Tens of thousands of words will be written, hours of video produced, tweets will be tweeted, Facebook posts will be posted and Instagrams will be instragrammed, all about the Red Sox this morning. One of the unique benefits of being a sports fan in New England is the fact that our little corner of the world is filled with the finest writers and artists in the world. Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” is perhaps the best example of a superlative author taking time to write about something so pedestrian….
Yet sports, as we’ve seen this year in Boston, has the power to unite, to inspire and to heal. A New Englander who took up running years ago, I’ve always loved the Marathon. I’ve watched it from the streets of the city, hoped –and still hope- to somehow have the discipline and motivation and means to complete it, and was thrilled to run alongside Bill Rogers years ago in a 10k through the streets of Mobile, Alabama. I was in Atlanta on April 15th when the bombs tore through the crowd – and the sanctity of the Marathon – this year. I saw how the Red Sox, just hours after the bombing, helped unite a city stunned at the intrusion of such violence.
But this is not an article about the bombing.
I’m a sports fan, and have followed the Sox for as long as I remember. I recall Fisk’s homer in ’75, Bucky’s fly ball in ’78 and the cathartic Series of 2004.
But this is not an article about baseball per se.
Instead, it’s an article about the redemptive nature and uniting force that is sports…
…in a family.
Ask a New Englander about the most surprising and enduring memory they have of 2004. They’ll tell you of the parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle who never saw the Sox win a World Series. They’ll then describe a phenomena that was a complete surprise to nearly everyone: cemeteries in November of 2004 were soon covered with countless Red Sox pennants, baseballs and other Sox related items placed on headstones all in remembrance of those who suffered for years with the Olde Towne Team.
Countless stories have been written about fathers and sons, struggling with the challenges of teenage rebellion, who have found common ground in sports, and sports only.
– Deep breath –
I’ve found that, once in a while, I’ll write a bit about my personal life. They are, for the most part, lighthearted descriptions of the time we spend together. I try not to burden you with the heartache and sadness that –let’s face it- we all feel from time to time.
Heartache, however, is a perfect description of the situation.
I’m a divorced father of two sons.
The less said about the divorce, the better.
My sons, wonderful young men, have been placed in the middle of two parents who, unfortunately, allow their hatred of each other to get in the way of the well-being of the children. It is, sadly, not uncommon.
What makes it all the more painful for me is the physical distance between us.
Devin, a high schooler, and Jack, in middle school, live in South Carolina. The thousand miles that separate us can easily be breached via flights to the Palmetto State, or texts or calls or Facetime or Skype. The visits, however, are far too infrequent. The good-byes, too painful. The daily calls, too brief and too shallow.
It is, in a word, awful.
The Red Sox have helped assuage that pain.
All summer long (heck, even back to last spring) Devin, Jack and I were able to cross those miles with discussions about the Sox. Arguments about the everyday important issues a parent and a child engage in were eased, considerably, with a talk about David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia. Facing a challenge in school? Look at the way Stephen Drew kept plugging along and worked through his challenges. Too tired to do your homework? You think Shane Victorino let a little fatigue get in the way of his conditioning? A project with other students not working out? Gather ‘em together, a la Big Papi, and work together to accomplish your goal.
I began to notice that it wasn’t necessarily the content of the conversation that helped bridge that geographic gap….it was, simply, the connection that helped. During lulls in the conversation, I’d listen as the boys clicked on their PC, following the game online as they listened to Don and Eck on NESN in my living room here in New England. National games we’d watch “together”, the two of them in South Carolina, while I tuned in here in Providence. Nothing would be said, but none of us wanted to hang up. I could hear their breathing, laughter, even their arguments. Not being able to reach out and hug them (or physically separate them during their, ummm, “disagreements”) hurt, but sharing the games –even over the phone- was better than not hearing from them at all.
Last night’s game was quite the same for us: through Facetime I watched them watching the game. We shared observations about the team, the crowd, the celebration; nothing of real substance was said until the party wound down and the conversation was about to end.
“I love you, Dad,” Devin told me, as Jack, yawning, added “I miss you. I’m going to miss watching the Sox with you.”
“I love you too, gentlemen. I love you, too.”
…and I quickly ended the conversation before they asked about the tears running down my cheek.