Nine years ago, when I found out that my wife and I were having a boy, my mind filled with images of Little League games, football on the beach, trips to Major League ballparks, and staying up late to watch the Iggles on Monday Night Football. I figured all of this would start when he was at about five years old. But lo and behold, my big guy just wasn’t that into it. The first thing I remember him ever saying about sports — while I was watching a Flyers game, I think — is “Why is daddy so angry?”
I had grown up immersed in sports, even though my parents weren’t avid athletes or anything. I loved playing sports. I loved watching it. I even played rotisserie baseball, which in the late 1980s without the Internet was mostly a lot of math. My earliest memory is jumping over the couch when Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson to win the World Series for the Phillies in 1980.
So it would be reasonable to imagine that I would be disappointed by my son’s lack of interest in sports. I probably would have imagined that. But, as it turns out, nothing could be farther from the case. It matters not one whit to me that my son never dreams, as I did, of playing second base for the Fightins.
The funny thing that happens is your kid becomes his own person, with his own interests, and watching and being involved with that is one of the most extraordinary experiences a person can have. What you might have thought you wanted becomes irrelevant.
For my son, that interest is video games. At about the aforementioned time he was five years old, I acquired from my moving job an Xbox 360. Someone was throwing it away. I wasn’t even on the job — my buddies brought it back to the lot and thought my kid might want it. He did. For a year or two, he just played silly Mickey Mouse games, but by age seven he had discovered Minecraft.
While growing up, I almost never played video games. I didn’t have a console, most of my friends didn’t, and trying to do double jumps in Super Mario was just a futile exercise that I didn’t enjoy. Oh, great, I died again. The bottom line is, I really didn’t get it. I liked playing basketball, and I was passably good at it. My father had never played or really cared about basketball, but by the time I was 16 he was coaching my team.
This was about the time Paul Westhead was coaching Loyola Marymount with “the system.” The system was a fast-paced style of basketball where the offense took a shot within 10 seconds of getting the ball, and they outran their opponents. Suddenly my dad, who hadn’t known a three-second violation from a three pointer a few years earlier, was running a complex offensive system in a Philly playground league. That was not because he cared about basketball, but because I did.
The first time I played Minecraft with my kid, I was dubious. That old familiar feeling of having to look down at the controller, the unnatural sense of it all, came back. But then we started building a castle. About 25 minutes in, it was starting to look pretty impressive. He showed me some shortcuts, ways to build more efficiently and, not for nothing, I was pretty impressed. We built one heck of a castle.
I found myself now and then turning on the system when he was in bed, downloading “Star Wars Battlefront” and killing Rebel scum. It was … enjoyable. I understand the importance of physical activity, and my kid did karate, now does swimming, which I guess are sports. But it’s not where his heart is. And that’s okay. It’s not like I ever became the second baseman for the Phillies.
The point is that most of our job is to teach our kids. But if you’re really doing that, you’re probably also learning from them. Just as my dad learned to love basketball, I’m learning to love video games.
I never miss when I have the down-the-line set piece in “Rocket League,” and I can chip in the more obtuse angles. But mostly I just want to be on a team with my buddy. More than that, I want to revel in what he finds compelling.