Afraid of the Ball

On the sidelines today, I experienced a different brand of dad. The guy next to me sported an American jawline and was outfitted in a Team USA soccer jersey. Something about him suggested an internal combustion engine—pistons pumping, sparks firing—but he was less than motive. Instead, he was heated metal in some slow expansive burn.
It was no coincidence that while watching USA Dad, and when remarking the fast outstanding veins in his neck, I randomed thoughts about acute geologic pressure.
The guy’s jaw was tightly clenched, molars against molars. Alchemy rarely works, in which case his compressed back-tooth fillings didn’t eventuate a diamond: pressure can only do so much. I’m guessing, though, he—at the very least–manifested a tension headache while watching his son slack in the backfield.
His wife, down the fence-line, occasionally offered a placative: “It’s ok, Honey–he probably doesn’t hear you. At least they’re having fun.” There was a question mark in her voice.
Our kids and their kids were both doing really well on the field on this bright and sunny October morning; it was a tight match. Cayde didn’t have a goal to brag of, but had scored some good defensive plays. When in doubt, kick it out. Clenched-jaw dad would occasionally pull out his iPhone to take pictures as the kids scrimmaged. It’s what parents do on a bright and sunny October morning, and when their kids are playing soccer and when the throng of parents cares more about available shade than who’s up by what amount. We take pictures, memorialize the sun, and snap shots of little legs in motion.
When USA guy’s kid was rotated out and took a water break, his dad offered him a seat in much the same way an interrogator would offer a perp a hard-backed chair. I learned American dad had actually been shooting video.
“Look at this, Brian: that’s the ball and ten other kids. Where are you?” He was showing the highlight reel to his kid, waving the iPhone in a vaguely menacing fashion. “You’ve got to be faster–lookit the other team.” Mom came over, I thought to save the poor brow-beaten kid (Dad was on his second reel). But she joined in: bad cop and less bad cop. “Sweetie–you’ve got to run faster. Don’t be afraid of the ball.”
“But the ball’s so fast,” Brian said, dropping his head. At which point, American dad berated him with two more highlight reels.
The game was really good. It was the proudest I’ve been of the kids. 4-3 was the final score and we were all excited, stoked in part by the caffeine that was necessary to fuel an 8 a.m. game, but mostly by the kids’ performance because they were so on point.
Immediately after the game, Cayde and I piled into the Beetle to get down to Liberty Station–a place which remains a blind spot for me in my otherwise highway map of a brain—but we made it to the green space next to the water, the site of this year’s Down Syndrome Awareness Buddy Walk.
We arrived in time and we were fresh off victory; a ‘second-line’ style New Orleans brass band began joyous trumpet as we joined the DS Awareness march–the parade that is the focus of the annual event. Some of my best friends were there, Jenn was wagoning Finn and his new buddy Logan around and–with the planes from Lindbergh following the windsock’s whim and launching slightly to the north today through autumn light and blue skies, it was a fantastic afternoon. Everything about the Buddy Walk is positive. When the trombones quiet, the adults get to talk. The conversations run a full gamut. Finn dances. We don’t reveal to each other that we’re crying behind sunglasses. We hug.
The event last year was intimidating to us, this year joyous. I should’ve taken a video with my phone, and showed everyone the highlight reels. I, for one, am not afraid of the ball anymore.
Luck to Brian.


3 thoughts on “Afraid of the Ball

    1. Exactly, Sir. For whom is the game for? This past week we tried out ‘Silent Saturday’, in which case all adults were relegated to applause only. Awkward, certainly, since not even the coaches were allowed comment. Still, the kids got to organize themselves and without the sometimes beratings from the sidelines.

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