The Moment I Realized I Shouldn't Force Football on My Son
Joe DeProspero has two sons and a wife, and he is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as "outrageous," "painfully real," and "downright humiliating." Author of the dark comedy fiction novel "The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt," Joe is also writing a parenting humor book. He posts twice monthly and his previous posts can be found here. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook or on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
We all do it. Every last one of us has interests, passions that we either hope our children will gravitate toward, or we flat out force on them. Family traditions, sports, fashion trends. All things we often unknowingly (or knowingly) push down the throats of our kids without consideration of their own preferences. But we still do it, because at our core, we are self-serving creatures with a relentless desire to recreate our own childhood, or to produce a new shopping partner or drinking buddy in 20 years.
I'm a New York Jets fan. It does not feel good to write that. Actually, it feels like admitting that I eat processed cheese out of a spray can. But like most dads, I bolted to pick up a Size N jersey when my first son, Antonio was born. "Look, he's officially my child. He's branded now," I thought to myself. The fact that it was a Tim Tebow jersey made the moment that much more sadly fitting.
Over the next several years, he was given a Jets helmet, blanket, t-shirt, not all by me, but I certainly didn't resist the continuation of the branding process. Then, this season started, and it became clear to me pretty quickly that my son was ready to be molded into a fan. When I turned on the Jets-Bills game last Sunday at 1:00, he joined me on the couch, and he seemed legitimately interested in the game, at least for a while. He predicted Jets to win 20-17 over our inter-conference foe. I was fairly sure he was wrong, but his clueless optimism was actually quite refreshing. He had no idea what he was getting himself into.
Any football fan knows the Jets' season has been a complete and utter disaster, from top to bottom. And I'm one of those fans who lets it get to him. Moping around, grimacing, refusing eye contact. It's utterly exhausting, and equally embarrassing. I'm a grown man who actually allows the outcome of a sporting event affect my mood.
As expected, the Jets lost, and lost big, their record falling to a dismal 1-7. If you don't believe me, ask Mike Francesa. I sat there, despondent, silent. Antonio asked if the Jets lost, and I told him they did. Then, I saw something that made me feel physically ill. He slumped down in his seat and grunted, "Oh maaaaaan." He was noticeably disappointed. Most people say that he resembles my wife, but in that moment, he looked more like me than he ever had before. And it made me sad. Very sad.
"Come here, honey." I said to him. "It's okay if you like to watch football with daddy. And it's okay if you don't. But one thing I need you to know is that we shouldn't let a silly game make us sad. Daddy won't do that anymore, and neither should you." He nodded solemnly, I turned off the television, and we preceded to play "store" with his cash register.
I made two mistakes here. For one, I unabashedly thrust my own personal interests on my son, hoping he'd develop an interest and football would be something we could bond over in the coming years. Secondly, I showed him with my actions that the outcome of a game can and should affect you personally. I tried my best to quell that assumption, but we'll see if he listens.
Later that night, when the subject of football came up once more, as much as it pained me to let go of the dream of sharing a fandom with my son, I encouraged him to find his own team (assuming he continued to have interest in the game), and that it could be whichever team he wants. He chose the Pittsburgh Steelers. While I'm not thrilled it's an AFC team, at least it's not the Patriots. That would break my heart. But what would break my heart the most is if I condemned my son to the same miserable, hapless allegiance that I've fruitlessly clung to all these years.
So, if you have a hobby or interest you'd like your child to get involved with, I don't think there's anything wrong with introducing them to it, as long as the downside doesn't outweigh the good. And they don't turn out to be bitter Jets fans.
Image: Football photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com