This is the second in an intermittent but recurring series. Find all of them here.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Future Proofing Your Children — how my wife and I approach our children’s career and education choices. If you haven’t read it yet, go back and read it now.
I decided this might as well become a series, so here is Part II of the discussion. I haven’t planned any future parts, but I am sure something will occur to me. Part II is a fairly serious topic that is profoundly more important than school and career choices.
It’s something that is often a core portion of your child’s identity. It may determine their friends, their social circles, or their extracurricular activities. It will influence how they spend their money, and potentially who they marry.
They will take this trait with them when they move across the country, and as they age. This identity is not changed by moving to a new city or taking a new job.
It will hopefully bring them happiness, but in many cases it causes sadness, frustration, and anger.
As a parent, if you do your job properly, you should have a dramatic influence in this choice. In an ideal world, you would be able to make this choice for then. Unfortunately, sometimes outside influences are stronger than parental input.
What Is It?
I am talking about favorite sports teams. What, you thought this was about religion?
“Faith” may be in the tagline of this blog, but being a sports fan has had a profound impact on my life. If there was an additional subheading for this blog, sports would be it. I probably should have included it at the outset.
For the non sports lovers out there — keep reading. This is even more important for you than for the sports lovers out there. You need to understand us.
Being a sports fanatic has many similarities to adhering to a religion. Parents pass their beliefs on to kids. Babies with onesies with favorite sports teams logos before they are old enough for a baptism or have been to church. It colors your conversation and your personality — up until the past decade a Red Sox fan may have been fatalistic and a Cubs fan was happy being the lovable loser. Championships have changed them both.
A football loving parent will have the NFL on TV on a Sunday for 8 hours, while they may only attend church with the family for 30 minutes. A baseball loving parent will have a game on TV (or radio) every night of the summer, making it part of the family evening ritual, like an evening prayer. Our religion may define who we are, but for many fanatics, sports are on their mind far more than religion on a day-to-day basis.
Myths and legends are passed down through generations. David vs. Goliath may be a tale of the underdog winning, however sports fans are more likely to debate the unlikely championship of Leicester City, or debate whether Mike Trout was a better center fielder than Mickey Mantle. A good fanatic will not only introduce the basic tenets of the game to his kids, but will delve into nuances (never slide into first base).
They will practice it with them — not only at home, but they will take their families on pilgrimages to shrines. Fenway, Lambeau, Wrigley — those names resonate with sports fans the way St. Peter’s Basilica, Notre Dame, and the Hagia Sophia resonate with others. For fanatics that live a long distance from their favorite team, it may be a once in a lifetime pilgrimage, like a Muslim traveling for Hajj.
I’m not a huge golf fan, but I may have an opportunity to golf at St. Andrews soon. It’s as hallowed of a place as exists in golf, and walking those greens is likely to be the only chance in my lifetime.
Raising Sports Fanatics
The culture associated with sports teams is driven by the fans, not the players. The players have far less allegiance to a city or sports team than those in the stands. They certainly feel the joy of winning or anguish of loss, but for a modern athlete, sports is also a business. The same cannot be said for those paying $7 for a hot dog.
My parents are not sports fans. They were not born or raised in the United States, however they began taking my older brother and I to baseball games when we were young.
They had no idea what they had started.
It wasn’t just watching the games in person that made us into fanatics — it was the confluence of watching games in person, having a good local team to root for, and the rise of video games. In the late 80’s and early 90’s we had a computer and sports video games that allowed us to engage in sports all the time. We could only check the box scores day-to-day, but we could think and play virtual sports all the time.
Our parents thought we were getting carried away, spending too much time playing video games and researching obscure things about baseball players, however the current fantasy football craze just shows that we were way ahead of our time.
As an adult, I enjoy multiple sports, but baseball is my obsession. Also, with a job and multiple small children, it just isn’t possible to fanatically follow multiple teams/sports. I’ve soured on the NFL for a variety of reasons (though I still watch the Super Bowl and occasional big games). The NHL lost me with the 2004-5 lockout and the subsequent trade of my favorite player from my local team.
Baseball is the natural fit for me. The 162-game schedule makes the sport and team a companion, there almost every day. When the team wins, I’m happier. When the team loses, I’m a little more down. However there’s always the next game — it’s not possible to get too high or low based on a single game, no matter how frustrating or exciting any individual game may be. Making it through a season as a baseball fanatic for a team whose outcome isn’t known is a great metaphor for life. Every day is unpredictable, and when it turns out badly, there is always tomorrow.
My wife — who became a fan of my favorite baseball team by virtue of marriage — looks at me askance when I discuss how sports mark major moments in my life.
I have memories of sports moments going back to early elementary school. Some of them are also associated with major events in my life or in the world. Some are just vivid memories. This is very a non-exhaustive list of such moments:
- I was at the game when the first person hit a ball out of our local baseball stadium. I was in the bathroom when it happened. But I was there.
- When I became a football fan, we didn’t have a local NFL team, so I became a huge Buffalo Bills fan, despite having no discernible connection to the team or city. For a stretch I could name every offensive and defensive lineman and their strengths and weaknesses as a player (thanks to video games). I’m still upset they never won the Super Bowl; I’ve yet to visit the city or see the team play in person (it’s questionable that I ever will).
- I recall watching Hakeem Olajuwan — a Muslim — school the Orlando Magic to win an NBA title. I watched Game 1 of this series from the bar of an Indian restaurant. As a Muslim in the USA who loved watching and playing sports, it was amazing to have a Muslim athlete be the center of the sports universe (and universally revered). Whenever I see this restaurant, I think of that game (and the gulab jamun).
- My baseball team made it to the World Series for the first time in my adult life while I was in medical school. I recall furiously clicking a button on a VA hospital computer to buy tickets online. When our team was embarrassed and crushed as part of another team’s Cinderella story, I was despondent (and furious).
- When I applied for my pediatric residency training, I focused my applications on hospitals in cities that had a baseball team in the same league as mine. That way I knew I would have more opportunities to watch them. It worked out, with the side benefit of learning the words to “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” which they sing along with “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in H-Town.
- As an intern, wearing the jersey of my favorite baseball player while my team was in the playoffs, a young child, inpatient on the pediatric cancer ward, yelled at me, “(He) sucks!” (He actually said the name of the player, but I’m leaving out details)
- My team made it back to the World Series while I was living in my hometown. I didn’t have a ton of cash, but I had a hunch. I bought two Game 7 tickets off Stubhub before we even made it to the World Series. I worked a couple extra ER shifts to pay for it. Two tickets meant I could take the wife and my son, because children age 2 and under are free. So my wife and Rogue One were with me, in my home town, in my home stadium, when my favorite sports team, my infatuation, won an epic World Series. A 6×4 foot Fathead of the celebration is on my office wall. The joy of being able to share this epic win with my wife and son was wonderful. It’s certainly irrational, and in many ways it’s far less important than many other things we share, but it’s wonderful nonetheless.
So What About My Kids?
I took my son to that World Series game even though he wouldn’t remember it. I wanted to share something that was a part of me and my identity. He has pictures and a Build-A-Bear as mementos of the game, however he doesn’t remember it at all. That’s okay — he was there.
He enjoys playing sports, and because we live in the same town where I grew up, by virtue of surroundings, has become a fan of the same baseball team. Those of you raising your kids in towns away from your favorite team have a bigger hurdle. You can’t rely on the environment — you need the television on more, you need a greater supply of kids’ clothes to counteract what they see in school, and you need to talk about the team more proactively. I haven’t had to maximize those points.
Rogue One has shown no level of fanaticism (Rogue Two and Three are a bit young to know). His video game tastes are not sports related at all, he doesn’t spend hours outside pretending he’s in a champion game shooting hoops or throwing a ball, and most of the books he reads are not sports related.
I do believe that deep down the fanatic is waiting to be released, I just need to cultivate it a little more. Why do I think that?
When he was in pre-K, he had a “feeling wheel” on his wall — he turned the arrow to whatever feeling he had at the moment (sad, happy, angry, anxious, scared, etc). A couple years after the World Series win, his favorite player was traded. He used to have a growth poster on his wall of this player, and was old enough to decide this player was his favorite. I went into his room to tell him about the trade. His response?
“I’m going to turn my feeling wheel to sad.”
He’s already reached the highest high and the lowest low. He’s a fanatic waiting to happen, even if he doesn’t know it yet.