Monday, May 4, 2009

Manly Men

Shortly after Verna announced she and Maya were spending the weekend at her brother’s, Miguel had sketched out a Guys’ Weekend Plan.

“First we’ll play nine holes of golf,” he said. “Then we’ll go to the batting cages. And then we can go to the movies.”

“Which movies do you want to see?” He is only allowed G or PG.

“17 Again, Observe and Report.”

“Observe and Report is rated R,” I said. Then I nixed 17 Again, which is PG-13.

Sandwiched in between all the father-son bonding would be Miguel’s Saturday afternoon Little League Game and a Sunday afternoon practice.

So last Friday night we kicked off our testosterone fest with a dinner I prepared (hotdogs for Miguel, veggie burger for me, homemade fries for both of us) followed by a parentally tame movie, Cool Runnings, a cute and inspirational based-on-a-true story (of the first Jamaican Olympic bobsled team) Disney flick I hadn’t seen in many years. Miguel thought it was just OK.

“Let’s stay up and party until midnight,” Miguel said.

“Uh, no,” I said. “What kind of partying do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just that real men stay up late.”

Not real older men like his father, who just turned 50 and loves power naps nearly as much as breathing. Staying up late at my age just means getting up in the middle of the night to pee.

He was pretty tired, anyway, so he willingly went to bed around ten. It rained pretty hard at night so the coaches postponed his baseball game Saturday afternoon. Puddles had formed near each of the bases and the outfield was soggy and squishy, making the entire field unsafe for action.

However, one or two dads, undaunted by the inclement conditions, invited anyone to an informal practice at the local high school on the synthetic football field. It was drizzling slightly, but Miguel wanted to go. I had a book to read, so I reasoned to myself that an hour or so inside the car wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

When we got to the high school parking lot, I waved goodbye to Miguel, who joined up with one of the coaches and a few of his teammates, and then started reading. Three dads were on the field with six kids. I was relatively warm and dry inside the car.

Then I heard a voice. No, not some psychotic episode, but an inner one that said, “Real men don’t read in the car while the guys are frolicking on the bouncy turf at Terra Linda High.”

So I got out of the car and headed for the field, just in time to watch Andrew and Miguel, at different times, sliding and splashing across the field, laughing and screaming with giddy abandon.

It was three-on-three baseball modified to fit being played on the 50-yard line: it was a hit if you made it safely to first before the pitcher had the ball or any other base before being tagged out. Any ball hit past the goal posts was a homerun. It was so waterlogged they went through two balls, having ripped the leather off both.

I told Coach Ron and Coach Mike about our weekend.

“I guess I’m supposed to share with Miguel how to be a man,” I said. “How do I do that?”

My question was quasi-rhetorical. I know how to be a role model, but how does one explain those various insights to an 11-year-old who is not yet ready to be a man, just a preteen?

“Being a man just means accepting responsibilities and loving your family,” chimed in Mike Martino, assistant number two on Miguel’s team.

As Mike, Ron, and I talked (I was wearing Mike’s baseball glove and technically playing in the outfield for the kids’ game) a ball came soaring at me, but I missed it because I wasn’t really paying attention.

Real men can focus and multitask.

For the rest of the afternoon, Miguel talked about the practice. He absolutely loved pitching and hitting and diving on the fake grass and getting soaked so much that he couldn’t pull off his baseball socks without his father’s help.

After we came home and Miguel put on dry clothes, I walked the dog (because, as Mike rightly noted, real men do meet their responsibilities) before he and I went out to dinner. We went to Pinky’s, local pizza joint and sports bar, to watch the 7th game of the Celtics-Bulls playoff series and so Miguel could play video games. Then we rented two movies, The Express, based on the true story of Ernie Davis, a phenomenal college football player who died of leukemia when he was 23, and College Road Trip, probably one of the only G-rated movies Martin Lawrence will ever do unless there is a sequel. It’s about a father who has a hard time letting go of his graduating high school daughter.

Both movies were actually perfect for our guys’ weekend. The Express was not only about Davis’ life (he was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s top collegiate football player), but how he played with an unshakeable sense of pride and determination during racially tumultuous times. So Miguel and I got to talk about values.

In one scene, when Davis’ top ranked Syracuse Orangemen faced number two Texas in the Cotton Bowl in hostile Texas, fans showered him and his teammates with soda, beer, popcorn, and bottles. Miguel looked utterly shocked that people behaved so horribly toward Davis just because he was Black.

“And this wasn’t even fifty years ago,” I said, trying to halt a full-on lecture. “Look at all those people, young and old, being so bad. Can you believe it?”

He just shook his head and looked genuinely flabbergasted.

College Road Trip was goofy as Martin Lawrence, a police chief outside Chicago, plotted unsuccessfully to corral his lovely daughter, played by Raven-Symone (once a young star on The Cosby Show), into going to a local university.

As I realized that Miguel, now 11, would be off to college in seven years, meaning he’s been with us longer than it will be for him to leave, tears streamed down my cheeks. I completely empathized with Lawrence’s character, for I understood his anxiety and inner turmoil. And I also agreed when he yielded to his higher self and let his daughter make her own choices.

Sunday brought more intermittent rain and a cancellation of Miguel’s practice. We started off the day at the Farmer’s Market, where Miguel ate a chicken-apple sausage and a Hansen’s soda and a Bavarian pretzel. Then we played miniature golf.

In the afternoon, I took care of a few responsibilities, which involved walking the dog (Miguel helped throughout the weekend) and laundry. Then we went bowling. We stopped at Whole Food’s on the way home so Miguel could pick out some dinner for himself. After dinner, we played catch, for the sun was finally out, and I pitched to Miguel so he could practice (for the first time) batting left-handed.

Here’s what I learned or was reminded of about real men over the weekend:

1. Real men are responsible. Miguel had an offer to join a friend in San Francisco Sunday afternoon, but I said, “Miguel, real men meet their commitments. You have practice and they’re counting on you.”

2. Real men can have fun. OK, I kind of balked on this one. Although I yanked my sorry butt out of the car to play baseball at the high school, I did not hurl my body across the water-saturated field. Next time, though, I am diving head first into something.

3. Real men have to spend a lot of money. If you add up dinner on Saturday evening, eating and shopping for fruit at the Farmer’s Market, one game of miniature golf, and two games of bowling, we easily spent close to $150.

And it was worth every damn cent. For it was not about the money, which we don’t really have, but about the time Miguel and I spent together, time we could also spend (and have spent) without shelling out too much dough.

At one point during the second movie on Saturday night, as it neared 10:30, well past Miguel’s usual bedtime, he leaned against me and put his head on my chest. He wanted to cuddle as he struggled slightly to stay awake (either that or he was so tired that he needed me just to keep him from nodding off). Yes, real men can hug and hold each other for comfort, especially a father and son.

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