My father is a pee-wee football coach, and this month he is deep in the throes of the Glen Ellyn Golden Eagles’ football season. When I called home this weekend, he offered to extend the embrace of pee-wee football across the country in the form of overpriced logowear.
“We have great new ‘Eaglewear’ this season, Molly,” he declared. “How about I send you the new Golden Eagles windbreaker? It even has ventilation mesh in the armpits. Perfect for New Haven!”
For my dad, football is not an extracurricular — it is his mania. Just as the sport has transformed my family’s wardrobe into closets full of green and yellow baseball hats, polo shirts (long and short-sleeved), sweatshirts and T-shirts, football has transformed my father himself.
Most people know him as a tax lawyer. It’s true he graduated from college trained to spend 60 hours a week dealing with pinheads from the IRS.
But this isn’t where his passion lies. On workdays he schedules “business lunches” with other coaches to figure out how to best teach the “RIP-22 Superpower” play to 20 pencil-legged boys swallowed in padded jerseys twice their own size.
Pee-wee football is my dad’s real identity. His Internet screen name is “Retrocoach” because last year he had his fourth graders run an obscure play called the “Single Wing Offense” that no one had seen since the Princeton teams of the 1960s.
My father spends all week in a shirt and tie, butting his head against bureaucracy. But every Sunday afternoon, dressed in that green polo shirt and khaki shorts with 48 different pockets, armed with play diagrams that look like the tic-tac-toe game from hell, he is a man with a vision.
When I call home on weekends, he has little to say about work. But when I ask how the game went, the smile in his voice is audible. “You should have seen Jenkins — he cuts left, spins right — he’s like a little Gayle Sayers!”
He realizes I don’t know much about the game, and he does everything he can to share his ardor. Last January, I mentioned I was going to the Winter Ball with a football player. A heavy UPS package arrived from Dad a week later — a 300-page binder titled “Insider’s Guide to Football.”
My father claimed he just wanted to equip me with some one-liners to impress my date.
“Ask him, ‘Do you play in a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense?’ and he’ll be groveling at your knees!” he insisted. But in reality, Dad saw this Bulldog linebacker in a suit and tie as a chance to infect me with the football bug.
When Winter Ball came and went and I still hadn’t made first down with my date, Dad was ready with words of encouragement.
“You don’t want to date a defenseman, anyway. They’re trained to think about only one thing,” he said. “You want a guy who can run both sides of the ball.”
In-season and out, my dad is Mr. Football. He fills our house with football paraphernalia because if he can’t be on the playing field every moment, he can at least surround himself with that energy.
Drill books and videos the shelves of the living room. We eat our breakfast on a kitchen table papered with phone trees and stat sheets. The bathroom countertop is stacked with plastic-laminated pages of Xs, Os and squiggly arrows — Dad studies these during his morning soak in the tub.
We can’t pull the car into the garage, as it has become a warehouse for eight-foot high towers of hitting pads. And the new pickup truck that occupies half the driveway is not a function of a mid-life crisis, Dad insists. He bought the “Eaglemobile” because he has to transport half-a-ton of hitting dummies and garbage can-sized Gatorade coolers to and from the practice field every day.
We set up the old 17-inch TV in a corner of the basement expressly for him to watch his football tapes. Every night he sits on the edge of his folding chair, economy-sized jug of salted peanuts between his legs and clipboard in his hand. The room is dark, but for the glow of “Troubleshooting the Double-Wing” flickering across his face. This is his Walden.
At college, we agonize over the classes and internships we take, the bullet points on our resume. We stew over which occupation we ought to pursue. We are at Yale because we think four years here will guide us to professional fonts of intellectual stimulation, affluence and contentment.
A job that makes you happy is a worthy goal. But the real question is: Would you slice orange wedges and serve Sunny Delight for the entire marketing department at coffee break? When they don’t lace-up right and their pants fall down at the 10-yard line, would you still take them out afterwards for root beer floats, purely out of love?
Molly Worthen is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.