Soccer dads are blooming
Moms do most of the work, but we fathers are there to enjoy the iced ventis
(MCT) — We prepare for days, thinking, worrying and wondering, so that on the weekend we’re ready.
Picture us walking in slow motion, as in one of those sports documentaries, and no matter where you live, there’s a chance you’ve been one of us: that posse of men in khaki shorts, polo shirts, sunglasses, resolute expressions, striding across a field of green.
We come in every ethnicity and creed. Some are thin and long. Some (at least one) are quite short-shanked and stout. All of us are exhausted after a long, hard week trying to earn a living in uncertain times.
But we’ve got our essential equipment, a canvas chair in one hand that we won’t sit in, an iced venti latte in another, great purpose in our hearts and a child on the pitch.
We are Everyman.
We are soccer dads.
“We work too, and we take them to practice three times a week, and we wash the uniforms and we have to deal with those stinky shin guards, and you guys show up on Saturday and get all the glory?” said my wife with a smile. “Isn’t that nice? Way to go, soccer dads.”
What is there to say, really? Except:
Honey, could you please make that an iced venti with one Splenda?
Of course she’s right. Moms are always right. The moms do the lifting when it comes to kids’ sports. The dads show up and get to see something spectacular: the fluid and urgent geometry of the beautiful game.
I know that it might not be quite that spectacular to you. But the thing is, it’s spectacular to me. And you’ll find it spectacular if you have a child who plays for years. It doesn’t have to be soccer, either. It could be the violin, or chess, or dance.
Name it. The joy of play is enough.
Are you surprised at my sensitivity? Please don’t be. Now that I’m a soccer dad, I’ve become rather ecumenical.
Whatever the kids do, you’ll cherish time with them more than you will a few hours by yourself fishing or golfing or playing gin. I love to fish, and as I began this paragraph, a friend just emailed me from his boat, having caught 60 bass and dozens of delicious crappies. I can’t wait.
But not on the weekends when games are scheduled. I’m committed. I don’t want to miss one. I’m a soccer dad.
Go ahead and mock us if you wish. And mock the sport while you’re at it. We don’t care. You can point to the lack of soccer stories in the papers, although those stories are increasing lately, now that advertisers have realized that there are more of us every day. You can pretend we’re not the logistical vanguard of a sports revolution. Keep dreaming.
That other football, which puts a boy’s head in a helmet and uses it as a weapon, that sport with the injury bounties and strict linear play and the joy of violence, is in America’s past. Soccer is America’s future.
These are the spring days of youth games and tournaments all around the country, and the Chicago Fire opener this weekend. And in June, more tournaments and summer leagues begin, and then the boys’ high school season in the fall.
Do I sound like a thirsty man at the oasis? Sure. After all the week brings, the stridency and the tribalism, the political lies and political liars, I need this desperately.
Watching my sons play soccer is necessary. It’s something I can concentrate on, and in the concentration, I can forget everything.
Anglers understand this feeling. A fisherman reduces the world to the tension on the fishing line against a few centimeters of skin on his index finger.
The art of reducing the universe is wordless, and perhaps because of its wordlessness, it becomes sanctuary for those of us who make a living with words.
At lunch last week, a new friend, a professor of Spanish, Portuguese and comparative literary studies, wanted to talk about the amazing patterns of the game. He loves teaching the Cid and Don Quixote. He loves soccer, and was brought to it by his son.
“And even though he doesn’t play, I still love it,” he said, and I knew he was speaking the truth.
He talked of seeing chaos at first, until he began to notice that as the children got older, they’d form angles and triangles on the field, the ball played in combination, the triangles re-forming in full sprint.
“Spain plays one way, the English play another, the Germans, the Dutch,” he said, talking of how the game changes slightly with national culture.
And here, in America?
After an uncertain beginning, I can see the sport blooming. There are more teams every year in Major League Soccer. And more kids playing the youth game. It blooms around me in the Midwest like those early magnolia blossoms.
It’s our time to watch something amazing. It could be your time, too, and if you have younger children and you want to know what this is about, and if you don’t want to spend money, then go online and find a tournament this weekend and watch for free.
And if you’re a soccer dad, don’t forget the canvas chair. Don’t forget the iced latte.
And don’t forget to thank your wife.