May 16, 2008 § 2 Comments
My love of sports comes 100% from my dad. Not only because he explained the rules and told me the names of the players and convinced me that 10 seconds of basketball can take 25 minutes and that’s perfectly acceptable, but because he taught me unflinching loyalty, the importance of rivalry, the pride in victory and the silent, glaucoma inducing agony of defeat. He taught me that no matter how angry we get, we must never root for injuries. We can’t be happy when a Minnesota Viking is carted off on a stretcher. This is wrong…they’re just human.
Unless it’s the Packers. When it’s the Packers, it’s not unusual to hear Dad instruct the Bears to “BREAK HIS NECK” or “RIP HIS BALLS OFF” which would, I think almost certainly, draw a penalty.
Imagine then, how exciting it must have been for me at the tender age of 13 to be enmeshed in the 1985 Chicago Bears Superbowl Shuffle Almost Undefeated Season. I had a Bears sweatshirt and t-shirt that I could wear to school, but my dad had a FRIDGE jersey: number 72, with our last name across the back. There were a few Mondays throughout that season that I was allowed to wear it to school in order to show off. It was big enough back then that it hung down to my knees, but was ‘cute’ in its baggy, oversized way, making me look like a petite little flower with a burly attitude. The boys at school that never spoke to me went out of their way to compliment my outfit, to ask if I was REALLY a Bears fan (because we were in Western New York, where the miserable masses had no choice but to follow the BUFFALO BILLLS). I felt proud that I understood the game, knew the good plays, the highlights that had played out the day before. Of course, on Tuesday, I went back to being ‘that creepy nerd in the gray courdoroy blazer and ascot’.
And then, it happened. The Bears won the Superbowl and our family exploded into joy, my mom and sister and I huddled upstairs watching the game alone because mom was crazy enough to mention that the Patriots “made a nice play”, and we were all banished. My father took calls from across the country, congratulating him on the win (as if he’d coached the team, or owned it, or even played). We all went to bed happy, unaware of the battle on the horizon.
I cheerfully announced that I would be wearing my dad’s jersey to school that day and was met with a wall of silence.
“No, J, you’re not. Your dad wants to wear it to work.”
I was dumbfounded. What sort of an adult wears a football jersey to the workplace? What sort of a grown up wants to show off to his friends? I explained in typical teenage hysteria how my life. would. be. over. if I didn’t wear that jersey, that JOHN VIVERITO was EXPECTING me to wear that jersey and if I didn’t well…I’d probably turn into a pillar of salt or something. My parents never fell for dramatics, and in fact would offer applause and rolled eyes in response to a long winded tantrum. My father wore the jersey to work and I lived to tell the tale after wearing a dumb old sweatshirt.
What I didn’t realize back then was that the Bears were part of his identity, part of who he was outside of “my dad, the lawn mower”. He went to work and talked about sports, had friends who knew he’d come in wearing a jersey the Monday after the Superbowl. That even when you’re forty something you like to draw attention to yourself. I was trying to take all that away from him and I’m pretty sure I told him it was ‘stupid’ for him to wear it to work, but he did it anyway.
Throughout highschool I stole his bandanas to wear in my hair, his old sweaters to wear with my old jeans, old t-shirts to sleep in, basically ransacking HIS wardrobe instead of my mothers to put together a ‘look’ that I termed “loose, baggy, and body hiding”. But it was also comfortable. My dad is a big tall guy and wearing his sweaters was like wearing a wonderful old, worn in blanket all day, wrapped up and cuddly.
I pushed him out of the way so I could have his THINGS. If HE wanted to wear his sweater it struck me as mean and selfish. I was in a wonderful world of self centeredness, where I deserved all that could make me happy.
And on the day I left for college, four states away, months until Thanksgiving, I went downstairs to get breakfast and found a gift in the living room. My dad had dressed up my favorite, Full Sized Fido Dido doll (about four feet tall) and had him sitting in the easy chair, ready to go to school with me. He was wearing my dad’s Bears Jersey, two of his bandanas and one of his sweaters. Pinned to his chest was a note that said “Do whatever you want with your life, little chucky (my nickname) but I know, writing is your true passion. Love, Dad”. I didn’t save the piece of paper, but I carry that thought with me everywhere, every day.
Someone asked me the other day if my dad sometimes does things intentionally to make people cry – the way he writes letters and signs cards and gives speeches. I said no, I think he does things intentionally to make people feel important, and to let them know how much they are loved.