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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chapter 3. Cat's in the Cradle

by Bob Andelman
"I'm going to keep an open mind. I'm not going to force my sons to be Gators or Dolphins fans. But I expect they'll pick it up. I'm not going to pick their schools for them at 5 and 3 years old. I want them to go to Yale and Harvard. Unless they can play. Then I definitely want them to go to Florida."
Harold Hyman
Property manager
Tamarac, Florida

Football became an American family tradition the morning after the first quarterback tossed the first touchdown pass and a sportswriter published the play-by-play.

Few games move as aggressively from father to son and brother to brother. Seeing his son score a touchdown for the first time in a Pop Warner League game is a much more satisfying rite of passage to most fathers than potty training. (And football uniforms are entirely more manly to clean than diapers.)

Some men live their own football dreams vicariously through strangers on their favorite college or pro team. And some dads are pretty overt about proselytizing to their sons about their own football careers, usually to the point of exaggeration (and leaving out the downside such as injuries), pushing them biceps-first into football. Not a one wouldn't wish their own flesh and blood to have the agility of Jerry Rice, the strength of Reggie White or the precision of Warren Moon.

If that fails, dads will settle for a knowledgeable companion to share the game watching experience.

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"My dad, when he was 10, was at the first Packers game ever played," Green Bay banker Jerry Pigeon says proudly. "You look up to your parents. He would go to the games and we wanted to go, too. My brother and I, growing up in the '60s, the Lombardi era, were brainwashed. We grew up supporting the team. Now my brother has one room in his house that's all dedicated to the Packers. He's got files or videos of every game, newspapers from every city the Packers played in. He's into it."

Unlike the Pigeon brothers, a lot of men might not know why they like football. They may reason that Dad played or older brothers played or they saw it on TV. But that is not a one-to-one relationship; not everybody's father or older brother played football. It is not an automatic thing. Therefore, football must resonate good feelings.

Sometimes it's inexplicable because it's on an unconscious level. That starts because kids are very sensitive to their parents' wishes. Dad's subtle interest in things like that, they always pick up. You might call it "psychological genetics." It sets the stage for later on, when men continue to both play the game or vicariously enjoy it. It continues to be an avenue of discharge for the aggressive drive.

There is a fairly strong body of literature in the sport sociology field that indicates that parents are incredibly significant in socializing children into particular sports. Most kids play Pee Wee football because their dads bring them down and sign them up. It's not often that a 6-year-old kid says, "Dad, I want to go to fencing school," or, "Dad, I would like to play lacrosse" -- unless dear old dad fenced or played lacrosse. Parents expose their children to different activities that they either participated in or they have an interest in. Experts says it's usually not until late adolescence when a person starts to make these selections for himself.
"This is a funny example," says Dr. Mark Unterberg, a psychiatrist and executive medical director for Green Oaks Medical City in Dallas. Unterberg is also a consultant to several NFL and NBA teams. "I played football in high school and I played one year in college. Linebacker. I got injured and after that I quit. I wanted to go to medical school and I wasn't getting bigger like the pros. As much as I can tell, I'm not one of these people who talk a lot about their football careers. Partly because I played varsity and I started and all that but I wasn't an all-conference or one of these outstanding players. There was nothing really to talk about, if you want to know the truth. As a matter of fact, I'm not even a fan. I've never been a fan. If I went to one football game a season it would be because somebody had tickets and wanted me to go. I'm not a TV watcher. If a game came on I would watch it for a little bit. My father used to watch it but I would be bored.

"Well," Unterberg says, "I have two sons and they both decided they wanted to play football. But the interesting thing is they both ended up playing linebacker -- the position I played. They actually did much better. Both made all-conference. What really caught my attention was that I talked even less about baseball because I stopped playing baseball when I was in the ninth grade. I switched to tennis. Varsity tennis and football were my two sports. Low and behold, both of my sons play catcher. Coincidence? I'm not sure on what level. Many times it just seems that kind of thing goes on."

• Ralph Weisbeck used to take his kids to Bills game when Jack Kemp was quarterback and Lou Saban was coach. He remembers those days fondly, screaming and yelling side-by-side, pulling for the Bills with his offspring. Time proved the best investment he ever made.

"My kids are all gone now but they call me up after a game," the retired tool company executive says. "They know I'm watching."

• Dr. Rick Weinberg, a clinical psychologist at the Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa, went to Chicago Bears games with his father. "He taught me the ins and outs of why you pass on third down," Weinberg recalls. "He really enhanced my appreciation of the game. We would sit all day, Saturdays and Sundays, and get popcorn and Cokes and we'd watch together, the way that a father and son can do things and relate to one another in a very loving, father/son kind of way around sports. That was very special to me and it is the sort of thing that I want to try to duplicate with my own son. It is important to me."

Weinberg took his own son to a game for the first time in 1991, when the boy turned 6. He was more interested in the cotton candy man and the Coke vendors than he was in the game. The next year he paid more attention to the game, responding when the crowds cheered and when a player spiked the ball. The color and pageantry lent itself even to a 7-year-old's vantage point. Dad contributed to his son's seduction by buying him a University of Michigan (Weinberg's alma mater) sweatshirt, Tampa Bay Bucs hat and shirt.

An educated, intelligent man, Weinberg tries to balance the love of sports he seeks to share with his boy against the rampant aggression and violence found in games like football.

"But I have to be honest," he says. "The hitting and the hurting -- I don't pay much attention to that until there is an injury. There is such enjoyment watching the successes of your team and cheering them on that you kind of forget about that other element. The thing that helps you overlook it is they are so well protected and well padded. For the amount of physical contact they have, there doesn't seem to be as many physical injuries as you would expect."

• Harold Hyman picked up the game from a brother 14 years his senior. Hyman was 6 when his brother took him to a University of Miami Hurricanes-University of Florida Gators game in 1963 at the Orange Bowl. "Since that time," Hyman says, "I've been crazy.

"My brother was in school, always telling me about the games," he says. "It was the colors, the excitement. I always played football in the house, throwing balls. I became a Gator fan because of my brother and anti-Hurricanes. As I grew up it was more than a passion. Like a war."

• Another South Florida football fan, Coral Gables banker Shawn Cahill, also was influenced by a brother's involvement in football. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, under the sway of the Ohio State University Buckeyes and Cleveland Browns.

"My older brother played football," Cahill says. "I enjoyed watching football every Sunday with my brother and my father. Every Thanksgiving, we went to my uncle's and we made sure dinner was served between games or at halftime."

Now a father himself, Cahill isn't losing any time with his infant son's indoctrination. Kyle was given a Florida State Seminoles football shirt before his first birthday in honor of his dad's alma mater. "He's on his way," Cahill says. "I'm looking forward to it."

• Dr. Stanley H. Teitelbaum's son is fully grown today, but as a child, he naturally gravitated to his father's love of football. "When Larry was 2 years old," Teitelbaum says, "he saw me shaving and he wanted to shave so we got him a toy plastic razor. I'd put shaving cream on his face and he would shave along with me. When he was 8 years old and he saw me watching playoff games, he joined me in the living room, watching. That was the beginning of his interest in football."

As with many kids it became important to the younger Teitelbaum to identify not only with his local teams, the Giants and Jets, but with a winner. He delivered his youthful passion to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the super team of the 1970s. Larry got yellow and black Steelers hats, shirts and scarves.

One of the biggest touchdowns Dad Teitelbaum ever made in his son's life was when he gave a paper at a conference in New Orleans. "I was in a restaurant and at the next table was Terry Bradshaw. This was a month after a Steelers' Super Bowl victory. We talked a little in the restaurant and I brought his autograph home to my son. That was bliss. That was the best gift anyone could have gotten for him because Terry Bradshaw was his hero. That won me a lot of points at that stage in his life. As he got older and I acquired seasons tickets to the Giants and Jets games, he couldn't get enough of that. He was very hot to go to all those games and he still does."

Sharing a delight in football gave Teitelbaum and his son a unique bond the boy would not have with his mother. Whatever problems or conflict they might have in life, football will always be special between them.

"Larry doesn't live at home anymore," Teitelbaum says, "but when we talk on the phone we always talk about sports. He will say, 'Did you hear about the latest trade?' I don't have that communication with my daughter and I don't have that with my wife so it's great that I have it with my son."

• One more story about football fathers and their sons:

Banker Dave Schwarzmueller married in 1966. He and his wife loyally attended Buffalo Bills home games. Over time the couple had two children, both girls. When their third child, a boy, was born, the doctor came out to the fathers' waiting room and informed Schwarzmueller.

"I went in to see my wife," he recalls. "The first thing she said was, 'Well, it's a boy. There goes my season ticket.'"

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1 comment:

Maroussia said...

It will be great to watch Rent, i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.