My face hurt from laughing. Pete and I, generally kept apart by jobs, obligations and living in different ZIP codes found the time to get together to ski, discuss bodily functions and participate in male bonding.
Several times I was brought to tears by sophomoric observations and comical narratives. We started late and ended early, which left time for a late lunch. While dining, we discussed world events, argued politics while debating if the young waitress who smiled at Pete did so because of his dashing good looks or the 40 percent tip.
At day’s end, I dropped my friend off at his home in the suburbs. His grand-kids were visiting, and toys and bikes were scattered around his yard, reminiscent of Midwest tornado footage. In his backyard, Bobby, his 9-year-old grandson, was passing the football with a friend. Pete asked, “You got time to play some football?” My knees and back were a little sore and I still had to drive back home to the mountains, but I was flush from a day of laughing, lies and bravado, so I agreed.
The sky was gray and ground clear, though a little muddy; it was a perfect day for backyard football. Pete and I took turns being quarterback and a (albeit slowly) rushing defensive lineman. Bob and his pal Tyler alternated as receiver and defensive back.
Bobby and I were a team. Peter would hike me the ball and count slowly to four; I dropped back to pass while Bobby, covered by Tyler, ran pass patterns. Once reaching four, Pete would lope toward me arms waving. Keeping with the unwritten law of middle-aged ex-jocks, he would stop short of bodily contact. He would instead, wave his hands, to block my vision, while attempting to distract me by making disparaging observations on my work ethic, politics and my wife’s domestic skills.
In the meantime, Bob would be running back and forth across the yard like a recently freed puppy trying to shake his defender. When the time seemed right, I’d let fly and the two kids would fight for the ball like a couple of midget wrestlers. We played by the age-old backyard rules, four downs then out, children chase the ball when overthrown into a mud patch or under the bushes.
While Pete and I berated each other, we were quick to encourage and praise our receivers. Both of us grew up in the often-harsh world of cold coaches and overworked and sometimes insensitive parents, where one unthinking comment can haunt a child for weeks.
I can see how parents could lose themselves in the conquests and disappointments of their children. It must be easy to forget that your kids have an entire life to learn what you already know.
It was getting late and cold; the score was tied, next TD wins. Pete hiked me the ball and counted to four. Bob cut across the lawn a foot in front of his pursuing buddy. The window of opportunity presented itself so I fired a pass with a velocity much too hard for a 9-year-old to handle, especially on a dark cold afternoon. The ball flew, as if on a frozen rope, toward Bobby’s neck.
He jumped just high enough to trap it against his solar plexus. We heard a grunt and a thud as Bob caught the ball and hit the ground square on his back.
Pete and I ran to the wheezing boy. Pete helped him up as Bob held back his tears. If his mother was there he might have cried. Pete hugged him and said, “Great catch! Way to hold onto the ball.” I added, “Damn you are a tough kid. That catch would have put me in the hospital.” If it were possible to explode from pride, Bob might have at that moment.
That afternoon brought back vivid recollections. Countless days of my youth were spent in that same abandonment of play. I also recalled the times when, like Bob, I had fought back the tears of pain or humiliation in order to please my brothers, father and coaches. Of course, it would be better if male role models were more tolerant of young boys expressing their pain and emotions. But there is something, I think, almost genetic causing men to encourage their charges to be hardened.
Game over, we headed inside. I hadn’t thrown a football in many years and my arm ached. If Pete and I were a little stiff and tired, the two kids looked like they had been dragged through a swamp. Before I left I went to say goodbye to the kids. I found them asleep on the couch, Bobby’s head resting on Tyler’s shoulder. It wasn’t that hard to imagine them someday as parents themselves.
I have had no second thoughts about remaining childless. One game of touch football is not going to change that. But for the right people, willing to unconditionally love, instruct and learn from their child, I can see how it could be the most magical experience imaginable. What a blessing it must be to know and give boundless love without the requirement of a 40 percent tip.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.