Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Love as Wind-Tossed Paper

“I love you,” she said.
“You don’t even like me,” I said.
the recipe for the perfect argument
worth its furry
both of us wrong.

beautiful lovers,
short-lived friends—
no heart to be an enemy
but sometimes i wish

passing glance
subdued by passion spent
long ago that brought
the blindness of fools

that cannot hide us
from daylight
the not-quite lies
now illuminated, I can’t bear to see

we squint, grasping for
the word that makes us win
hollow prizes
with hands coming up empty

why won’t she listen
why can’t he hear
“If I didn’t love you…” I say.
“If you really loved me…” she says.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Tradition

We set out, this year for Thanksgiving, just the two of us, Sid and me. Sid was sad that his cousins would not be joining him this year. He was glad to hang out with grandma and grandpa, especially in the kitchen.

We arrived on the holiday eve. Leaving town amid the last remnants of the day’s rush hour, mixed with other holiday travelers, leaving the city for regions closer to Lake Wobegon in geography and spirit. Watching a steady stream of tail lights I wondered if travelers are headed home, to a relative’s, and of the stories of the people inside each vehicle. I cannot keep track. I cannot ponder each set of lights. It is enough to contemplate the stories that put my son and me in our seats that late afternoon.

It’s a matter of perspective. I can look at the faint images of drivers and passengers in the early dusk as we pass. I cannot tell if they are headed someplace happy or a place of annual or daily obligation. I don’t know the nature of the commotion that ensued prior to them getting into the car, if it was wrapping up details before the long weekend, organizing small children and the things they would need to survive four days at a relative’s, fits of loathing that often accompany times with family that are aggravations of the dysfunction and ill health that plagued their developmental years, or the greatest of joys that comes with the prospect of spending time with the most favorite and precious people in the universe.

These trips matter and so do the histories that lead up to them. We all have history that makes the days what they are, the day-to-day reality that created the relationships we encounter most intensely on a holiday as well as what those days looked like in years past.

The story of our preparation was marked by excited anticipation. Sid asked if we could go up to grandma and grandpa’s a bit earlier than I suggested.

This year, Sid spent hours in the kitchen entertaining grandma and grandpa with long discussions about China, school and the finer points of learning grammar and the teachers who were as entertaining as the escapades of pedagogy. I sat in a spare bedroom, listening to quick wits and luscious stories. Mother, who was always a good speller, the kind of smarts that helped her graduate from high school at age 16, traded her knowledge with Sid about the finer points of English–alternating that with her well-remembered math anxiety that made itself known as she entered college. Dad, the great story teller, compared his college French class with Sid’s experience. Even coming from New Orleans and French heritage, we do not maintaining much French language, but dad retains the stories, especially of his professors, as a language no one teaches as well as himself.

As I sat resting, I could hear each of them laugh from at each others’ stories and their own. Teachers are the same from generation to generation and, at the same time, so different today than the days when high school graduation was little more than behaving well enough to convince the teacher to give students a C and then to march them capped and gowned into an arbitrary adulthood. They were full of conversations, most of which I have had over the past years and recent weeks with each of them, in smaller bits and pieces. Sid’s monologues were enough to wrap grandma and grandpa’s attention. He looked forward to this trip as well for the stories he learns, as well as the grandkid attention.

I knew there are more stories. I hear them. As many stories that get shared, there are long, dark afternoons endured with the aid of the second or third drink. Off in a corner with a concocted fetish of a tumbler and melted ice. So much easier to peer slightly over the lip of the glass than directly into the eyes of past shames that the relative does not want to let you forget, the in-law who still dreams of the other woman for their son and the failure after failure to conform to something that is less about virtue or morality than it is a struggle to keep family members corralled in a cage of a family secret.

History, however you define or identify it, means something. Some we carry from our childhood. Some, we carry from generations. Americans have a short history and even shorter memories. Even the short 400 years since English separatists arrived and nearly all perished in the new elements is played out with most of the details mostly forgotten and lived through a fiction of harmony that masks the genocide that makes the losses of the initial losses of the first immigrants look like the loss of one nonagenarian relative whose suffering warranted moving on into the next world.

A friend, thankful in her own rights, shared a piece written by Dennis W. Zotigh in Indian Country Today Media Network, “Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?“ The present-day follies that dress children in garb to play Pilgrim and Indian mark our history better than we remember it. Was it so necessary to insult Native identity as it is to insult our children’s intelligence? For some purposes, yes.

We are making new traditions. Some fitfully. While some school children’s are led in rituals that still mock native peoples, but more people are interested in accurate and respectful representations of history, story and the people who lived and perished in those stories. New traditions.

I have often said that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is that day, for me, that has been about getting together with people who I care about. Little obligation other than to enjoy a mean and share it with great people. Okay, there’s more than that, especially if you are making a big meal. I’ve shared a few green bean bakes over the years. It is the day when mom and dad usually invite other company, student strays and need the card table to fit everyone.

In years past, we would always have snow for Thanksgiving. There would be snow on the ground, almost every year. Even if the day before had none, it was sure to snow before dinner was set on the table. Two families in St. Cloud, the Statzs and the Opatzs, would hold a touch football game between the families. It was always held in a field covered in snow. But in recent years, climate has brought us something different. I have gotten used to brown Thanksgivings. Things change.

This year, it was only Sid, me, and mom and dad. Without his cousins, Sid gets more attention from grandma and grandpa, but he said, “It’s not the same without Kamarah and Nyah here.” Mom turns from the counter and says, “What are we missing?”

My impulse was to say, “Your three other children.” I was silent.

My siblings and my nieces are having a great Thanksgiving and we are looking forward to Christmas together. Traditions.

I had mentioned to a friend that I might bring baseball gloves. She was excited to hear this, surely missing her father with whom she shared a love of baseball and the misery of the Cubs. I might be able to give mom and dad’s neighbor Thom Woodward a call: a former baseball coach, he has expressed a desire to join us, having seen Sid and I and often his cousins at the park across from his home. The gloves sat idle as the morning sun became lost behind solid clouds and the wind picked up enough toward the end of our walk. Later, it would snow. A historically accurate Thanksgiving.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Obama’s Hand of Cooperation

In the week before the election, much of the eastern seaboard was hit by Hurricane Sandy.  Republican New Jersey Chris Christie was faced with the devastation left by Sandy and millions of people suffering in pretty harsh conditions.  He responded to his constituents’ emergency swiftly.  He also worked with FEMA and President Obama, setting into motion the pieces of our national infrastructure that was designed to enhance safety during such disasters and provide a backstop when the critical means for survival have been wiped out.

There is a photo that has circulated widely of the President, getting off a helicopter and being greeted by Gov. Christie.  They are shaking hands as they walk to their task of responding to the disaster.  Gov. Christie is quoted as saying much in praise of the President including, “The president was great last night.  He said he would get it done. At 2 a.m., I got a call from FEMA to answer a couple of final questions and then he signed the declaration this morning. So I have to give the president great credit. He’s been on the phone with me three times in the last 24 hours. He’s been very attentive, and anything that I’ve asked for, he’s gotten to me. So, I thank the president publicly for that. He’s done — as far as I’m concerned — a great job for New Jersey.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie greeting President Barack Obama to lead the storm response effort in the wake of Sandy.

This is not just refreshing because it is an act of bipartisanship that everyone talks about.  At this point, I am not so concerned about bipartisanship as much as I am impressed with this act of non-partisanship that President Obama marks the extended hand of cooperation that Obama has been extending for over four years. Too many Republican partisans have been terrorized into ignoring it or vociferously opposing, not Obama’s policies but the mere act of coming together at a “Team of Rivals,” as Dorise Kearns Goodwin phrased it.

It took Sandy to get one to honorably accept the invitation to make our county better.
This response to dire need is an example that Obama has tried to share with Republicans and show to Democrats.   It has been especially disappointing that Democrats at least didn’t pick up on it. It could have quelled the crass opposition. The message of cooperation over compromise is a winning one.  Still, it is even less rare than the partisanship of half a generation ago.

I don’t know anyone else who could have a chance at really has the vision that gives anyone a chance of pulling this off, besides Barack Obama.  Like Lincoln, his team of rivals is key and goes deeper than his appointment of Hillary Rodham Clinton (who grew up in a Republican household) and gaining the confidence of a statesman of the integrity and character of Colin Powell.  When Obama appointed Republican Ray LaHood to the cabinet, it was one smartest appointments that could carry this cause. LaHood is a very good guy and well respected. There are some good men and women in Congress, but there are still too many in DC for whom it is not a life-altering tragedy if stuff does not get done. When it’s staring them in the face, they can lend a hand to each other.

Today, Gov. Christie has the real lives of real people staring them in the face.  I did not like to dwell on the chorus of arm-chair pundits who’s clamor sang of politicians at the Capitol who are out of touch with “regular people.”  I still believe, basically, that politicians are not much different from the rest of us and their shortcomings are triggered by the same things that trigger ours.  But there is a privilege that got most of them there that is accentuated by their “honored” status.  It sometimes makes most of us invisible.  And like any of us, when we act in arenas where others or invisible or the day-to-day realities of existence for a lot of people.

This is especially apparent with the current Congress.  The Republican leadership and loyal minions decided early on that they could sacrifice the lives of a public desperately in need of economic recovery, community and personal health and acknowledged civil rights and the political and electoral gain would be justified.  They are far enough to not feel the pain that comes from not blocking Obama’s policies but the invitation for unprecedented cooperation.  Democrats showed their distance by not even having the words or message to respond.

This brings me back to Doris Kearns Goodwin and a story I related a couple of years ago. (See “Celebrity Crush” from November, 2010.) AT a booksellers convention, I had the honor of sitting next to her at the convention dinner.  She said something that shocked me.  She said, You know who I think should be the next President of the United States?  Paul Wellstone.

I smiled to myself.  Two thoughts crossed my mind.  The first was that she was just saying this because she was in Minnesota amongst a crowd that almost certainly loved Paul—unconditionally.  This may have been true, but I did not quiz her on this.

The second thought was, Oh, here we go again.  A well-off, out-of-touch elite who is going to go on about how wonderful and liberal Paul is and “don’t you just love him?”  But what she said surprised me.  It was smarter than a knee jerk and was what I now see as a distinction that, today, is fading: that distinction between liberal and progressive.

She said something like this:  You know, Paul and Sheila (Wellstone) are just about the only people on Capitol Hill and maybe the only ones in the Senate, who, when they go out, have to pay attention to how much they spend.  She reminded/pointed out that the Senate was a club of the very wealthy.  As such, most of them had little perspective on what it meant for most Americans to live day to day, make their way through the mine field of common economic and social realities.

I think it is why Obama and Bill Clinton make much better presidents than Republicans Bush, McCain, or Romney or Democrats Kerry or Gore.  Being a fortunate son is not what it takes to understand when to cooperate, compromise and build consensus.  The value the lessons of having a tough life growing up are showing, and there are many, not just politicians, who do not get those realities.

But Gov. Christie cannot ignore the reality of Sandy, nor the fact that much of the media if focused on neighboring New York and not his state–his people who where hit much harder.  News reports say that when Christie was asked if Romney would be joining him to tour the storm damage, he responded, “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested.”  He added, “I have a job to do. I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power, I’ve got devastation on the shore, I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state. If you think right now I give a damn about Presidential politics then you don’t know me.”

Well, I think he is concerned about Presidential politics, now.  I am.  He was interested enough to consider running for the office, or at least bathe in the attention amid such speculations–and we were interested enough to give him that attention.  But maybe this is that place where Christie can swallow Romney’s pride and Obama the Democrats’ and get a chance to show America what real pride is made of.  And maybe the next four years will look more like the shining example streaming through the storm clouds.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How to Win a Political Campaign

“He actually sounded like a not-so-bad guy,” said a friend after hearing the concession speech of one of our least favorite politicians, years ago.  There is that moment of “If he would have sounded like that on the campaign trail” that comes–and goes after the votes have been counted.  But how come most candidates can’t be that person during the campaign?

One of the reasons they can’t is because of us. A lot of people say they are tired of campaigns and politicians.  I am tired of a lot, but most of all people complaining about politicians.  One of the things I am tired of is the complaining.

When you get down to it, politicians are pretty much like us, not always in the “regular guy” sense, but with principles, morals and  integrity much like ours.  When we see politicians behaving badly, they are acting like us, only in public.  They are acting like we want them to, encourage them to and reward them.

We don’t want humility.  We want them just as they are–only better than us, but one of us.
Campaign attack ads bother a lot of us.  We ask, why do they do this if we don’t like it?  But I don’t recall seeing many attack ads that are worse than common barbs and insults that many of us live with on a daily basis.

Or maybe someone could take to the campaign trail with that strong, humble integrity.  But that’s not the conventional wisdom. It is not what we ask for.  But for all the pins and needles on which we sit, it is hard to go an entire campaign season before we get a sincere “Thank You.”  Maybe we need to do a better job of asking for that, a better job of giving that and a better job being the people we want our politicians to be.

Then, maybe, we’ll win.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Mom and Hilda

In the mid 1970s, near the time I was finishing grade school, Hilda and Bernie Heinen moved in next door.  They had retired from the farm in rural Stearns County where they and generations of family had lived and where some still lived: still farmed and some still spoke a form of German compromised by a couple of generations away from the motherland, a couple of wars with which they did not want to be associated and a longing to be able to navigate the logistics required to make it through a trip into town, the stock yard or the grain elevator.  Hilda and Bernie’s English was good with irregularities common in our town that often interchanged the words borrow and lend as well as the words teach and learn and with an accent that hinted at the rural Minnesotan and German.  Lake Wobegon.

Mom and dad came from New Orleans, a different world where a few still spoke the last smatterings of Creole, but themselves spoke English that had no hint of the French that dominated many of the name places and was cultivated to distinguish them as Xavier University students.

Hilda and Bernie moved into town partly uninfected by much of the media bias that tainted most of America’s perception of African Americans.  Mom had learned well from her father and her own experience to meet people like you were meeting Jesus.

Hilda and Bernie were good people and good neighbors.  Mom and Hilda became good friends.  Better than the neighbors across the street who were related.  Better than most would have expected and better than most would have dared or bothered.

And most would not have expected the exchange that happened between mom and Hilda one afternoon while they stood in one of their front yards.

Hilda referred to to a black person using the word nigger.  That, in Stearns County, Minnesota and many other places would not be so unexpected–maybe for reasons other than why, on this day, the word came out of Hilda’s mouth.  What came next was truly unexpected.

Of course, my mom what stunned.  Surprised and stung in a way that hearing the word nigger always stings.  It is America’s ultimate unwelcoming–and we as black people know the unwelcome that comes with this word and a lot of other edifices that loom larger than a passing insult.

But mom was not mad.  It did not change her relationship with Hilda, like so many stinging encounters might.  Mom was hurt, but took a half moment to seek the best way to respond, maybe even asking God what to do.  She decided to do something that she might not have been able to do with many other people, with any other type of relationship and maybe not in today’s social spaces.

She told Hilda what that word meant: what it means in common language and what it felt in her ears and to the ears of someone who is or believes is the humanity of African Americans and other people who walk this earth.  Mom was kind and gentle–because she sensed that Hilda really didn’t know.

And she didn’t.  Hilda faced the biggest shame of her friendship with mom.  She really didn’t know and would not have wanted to hurt mother or anyone with the word if she knew what it meant.  Hilda could not have been sorrier.

What was so remarkable about this exchange was that this is not how we handle this issue in America and not many are willing or really have the honest, safe space to misstep and repair the damage.

What usually happens is that someone shouts “Nigger” to draw a line of supremacy.  The target of the slur either gets out of the way of the unhealthy and harmful verbal assault or responds with either the angry pain of the injury or a rebuttal that falls on the emotionally deaf or dumb.

Or maybe the response it an attempt to say how that kind of language and attitude is hurtful and damaging to common spaces, not much unlike what mom did with Hilda.  Where Hilda showed her exceptional nature was in her response.

Most of the time when we explain that this kind of language and other slights we encounter (and I hate to call them slights because there is nothing slight about systemic degradation and social, political and economic disadvantage), we get a response that complains that is dismissive, that we don’t have any reason to complain, that somehow they are entitled to speaking to and about us with impunity.

Instead, the two women chose to understand each other.

They made a space moved mom to choose Hilda as the person to whom she sent her two youngest after getting off the school bus for tending and a snack before her older kids got home.  It made a space that moved mom to be the primary helper for Hilda, more than her family who lived not far from us, or the once removed cousins who lived across the street when Bernie was dying of cancer.

The two women chose to share a space that most of America will not work to create, for which most of America is reluctant to work and that many do not want to exist.

After Bernie died, Hilda let her hair go white.  She let mom know how sad she was without him.  Mom worried, wiped tears and let her tell stories and shared a few of her own.  They were busy being Jesus for each other and entertain the angel they saw in each others’ eyes.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fiction Spot: The Last Running Summer


Today, he has the memories of his childhood self running.  Running with his two legs.  Sometimes, he thinks those memories are dreams, fantasy images of a very young boy.  Sometimes the images are from the perspective of  himself running in his own body.  Sometimes he is the observer, dreams or memories of him running across the field with his cousins on those long, golden summer and autumn days.

He remembers the days that seemed to go on forever, the sun-scorched, coarse grass that was, in the later days of the season, slightly too long for the games of tag, touch football, kickball or whatever they chose on any given afternoon.  The days grew long, overlapping into dusk on that summer and fall stage of recollections.

The most vivid memories were of the games that played on even after the sun slipped below the horizon, lit by a lone utility light atop a pole not far from the house.  It was the kind of light they tell you about, warn you about in the middle of many country fields–the ones that they say not to walk to in an emergency because they look closer than they are–that one can parish  in the distant journey to that beacon whose welcome is illusion a siren especially in those snow-swept storms that used to visit the Midwest more than once each winter.

That summer and fall in 1965, Donny and his cousins benefited from the illusion that it was not time to come in for the supper the grownups ate while the playing kids’ plates cooled like the crispness of the first days of school that came after their fun.  Their parents let them play that summer–play past the small pangs of hunger forgotten amid the fun–or duty.  Past some bed times.  Past any concept of “future” that Donny’s four-year-old self could conjure.

They decided, between them, the grownups, that they would let the kids play–instruct the kids to play way beyond the regular boundaries of time, competition and exhaustion.  Some of the older kids knew.  The younger ones would know it time: know why, this summer, they were allowed to ignore the dinner bell, play past their hearts’ delight–play with respect for nothing except the rules of whatever game they were playing and a few bumps and bruises that often visit young bodies that run faster than the wind and the shouts of their names that sail the game into the next harbor of semi-organization.

And with respect for an attempt to let the little kids have as much fun as the bigger ones, especially Donny.
He remembers that summer, not knowing that his one shorter leg made him different.  The other kids saw him as  not much different than any other four-year-old who struggled to keep up with the faster, older kids, and not so different because everything about him was as normal as everything else the family and a few friends had always known about him.

The older cousins knew, partially from what their parents had shared with them, but more from overhearing hushed tones that the grownups felt forbidden to speak but felt the responsibility to share with each other: because that is the adults’ burden; or because they needed to talk through their fears; or because Donny’s problems were easier to talk about than their own problems, relationships, or shortcomings.  The older cousins, taking their first sip of grownup responsibility carried the burden of knowing why that summer, they played into the night, why they were told to play as long as Donny wanted to play, long beyond a four-year-old’s bed time.  As they grew older, they too carried memories of those days.

Donny remembers the illusion of running fast, an illusion created by the gentle prairie winds that blew across the golden fields and his still golden hair.  He was not fast. He was four.  He had one impossibly short leg.  He was the little cousin that the older kids made giggle and chased with no more speed than what would keep him in the game.

He did giggle–a lot.  He was happy.  It was the last summer when he had no inclination that there was anything wrong with his body and it was how the other kids saw him, just as kids see so many other truths with their naive intuition of integrity.

Soon, after the others were shuffled off to school, mostly out of sight and away from the taste of adult responsibility.  Almost like a poorly-kept secret, Donny would be shuffled off to what the doctors where sure was the right thing to do with The Impossibly Short Leg.  Sure that he would be better off without it.  Sure that the prosthesis which would be refitted many times over the course of his next decades, one that would fill his other pants leg the same as his longer leg, would be the best “cure” for Donny’s short leg and clubbed foot.

That fall, while his cousins and their friends played at recess, gym class, ran home from school, chased the girls, where chased by the boys who would otherwise imitate the football game they saw that weekend at the high school field or on television.  Meanwhile, the parents paced daily as if by doing so, they would come to some peace about the doctors’ decision or whether they explained what was about to happen to the little boy or their guilt over having caused Donny’s affliction or the curse that God had placed on their family: to have such an inflicted child.  Donny was having his shorter leg amputated, well above the knee.

Donny does not remember waking up from his surgery, nor the three others that were required before he could have a properly fitted prosthesis.  The encouragement given him by so many of the grownups didn’t register, subconsciously shutting down from the trauma, but giving the impression through his silence to the grownups that he was happy and taking this all in stride, taking care of grownup feelings.

He did not dwell on this change.  He avoided it as fiercely as he avoided the changes that came as his body introduced him to adolescence and avoided again when those changes brought on urges that he would not entertain because what girl wanted to be with a boy with only one leg?

When Donny was born, the nuns who served as the nurses in that Catholic hospital wondered to themselves and out loud, the same way as the disciples asked Christ of the lame man, was it the sins of his parents or the original sin of Donny that left him lame.  They, nor the doctors nor the parents waited for Christ to answer and, instead, wielded the tools God had left in their hands.

Jesus would have said, Donny’s condition is neither the result of his parents or his transgressions but exists in order that the glory and power of God can be demonstrated.  Or he would have said something like that, if our Bibles depict him honestly.  Then, he might have laid his hands on Donny, restoring the leg and showing his glory. Or maybe not.

The nuns, the doctors and the other well-meaning mortal sages were left with their own devices.  Whether they harbored notions that Donny’s parents’ sins brought them to this point, they made the best choice that their limited wisdom could see.  It was probably the right choice but could not have been as glorious as Jesus’.

The cousins would not see Donny again until Christmas at aunt Marilyn’s house–and this time, to them, Donny was “different.” This time, they felt sorry for him.  For the first time, they were fixed with the notion that there were things Donny could not do.  He was a new but familiar stranger and all of them were a little afraid.  The cousins did not know how to play with him.  They did not know how to talk with him.

The family’s  silence was matched by Donny’s who, that Christmas, spent most of his time in the big chair in the living room, next to the tree, mostly watching, with two shoes that hung identically beneath the cuffs of his brand new jeans.  Appearing unexceptional in his muted form, no one would ask of his condition, nor whose transgressions  were to blame, nor whose mortal glory might be stoked.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Not Quite Ready for Some Football

I spent last Friday night with my dad. We went to see the Minnesota Vikings American football team play the Buffalo Bills in a preseason game. These days, unlike in my youth, I am not a big fan of football. Many of you can count as many reasons to not like the game, but I will watch football with my dad. Not just watch, but appreciate some of it’s finer points.

There are two things that I continue to appreciate about football. The first is that football is one of the few places in our society where a Black man can come close to being recognized and paid for his efforts on par with his White counterparts. There are still hurdles of biases that most players must overcome, but the results on the field are hard to argue. Some try to run a subconscious and sometimes conscious sabotage. The stumbling blocks are not unfamiliar and not unique to football, but that sabotage often backfires in an atmosphere where any kind of anger or animosity have a very welcome physical response in kind that is likely to be rewarded on the field. However all the factors figure, the field is more even than most aspects of society.

The other thing I like about football is that it is how dad went to college. He paid his way into school on an athletic scholarship. (The photo on the banner of this blog is dad from his college playing days.)

There was a time as a kid, when my favorite sport was whatever sports season was in full swing. In the winter, I wanted to grow up to be a professional basketball player and then, later a professional hockey player. In the spring, I wanted to become a professional baseball player. In the fall, it was football. Those fantasies added to any fun that came with being out with the other boys, to play in the fields and playgrounds or just play in my imagination. Later I had fun playing on the team dad coached, a volunteer job he held for 29 years at Holy Spirit School in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Like with so many of the boys who became men on a journey boosted by their learning from dad, football was not so much fun after 8th grade when I was too old to play on his team: when football came to mean less about personal and social life and more about how important football was to our elders.

It was not that we did not learn about football. Those who played for dad carried with them a reputation of skill and how to play well and safely. We also learned to practice and play with pride, with respect for teammates and opponents, coaches and officials, and that ideally, we would carry those ideal back home, to school and on the streets of our community. And I knew that even as a kid who would not get his growth spurt for a couple of years, I could still bring down a running back who outweighed me by 50 pounds.

But unlike experiencing the game alone or with someone else or the television commentators, talking about what happens on the field that honestly critiques the game and not the players, talking about the players knowing what they had to do to get there and like they are the physical and emotional beings they are, and hoping that their experience in the National Football League will help support them and their families during the rest of their life time.

Friday, we watched, not “ready for some football,” like Hank Williams, Jr., or the masses of onlookers that drive the pseudo-capitalistic machine that paid Williams for that song that sounds more like the soundtrack to accompany the guy with the beer on the sofa than the majestic athletes on the field. I am not sure if I have a song for those athletes, the ones who have been encouraged to weigh 300 pounds but are still quicker and faster than any of us watching, the guy who will be injured giving his best to please the crowd who will forget him a minute after he leaves the field, the tears of joy from a mom or dad who is seeing their son on the NFL’s field for the first time or that exceptional player who goes home every night to the love of a woman and maybe a child–whether that week they are in the same city or not.

After I left for college, my youngest sister Jennifer became dad’s football partner. Today, she is the biggest fan, still as cognizant of all the social, political and cultural shortcomings, and still, even as a resident of Chicago, a Vikings fan. She is the true lover of American football. It is very charming, the two of them, intelligent discourse on a brutal game. But this Friday–his time, I got to hang out with dad. Thanks dad for taking your boy to a game.