My father loved sports and everybody loved him, a star athlete, semi-pro football player, NCAA umpire, football referee, all around sports guy, and supervisor of our neighborhood playground which made him my Little League coach. I, being an adolescent singer/tap dancing, musical theatre freak didn’t always play well with dad. Add to that fact…I was fat and couldn’t keep up. Luckily, I didn’t know it, yet.
It was the opening of football season and at that time Little League Football had weight limits. Each kid had to weigh in before the games. The kids from both teams would suit up and with coaches and teammates file into a looker room at the stadium. The official would set the poundage on the doctor’s scale, stand importantly behind it and watch to see if the arrow moved to the top. After each player got on the scale the official would say out loud “under” and his assistant would mark it on the roster. That player would be good to go.
Each year I knew I was close to the limit, dreading the arrow, stepping slowly, praying it wouldn’t move. Sometimes it moved slightly, others, slowly moving up and down, teetering, as if knowing it was my judge and jury, trying to decide if I deserved it enough. Eventually, it always came to rest on the bottom allowing me the joy of playing for my father, but that day it shot to the top. The metal to the metal made a strong “clink.” All the men looked at my dad. It was awkward to say the least and the look on my dad’s face made me uneasy but it wasn’t nearly as uneasy as when I heard, “We can remove his pads.”
I did of course because nothing could stop my desire to play and with my helmet and shoulder pads removed I again got on the scale. It tipped a bit, slowly, but again telling my peers, “He can’t play. Everybody, look at the fat boy,” and once more all the men’s eyes landed on my father and watched as he lifted his hand to his face and rubbed his chin. But this time he showed confusion. After a few anxious moments I heard, “Jimmy, we can strip him down.”
My eyes got big and I quickly turned to my right. My father, returning the glance, tightened his lips then let his face tilt to the floor. Seconds later he lifted his head, stared back at me and bashfully conveyed, without words, just his eyes and a slight shrug, “It’s up to you son, whatever you want to do.”
Now, you might think this is a bit melodramatic bit I shit you not, while running my first half marathon last weekend, something happened during mile twelve. I passed a football field in front of the Bayouland YMCA and looking to my right, knowing I’m going to complete that thing, I thought of that maturing incident from so many years ago. My father would have been proud.
My father instilled, “Don’t give up”, “Finish the job”, and “Never say can’t.” I pass them on to you.