an update of my life

Monday, July 31, 2006

Major League Parenting

Intellectually I realize that life and parenting involve a degree of compromise. And as the father of two-year-old idendical twin boys, I've come to accept a higher-degree of compromise.

I also believe it's important to encourage my children to follow their dreams and make their own decisions. I've pledge to happily support them down whatever path they choose.

However, as accepting as I am to compromise, other points of views and beliefs different than my own, there is one certain matter of faith I adamantly refuse to budge on no matter the consequences.

All those touchy-feely thoughts of compromise immediatly disappeared the day one of them put on a Cubs hat.

I’m a White Sox fan -- always have been and always will be. Not only that, I hate the Cubs. Chicagoans are mostly either Sox fans or Cubs fans. In the house where I grew up, it was to the point where even the word "Cubs" wasn't tolerated -- it was considered the worst four-letter word. A perfect day for me is when the Sox win a double header and the Cubs lose two.

My dad taught me to be a Sox fan. Looking back on my up-bringing, this may be the single-best piece of parenting my dad ever did. We grew up in Skokie, the first suburb North of Chicago. This is Cubs territory. The White Sox are the South Side team. Cub fans live in the North part of the city. My dad grew up on the South Side and no matter that he married a North Chicago woman who appreciated the Cubs, he demanded that his three sons be raised as Sox fans.

Growing up a Sox fan in Cubs country helped define me. When I decided to go to school in Buffalo instead of the more traditional University of Illinois one mis-guided friend said “What can you expect from a Sox fan?” When I decided to go to Alaska after college the same friend said “Man, you’ve always been a little different”.

Perhaps I felt free to follow a different path than all my friends because of my support of the White Sox.
Everything about being a Sox fan was different than being a Cubs fan. When we were young, my friends would watch Cubs games during the day (in those days the Cubs didn't play night home games). I didn't understand this. To me, the major leagues always played at night. Day games were for amateurs. That’s what my Dad told me and that's what I believed. Didn’t my friendsknow that? Didn't they realize the Cubs were therefore minor league? I could play all day during the summer and then be able to hang out with my Dad and brothers and watch the Sox at night. My perfect birthday growing up was heading to Comiskey Park for a Sox game and then staying for the firework show.

It wasn’t enough to be a Sox fan though. Almost more important in my family was to hate the Cubs. My Dad was “fit to be tide” (whatever that means) when I was a high school freshman and cut school to go to the Cubs opener. The Sox were playing the following day he said. “You’re mother is going to be mad when you miss two days in a row” he winked. "What were you thinking?"

What was I thinking? I was thinking I'd go to the Cubs opener and root against them. I knew my dad would be proud.

So imagine my disgust when I came home from a long day at work, open the door and saw my two year old son Cole wearing a Cubs hat.

“What the **** is that?” I said not holding back.

My wife Wendy looked at me in horror at my language. “Oh come on” she said, obviously not realizing the seriousness of the situation. It’s just a hat."

Realizing that that explanation wouldn't do it, she continued.

“I told him the C stands for Cole” she said.

“That C doesn’t stand for Cole though” I said. "Take it off," I demanded. "And where did it come from?"

“It’s from your friend Scott” she said. "He brought over some hand-me-downs and the hat was on top."

Now I knew what it meant to be fit-to-be-tied. An outsider looking at me would have suggested tying me up for my and my children's safety. I tried taking the hat off of Cole. He cried. I was in a no-win situation.

I took a time out. "Why would Scott do this to me?" I thought. He too was brought up a Sox fan on the North side. And alhtough he's moved to St. Louis, he still follows the South Side Sox. "He’s testing me," I decided. He’s mad because his kids are Cardinal fans and he’s trying to make my life just as miserable. I was furious. I later found out it was his wife Linda’s idea. She tossed the hat on top hoping for this exact situation thinking it was funny. It wasn’t. (How and why Scott ever allowed a Cubs hat in his house I'll never understand.)

The hat was somehow lost in the middle of the night. Did I purposely thow the hat in the bottom of the diaper bin? Did my dad sneak into the house and destoy the hat? Did the ghost of former Sox owner Bill Veeck come to my rescue and take it away? Wendy can assume all she wants but Cole will never know.

To calm things down, I promised Wendy and the kids we would go to a hat store that weekend and get them each a new hat. I bought myself some time. But the pressure was on me. I needed to find a way to make this okay with my two-year-olds who love hats and now apparently liked the letter C without compromising my strongest beliefs.

I thought finding a replacement hat for Cole would be easy. If Cole wanted a hat with a C on it, a Chicago Bears hat would work just fine. For his brother Ryan maybe a Rutgers hat would work. I was even willingn ot be flexible. I'd accept buying him a Washington Redskins cap. I'm a Bears fan. But I'm not some crazy who would go nuts if their kid wore another NFL team's hat. Or perhaps a Colorado Rockies hat would be perfect. They have a C and an R on their hat. The kids love dressing alike anyway; this could be darn cute.

We headed to the mall and a store that advertised that they carry every hat from every professional and college team.

When we walked into the hat store my boys were ecstatic. “Han’s Hans” they screamed. I walked straight for the Bears hat with the “C” insignia. I couldn’t wait to hand it to Cole. I was shocked when I turned around. Not only had he already found a Cubs hat, he had it on! I handed him the Bears hat and he threw it on the ground. I took the Cubs hat from him and gave him back the Bears hat. He cried.

I was loosing my boy. I needed support. Wendy just stood and laughed.

I was desperate. Maybe a Boston Celtics hat would do. No. He wanted the Cubs hat.

I handed him a Sox hat saying “See, Just like Daddy’s." (I wore mine to the store for added not-so-subtle pressure.) He threw the Sox hat on the ground. If my dad saw his grandson do this the college fund would be in jeopardy. Grandpa would consider this a sacreligious act in the worst degree.

Maybe this was all my fault. I started doubting our move a year ago to Deerfield, an even more Northern suburb. Maybe my boys needed a few more years in the city to be grounded. The pressure out here in the suburbs is relentless. Everyone is a Cubs fan and everywhere there are Cubs things.

A Nascar hat?

I was getting desperate. Jewish guys don't do Nascar.

He threw it down.

I needed help. I needed a plan. I needed to know how my dad raised three devout sons in Skokie. I'm not a religioius person but at this point I tried everything. I pleaded for guidance. Help me find him a hat he likes.

We were making a scene. I was panicking.

The importance of this moment wasn’t lost on me. This was a defining moment in his upbringing and I was failing.

“Let’s go” I said.

“We can’t just leave now you promised you would buy them hats.” Wendy said.

"Oh yes we can,” I said. And with that I put my screaming boys in their stroller.

My heart was pounding. This parenting thing is tougher than I thought.

As we strolled to the food court a million questions went through my mind.

Was I nuts?

Did I just cause permanent damage?

Did my dad make me a brainwashed fan?

Did it really matter what “han” my son wore?

Is it possible my sons were going to be a Cubs fans?

This can’t be happening.

Cole was still crying. I had to do something, but what?

I left my family in the food court. “I’ll be right back” I said and I kissed my boys.

“I’m proud of you” said Wendy.

I ran , not walked, back to the store. I had to do right by my boys. I had to make them happy no matter what it took.

I bought two hats.

When I found my family they were already sitting down having lunch. Wendy saw the bag and smiled. "Boys do you want a present?” I asked.

“Han, Han” they screamed. They were so excited.

I took off their Mickey Mouse hats and handed them their new Sox hats!

As they put them on I told them all about the Sox. Of course I told them that the Sox had just won the World Series for the first time in 88 years. I also told them how Carlos May had their grandma's birthday on the back of his jersey (May 17 and only had half a thumb. I told them that Dick Allen wore a helmet at first base and once hit two inside-the-park home runs in one game.

They were hanging on every word. I went on to tell them how Bill Veck signed a midget to pinch hit. They laughed. I told them about Disco Demolition Night. I was on a roll.

Then, to top it all off, in my silliest voice I said "and the Cubs are 15 games out of first place."

They were in stitches. They were happy.

I was thrilled. I had my sons back.