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Down! Set! Huh?

Down! Set! Huh?

The reason I watch the Super Bowl (and I’m talking about the actual football game, mind you, and not just the commercials) is because I am a caring and concerned father.

Being a caring and concerned father is also the reason I play golf, and the reason I occasionally let my 13-year-old drive my car.

“But wait,” you are surely saying (especially if you are a mom trespassing in the DAD Zone), “this sounds like a cleverly contrived justification for doing the things men always do. And don’t let that boy drive your car!”

Okay, so let’s flip the calendar back a few years. Ben, the 13-year-old car driver, was five, and on the cusp of kindergarten. Perhaps unsurprisingly, two bookworm parents had produced a bookworm son. When he and his pals got together they played tag and Star Wars and Legos. His favorite outing was to Narnia, the local children’s bookstore. Sports were not in his realm of interests.

Then two things happened.

First, my wife Dena’s mom sat us down one evening and very earnestly said, “He’s going to be in kindergarten soon. There could be trouble on the playground.”

“He’s great on the playground,” I answered. “Have you seen him do the monkey bars?” She turned to Dena. “The boys will be playing ball. Do you want him to be one of those boys who doesn’t play ball?”

“She’s exaggerating,” I reassured Dena afterwards. “There will be lots of boys who don’t play ball.”

Then, a few days later, we met a family whose son would be in the same kindergarten class as Ben. We invited him over so they could get to know one another before school began.

He burst out of the car, wearing a New England Patriots jersey, a football cradled hermetically under his arm. Serenading us with a lusty chorus of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” he backpedaled and woofed across the yard.

“I’m Jack,” he said, slapping Ben a high five. “Go long!” Ben took a few tentative steps in the direction indicated by Jack’s outstretched arm, then stopped and gaped at the sky. Dena and I, in the middle of introductions with Jack’s mom, stopped and gaped at the sky.

A laser-guided spiral was incising the azure heavens, arcing like a fiat of doom towards the heart of a blissful bookworm childhood, cleaving a wake of wreckage through the long history of boys who did not play ball.

That night I went to Target and returned with a football, a baseball, a bat and glove, and a basketball. (We already owned a soccer ball and had even used it on occasion—mostly as the Death Star.)

Dena looked at the pile of sporting equipment. “Could this maybe be a little… much?”

Overreact? Moi?

“Maybe you could start by just watching some football.” You hear that, fellas? My wife. Telling me I need to watch more football.

The next Sunday, I settled on the sofa with Ben.

“What’s the TV doing on?” he asked.

“We’re going to watch some football.” He looked at me, waiting for more.

“And it’ll be fun!” Dena, on her way out the door to yoga, said, “You boys enjoy yourselves.” When she returned, we were still on the sofa.

“What a game!” I announced, hastily stashing the book I had been reading under a pillow.

“Is Ben asleep?”

“What? No! He’s just contemplating options for third and long. Right, buddy?”

“Uhh,” he said.

“What did you just slide under the pillow?”

“Oh, you know, a six-pack.”

It was a start. A small and halting start, but a start.

Maybe you are waiting for me to say that Ben has gone on to be the school’s starting quarterback, while Jack is on the chess team (second string!), or that Ben’s little brother was the youngest rookie ever signed by the Colts. (That’s the Indianapolis Colts, for any of you dads who might be where I was eight years ago.)

What I will say is that Ben survived the kindergarten playground just fine, thank you very much. He navigated the perilous channels of recess politics, sometimes sailing along successfully on his own, and sometimes needing a lighthouse to help him chart a course around rocky shoals. He played tag, he played Star Wars, and yes, he even played ball now and then.

And furthermore, we have the awesomest front-yard football games ever. We are the Mad Footballing Moores, and we dish out the hurt. If you come to play you’d better bring big time game. You think you can defend against plays like the Wide High Pants? Or the There’s Henry? Or the sublime, yet exhausting Longest Play in History? I say: Bring it on!

I’m sure you think you have clever plays in your playbook, but let me tell you: Offenses break like weary ocean waves against the dreaded Black Dog of Death defense.

And yes, we backpedal, we woof, and we know all the words to “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

Now, pass the French onion dip and an ice cold soda, then make yourself comfortable and let’s watch some football!

Just don’t sit on my book.

Chris Moore
A writer and photographer, Chris Moore lives in the West End with his wife and their two sons. A regular contributor to RFM, he writes features, contributes photo essays, and for six years, chronicled true stories of parenting in the DadZone.
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