By Stevie Cocksman
Despite my passionate love of college football, I’ve always had a strong aversion to boys throwing a football in the tailgate parking lot. First, those that primarily engage in it – eight to eighteen year old boys – are not by nature a considerate group.
Seldom does a 12-year old boy stop and ask himself: “What are my surroundings and how will my intended actions impact the things and people nearby?” Secondly, if the average completion percentage in the NFL is somewhere above 60% and the average completion percentage in college football is above 50%, the average completion percentage in these tailgate parking lot “games” hovers consistently below 10%. Balls bounce awkwardly and roll into tailgates. Errant passes hit cars. And, in the most unfortunate of incidents, balls land on the table with the food. I automatically protest anything that puts uneaten barbeque or chicken wings at risk.
For the last 4 years, I’ve gone to the Gamecock football games with my son. He is now 10. The females in my house – my wonderful wife and my delightful daughter – do not care about football, so it is just him and me most Saturdays. A party of two does not really tailgate. He vocalizes his disappointment with this circumstance almost weekly.
For this weekend’s Gamecock game, his mama (my wife) was going with us. That meant tailgating with a large group of people, including a number of his friends. He was pleased.
As we loaded up the car to leave, I noticed that tucked under his arm and gripped tightly against his black #7 Jadaveon Clowney jersey was his football. Despite his relative inexperience with it, he knows the basics of tailgating – the primary rule of which is that 10-year old boys take footballs. I offered no comment. We left.
Any dad that loves football hopes desperately that his son will love it too. Not just half-heartedly follow it or feign interest to please his dad. But love it.
My son started attending Gamecock games with me regularly in 2009. He was 7. He went enthusiastically but I never got the sense that year that he loved watching football. I wasn’t even sure how much of what he was watching he understood.
Then came the Clemson game that year. I had promised my other ticket to my brother before the season started. My son repeatedly asked to go, but I didn’t have a ticket for him. On Thanksgiving night at my parents house, I walked into a room and he was wiping tears from his eyes. I asked what was wrong. He replied: Nothing.” When he left, I asked his mom. She said he started talking about how he couldn’t go to the Clemson game, and he started crying. He was too embarrassed for his dad to know.
That sealed it.
He went to the Clemson game. He had on his Gamecock jersey and Gamecock hat. I taught him how to stand in the parking lot and hold his index finger in the air.
A Gamecock fan walked up to us and held out a ticket.
“How much?” I said.
“He’s going to use it?” the man asked, pointing to my wide-eyed son.
“Then it is free. Go Gamecocks.”
Clemson was playing in their conference championship game the next week. Clemson had a rocketship named C.J. Spiller playing running back and returning kicks. Clemson had won six of the last seven. Ten of the last 12. Sixteen of the last 21.
The Gamecocks won 34-17. When we walked out, my son said: “Dad, I must be good luck for the Gamecocks. I can never miss another Clemson game.” Since then, I haven’t been to a Gamecock game without him at my side.
Last week, he was asked by a neighbor to go to the game with some friends of his and sit in “The Zone.” In “The Zone” they have TVs. And chicken fingers.
The dad told me that my son said, “I can’t. I go to the games with my dad.”
My daughter is 8. Of all of God’s creations, few are as delightful as the 8-year old version of my daughter. But she is by nature a mama’s girl. I consider any attention or favor from her a gift, and I cherish it accordingly.
She went to camp this past summer. She returned having learned a simple hand-clap/chant routine about ice cream. She asked if she could teach it to me. Once I mastered it, she said to me: “Daddy, this can be our thing.”
Sweeter words have never been spoken.
We do it every night. It is our thing. I wouldn’t give it up for a million dollars.
I have countless hopes and dreams for my children. One of them is purely selfish: I hope that the day comes where – although I will always be their father – our relationship is more one of companions and friends than it is of parent-child. As much as I wish it wouldn’t, the day will come when they don’t need much parenting. And I cannot bear the thought of not having a close relationship with them.
I’m not exactly sure what that will look like with my daughter; I will take whatever I can get and do whatever I can to get it. But I do know a little bit about what that looks like between fathers and sons.
Due to certain defects with the male species, close male relationships almost always have to center around a “thing.” Women can talk about what is going on in their lives, what their feelings are, what they are worried about, what they are going to wear, how their husbands watch too much football . . . but men don’t talk about any of that stuff. Guys have to have a thing – sports, or politics, or their faith, or their work – that acts as the conductor between them and draws them together.
A father and son can have all of the love and affection in the world for each other, but unless they have a thing they will struggle as adults to be companions . . . friends.
My son and I have countless things right now. But time will chip away at them. When he is in his twenties . . . we won’t play XBox . . . or go see “Avengers 6” . . . or watch “Phineas and Ferb” . . . or throw a football or baseball in the front yard. But I’m determined that we will have a thing.
I don’t know what it will be, but I’ll confess this: There is seldom a Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium when I don’t think to myself: “Son, this can be our thing.”
On Saturday, it took about thirty seconds after my son and his football arrived before a game broke out between the rows of cars and tailgating tents.
Any responsible parent would have called him over and run down the list of things he needed to be aware of. Look out for cars. Be careful not to hit any people. DO NOT . . . under any circumstances . . . let your football hit a table with food on it!
But, in that moment, I had no desire to parent him. I just wanted to be a father with his son. Companions. Friends. At a football game. He had a blast. And if his football ended up landing in your cheese dip . . .
I don’t even care.
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