World Cup tears
The boy’s lip trembled when it became clear that the USA was going to lose to Ghana. He fought the tears as long as he could and stumbled over his words as he asked why the Ghana player was pretending to be hurt. When the final whistle blew, my son walked around the corner and halfway up the stairs. When I found him, he was sitting with his head in his hands. And he was sobbing.
There is part of me–the boy who is still learning to be a man, and the man who is still learning to be a father–that wanted to tell my five-year-old that, if there is no crying in baseball, there is damn well no crying in soccer. I felt myself getting ready to give him a speech about being tough, holding back the tears, and never letting anyone know it if you’re hurt. Then I stopped and let him cry.
We are not really a soccer family. We’re typical American sports folk. We dig NFL Sundays, October baseball, and March Madness. We live competition and love the symbol of sport. It’s not our Alpha and Omega, but it’s a big part of our life. The boy swims. He plays baseball. He’s got a wicked left arm and can throw a spiral on a rope. He’s going to soccer camp tomorrow. He’s five and he wants to do it all. It’s my job to let him and help as much as I can.
Still, apart from what my wife knows from her soccer playing days, we’re not the kind of family that knows a great deal about what most of the world calls football. I even hesitated to let people know I was enjoying the World Cup matches because it would’ve been more than easy to call me a bandwagon jumper or, perhaps even more accurately, a poser. Then the USA started winning. During the deciding group match, I found myself jumping from my chair, screaming, lifting my son high above my head, and celebrating as if we’d been waiting for the moment our entire lives.
And now it was over. The USA had lost in the Round of 16 and my son sat on the stairs crying. I was at a loss. Here was a sport that until the past couple of months had been something we occasionally played–badly–together at the fields near our house. It was never anything we watched on television. And the boy was crying.
The “Be a Man” speech still in my back pocket, I sat down and tried to find some rational reason for how much my son cared. Sure, I was disappointed in the loss, but…tears?
I thought about it for a few minutes more and remembered Super Bowl XVI. I was eight years old and sitting cross-legged in my grandparents living room. I was neither from San Francisco nor Cincinnati, and if memory serves, I was actually a Joe Montana fan. Still, I remember the tears like it was yesterday. I sat in the middle of the floor and cried when the Bengals lost. To this day, I’m not sure why, but I remember feeling powerfully sad because the Bengals were…well, sad. The look of defeat when it was over was too much for my little soul to bear.
I grew up in a family that watched sports. The 1982 and 1985 World Series were big times around our house. November 4, 1990, my dad took my friends and me to Arrowhead Stadium. Freezing rain caked our blue jeans. We watched in a combination of misery and joy as the shivering Chiefs defeated the Raiders 9-7. Several years later, I’d moved away from home. Mark McGwire was chasing the homerun record. With every dinger, my dad would call me and yell, “Did you see that?” One day Dad showed up at my house carrying a Wheaties box with McGwire on the front. In spite of what’s happened with McGwire since then, I’ve kept the box in pristine condition. Why? My dad gave it to me.
I thought about all of these things as my son cried. It occurred to me that he and I are creating the same kind of moments that I shared with my dad when I was a kid. It occurred to me that my son might just be sad because the USA’s run in the World Cup is over and he doesn’t know how long it will be before I pick him up and run around the room like an idiot. For a moment, it all connected in my head. I skipped a fantastic SuperBowl party this year because I wanted to watch the game with my boy. I didn’t go to a sports bar to watch the World Cup matches (as much as I wanted to) because I wanted to watch my kid kick his soccer ball around the living room.
I walked to the stairs, picked him up, and sat him on a chair. I said all I could think to say. “Buddy, I’m sad that USA lost, too. But I’m happy that we got to watch the games together. We’re lucky that we get to do that.”
Somewhere in that perfect soul of his, I think I heard something click.
I meant it literally, but it occurred to me later that I meant more than what I’d said. Not only am I lucky I have the opportunity to share the moment with my son, the people in this country are lucky to have shared the moment with each other. It’s rare to see people from coast to coast–even people who know next to nothing about the game–join forces and voices with the same goal. As silly as it sounds, watching America watch the USA games gave me some sort of naive hope.
This morning when I woke up, the boy walked up to me and said, “Daddy, I am still sad that USA lost.”
I got ready to cut him off and give him my speech again, but then he stopped me. “No, Daddy. I’m still sad that USA lost, but I’m happy for Ghana that they won.”
That’s when I wanted to cry.