Boys and their Personal Brand

One night, more than 20 years ago, I was sitting at a bar with a friend, who was bemoaning the fact that he didn’t have a girlfriend. One of my favorite guys in the world. Smart. Fun. And truly decent. I remember telling him that he needed to change how he talked about himself.

“Girls don’t want to date a guy who thinks the best thing about himself is how many beers he can drink without throwing up.”

“But…” he smiled in spite of himself.

That night, I described to him how his friends saw him. “That’s what you should be saying too.”

Then last night, my fifteen-year-old had an assignment to fill a box with things that explain who he is, and I was immediately reminded of my friend.

My son filled his box with a Green Bay Packers t-shirt, a candy bar, a shoot ‘em up video game, a ski glove, and a golf ball (although he complains when we ski or golf).

And I thought, this is what you think is interesting about you?

I wish tonight’s follow-up assignment was: ask your mom to refill your box with things she thinks describes who you are. Then, let’s compare.

My box would include a hilarious joke, a souvenir from the Museum of Nature and Science, a photo with his brothers, a Lego Star Wars set, a toy tractor, a challenging math problem, a map, an Italian cookbook, and yes, his Packers t-shirt.

I might slip in a baby photo so everyone could see what a sweet, serious little man he was. Now, a 6-foot version of that, with all the cool things in this box picked up along his way.

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A Ferris Bueller Kind of Day

My husband likes to promise prizes to those who get good grades. Three trimesters of straight As, you get to do something really special.

Falling behind on prizes with our now 8th grader, who likes a challenge, the two traveled this weekend to the first regular season Falcons’ game at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

What’s a Denver boy doing being a Falcons fan, you ask. Who knows?

But it’s been forever, and he even produces a Falcons Youtube channel. Husband and son both came home thrilled by the experience.

Passes for on-the-field pre-game warm-ups. An invitation from a good friend to the owners’ box. The photos show our son standing, the field below, even though he describes the cushy leather chairs with the amazing view. “I was too nervous to sit.”

Photos of the stadium. Arthur Blank talking to Roger Goodell. My son with Takeo Spikes, two-time Pro Bowler. Close-up video of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, and the tight ends who they described as 6’10” and HUGE!

“It was a Ferris Bueller kind of day,” said my husband. “We’ll remember it forever.”

“You need to get straight As,” said the 8th grader to his older brother, a Packers fan who tried hard not to be disappointed that the Falcons won. “You have to go to Lambeau. If you have a hundredth of the good time I had, it will be amazing.”

Then he added, “…and if you go, I’ll use my next three trimesters of As to go with you. How cool would that be?!”

Dinner with Teenagers

When you first have children, you look at them and think how absolutely beautiful they are. You want to hold them, smell them, make them laugh. But as they grow into teenagers, you start to see who they might become with their own set of passions and beliefs. And you see the day when you will learn from them.

They are suddenly interesting. Sometimes more interesting than your colleagues or friends because they are willing to talk about anything, pushing the envelope on your thinking without being afraid that they might offend you. Wondering about things you might not have thought to wonder about. Not knowing any better than to ask the questions you’re not supposed to ask “in good company.”

“Can I try a sip of that?”

Tonight, sitting around the fire pit, the conversation with our thirteen year old morphed from what happened at school today to whether a college education is important and if there is a difference is between Stanford or Harvard or Princeton and a school no one’s heard of. We discussed the education of the last few generations in our families. Left the old country before high school was done and worked as a bus driver. First to go to college. Focused on a premiere college because that was your guarantee of a better life. And now here we are, calling college an expensive IQ test and almost expecting it to implode before our children’s children think about applying.

A week or two ago, we talked about both sides of the abortion issue. Mom and dad, do you guys agree on this one? The black, white and gray of a complex, emotional issue.

And for the last two weeks, our fourteen year old lectured us at dinner on the complex and resilient history of Germany. We helped him strategize about how to win WWII in his-school assigned role as the leader of the evil Axis. How did you get Germany?

Then when we are tired of academic banter, the teens catch their breath, readying themselves for the next argument about the NFL Draft, because a night doesn’t go by in April without analyzing every move made by our favorite Packers, Falcons, Broncos and Chiefs this year and for the last ten years.

Because that’s fun at dinner too.

Sports Memories

My Packers fan asked me the other day what football games I remember besides last year’s Bronco Super Bowl win. That doesn’t count, he said, because you were there. I realized that very few of my sports memories are actual plays, and I do not have a single stat in my brain.

But I remember…

…the first time my parents let me stay up late to watch a big game. The Bullets won the Championships. And as they celebrated, Queen’s “We are the Champions” played, and I was so happy and moved by the emotion of the win and the song that I cried.

…making a touchdown on the 7th grade camping trip.

…screaming until my voice gave out every time my sister swam in a race.

…feeling my heart break for Georgetown’s Fred Brown when he passed the ball to UNC’s James Worthy in a mistake that allowed Carolina to win the 1982 championship game.

…accidently smacking an opponent in the face with my lacrosse stick as I turned around to say something to our goalie when the ball was at the other end of the field.

…decorating the inside of my locker with newspaper clippings of John Riggins, Dexter Manley, Art Monk, and Darrell Green, and getting to miss school to go to the Super Bowl parade when the Redskins won.

…watching as one of the New York guys in my sophomore dorm ran through the halls banging on doors to celebrate the Mets’ World Series win in 1986.

…my husband doing the most funny Village People YMCA you’ve ever seen at a baseball game, so funny I do not even remember what game or which team. But I can still see his grin.

…being at the 2007 World Series cheering for the Rockies with my two week old son.

Since that day, my sports memories mostly come from watching my kids watch games. So I will remember my passionate Packers fan donning one of his brother’s many Falcons jerseys for the Super Bowl game last night, but showing me his Packers jersey and his loyalty underneath.

I have already forgotten the plays in the playoff game two weeks ago when the Falcons beat the Packers, but I will remember the boys’ “truce” for the game and their surprising sportsmanship throughout.

And now, the only thing I will remember about Super Bowl 51 is my Falcons fan lying on his bedroom floor crying, “Why? Why? Why?”

Practicing Being “Cool” with the Grown-Ups

Apparently, our fourteen year old was chatting with a friend of mine. She had recently purchased a Wii and was asking what games he and his brothers play. The only better topics to get him going is “which Apple product do you recommend?” and “how about them Packers?””

He explained that he and his brothers mostly pay sports games, especially football. Madden 15. Madden 17. Madden anything. But then he told her about another game, one of the war games he likes.

“That’s the game that if I’m awake at two in the morning, I go down to the basement with a bowl of chips and a coke and play by myself.”

Now, I will admit he is a light sleeper. But this is a kid who never goes in the basement at night. He certainly doesn’t go down at 2 a.m. Alone.

And he’s never had a coke in his life.

Too cool.

The Courage to be a Fan

Everywhere we went last week, people asked my son if he was excited about the game. On the street, on the ski slopes, in the reception area at school, and everywhere he wears his Packers sweatshirt (which is everywhere), strangers called out to him, “Go Packs!”

Then today, he sat next to his brother, an avid Falcons fan, and watched his team get crushed in the playoffs.

He was quiet, but he let his brother celebrate. And I realized, watching him be a good sport, what courage it takes to be a fan. As a fan, he has worn his heart on his sleeve. He has made himself vulnerable to loss. He has shouted out to the world, “I stand with them!”

Now, he must steel himself for school. The pats on the back. The “sorry, dude.” Or “nice sweatshirt.” Or “what in the world happened to your team?”

But if he had not had the courage to be a fan, then he would not have felt the joy of this season’s victories. The thrill of Aaron Rodger’s Hail Mary passes, the wonderful feeling that people know you and what you care about. And the respect you have earned because you are willing to show that you care, to cheer big wins, mourn today’s loss, and wait patiently, optimistically for next year.

Colorado Skiing and Broncos Football

“Are you watching the game up here?”

“You heading back before kickoff?”

On any Broncos game weekend, that’s what friends and strangers alike will ask you on the chairlift, slope-side or riding up the gondola.

This past play-off weekend, despite plenty of snow and gorgeous sunny weather, avid skiers, gunning for their “vertical-feet” record, put seasonal legacies aside for something bigger. Something worth sacrificing a perfect ski day for – our Broncos.

“We’re leaving at 7am.” On Sunday. A ski day.

Everywhere you looked Saturday, skiers wore football jerseys over their jackets. Orange and blue was everywhere. Men, women, children, boys, girls.

And then, there were my skiers and their friends. “We’re leaving at 7.” “Go Broncos!” Huge fans.

Yet of five boys age eight to thirteen, not one wore a Broncos shirt. Expressing their individuality. Egging each other on in competition for best team, best favorite player, best team trivia knowledge. They donned Packers, Falcons, Chiefs, Lions, and even Patriots jerseys and welcomed the attention they got as they sped down black diamonds and crashed off jumps they didn’t quite see.

The Lions’ fan counted ten “Go Lions!”

The Packers fan boasted five or six “Nice jersey, dude! Go Packs!”

But on playoff Sunday, we left at 7.

“Go Broncos!” “Go Peyton!” “Our defense rocks!”

And we were all home for the game. Yelling. At times, covering our eyes. Praying. Cheering. Jumping up and down. Hugging. A team worth the sacrifice of a perfect ski Sunday, because we get to do it again in two weeks.