took their stances and—to my enormous surprise—the giant did not crush my son into crimson paste. Jake held him for that play and all the others.

After the game, I asked him what he’d said to the giant kid.

Jake grinned and replied: “I asked him where he went to college. I figured the only way I wasn’t going to get killed was if I kept him laughing.”

I learned my son is competitive.

There was the year the boys had a terrible time, what coaches call a “transitional season.” That’s politically correct coach code for “We suck diseased monkey butt and are praying for the season to end.”

After a particularly hideous shellacking, our little warriors came off the field. Some of them were crying. My son was covered in mud and looked like he’d just survived the siege of Khe Sahn.
I put my arm around him and said, gently, “Son, think of it as character building.”

He was 12 then and he looked me in the eye and said, “Dad, I have enough effing character. What I need is a win.”

And football taught me something about myself: I must have done something right, because I’ve got one hell of a son.