Learning To Lose

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My second born came into this world able to hit a fastball. It may have been a curse.  I remember vividly a dear friend saying, “This guy's gonna be your payback for all the sins in your life”.

I can also remember most of the great defeats of my childhood, both mine and the professional teams I supported. From rainy days in front of the fireplace watching Ray Wershing miss a game saving field goal to my own missed bunts and dropped balls, being a sports fan is a miserable existence. As I grew older the defeats so outnumbered the victories that it became apparent that if I was to continue playing and supporting I would need to grow tougher skin. But it’s not easy.

To be a true fan and a true competitor, it should hurt to lose. Missing the open goal or dropping the winning pass should feel terrible and help insure that you succeed at the very next opportunity.  To be cheerful after such failure would be an insult to your team and the sport. Being a fan is no different. Hanging your logo covered head after a defeat is appropriate as is holding unreasonable grudges against opposing teams and players. I'm all for conflict resolution but some things are non negotiable. Fuck the Dodgers.

But balance is the key and only fatherhood has truly taught me that. For every missed touchdown there is a defense that stopped it. For every strikeout there is a pitcher who delivered. Try telling that to a ten year old 49er fan who has to go to school on Monday in NYC after taking a drubbing from the local team. Until I had children, and to be honest even a few years after, I had not learned this lesson either. I play all sports with an intense passion to win and am crushed when I come up short. But the perspective that being a father has given me has been my path to accepting defeat.

My son has the blessing and the curse of The San Francisco Giants miraculously winning the World Series twice in the last three years. All future seasons will be based on these successes. My childhood Giants were so bad that any win was a huge victory. For my son, any defeat signals the end of the world. He will stay in a state of suspended euphoria through the winter and into the spring when the national pastime resumes. Then he will start all over. Optimistic and proud, dressed from head to toe in memorabilia, he will greet the new season.  Until we lose. 

Much in life is complicated. Did I make a convincing argument? Did I include the moral, ethical and unselfish details in my thought process. Sports are black and white. There is a winner of every game and there is a loser of every game. Your victory comes at someone else's expense. Your touchdown dance adds to someone else's walk of shame. There is no way around it. It's not for everyone. As life, love, politics, travel and art fill us out, it becomes easier to compartmentalize sporting disappointments. But they will always sting.

This morning I told my son that he had 3 choices. Become a NY sports fan, greatly increasing his chances of victories, quit being a sports fan altogether, eliminating a lifetime of anxiety and post game depression, or buck up, walk tall and say “we’ll get them next time”

He is still thinking about it. But I know, from painful experience, that he’s a lifer. And I look forward to many years to come of joyous celebration and head shaking heartbreak with him by my side.

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