Today is the first day of cross-country practice for my 9th grader. School starts in a month, but this is my oldest child’s first high school activity. It was my first time dropping him off at the high school for anything as a student there. He grumbled because they start at 7AM. He tried to talk his way out of it. I pushed him forward, out of the nest.
He and I went into the building and turned in the requisite paperwork so he could get his “ticket to play” (a doctor’s permission stating him fit and able). You can’t play high school sports without it. After turning it in, we left the building and began walking toward the track.
The building is on lower ground than the track/football field. With the bleachers and raised ground, you can’t actually see the field as you approach. You just hear it. We heard the sound of young men grunting and roaring; young men set to prove their toughness, their manliness. Without seeing them, I knew. Football players.
It reminded me of the movie Divergent. You see the teens of the different factions, Amity, Abnegation, Erudite, and Candor, walking around in peace and calm. Then there’s the Dauntless faction. They are the ones you hear before you see. They yell, they run, they climb, they laugh, they hoot and howl. Everyone gets out of their way. In high school, the football players are the Dauntless.
I was a high school football player. It’s not because I truly was without fear, truly undaunted. I was scared of many things. That’s why I tried out for the hardest of sports. I figured if I could make it through two-a-day football workouts, I could handle any other challenges that arose. Before I tried to earn playing time, I just tried to survive practice. Inside me, I carried that threat to my sense of self all through high school. Even when not on the football field, I was trying to prove I was man enough. For me, it was that way all of the time.
This morning as I walked through the parking lot with my 9th grader, “ticket to play” in hand, and as I listened to the football players grunt, I thanked God my son is not playing football. If he were playing, I’d thank God for that too, but I am glad he won’t carry the pressures in the way I carried them. He has his own and they might be much harder than mine were. But I hope he doesn’t feel constant pressure to show he’s man enough, tough enough.
As we walked I thought about a Brian Adams song, “The Summer of ’69.” One line in the song is “they were the best days of my life.” My experience is completely different than Adams’. I appreciate the life I lived in high school. I wouldn’t change much. I was happy. But my high school years certainly weren’t best days of my life. For me, I am convinced those days are ahead. I enjoy parenting, and someday, I plan on loving retirement.
As we neared the place where Igor, my son, would join up with his cross country teammates, I saw the football players. They were in line, each waiting his turn to run the 40-yard dash for time. What a contrast, football players and cross country runners. The cross country crowd is mellow, chill. The football players are posturing, muscles pressed out as much as possible, manly strutting over the top. The cross country coaches are laid back. The football coaches ready to yell and then yell some more.
As soon as Igor could clearly see where he was going he turned to me and said, “OK, I’ll see you.” No message could be clearer. Dad, this is as far as you go. I am grateful you got me this far, but I’ll take it from here. Please leave NOW. So often, he and I struggle to communicate. God, thank you. This time it was clear. “Alright,” I said. OK, son. I am really proud of you. Now go run.