Monday, December 31, 2007

Kicking Off 2008: What If V-Kid Isn't a Fan?

I read at a sports-writers' reading series last night in NYC , and in advance of the reading, the hosts from Gelf Magazine did an interview with me and among the thought-provoking questions asked the following:

You have a blog called Varsity Dad. What happens if your son decides not to be a Florida fan, or even not a sports fan?

As I typed out my answer, I felt like reprinting it here was the right way to kick of 2008 on I have included the response in full, and I'd be curious for your take on it in the Comments.

Paying more attention to Varsity Dad is one of my biggest resolutions of 2008, because I think there's so much potential there -- and the reaction I got from fans who double as parents was so positive when I launched the site last spring.

And my own experience raising a sports fan is just now getting interesting. My son just turned 19 months and for the first 18 months, he basically sat around. Oh, sure, I could put him in a Florida jersey my in-laws bought him, but that was about it. In the last month, he has taken to shouting "Go Tebow!" -- at virtually everything. Now I can't shut it off, and it's like I created a monster. This is the hazard of imposing your sports fandom on your kid.

If my own experience over the last 6 years in becoming a Florida fan so late in life has taught me anything, it is that it is incredibly important for my kid to create his own sports allegiances, mindfully.

On the other hand, I recognize the limitations of my own fan situation – and the pivotal role that fandom can play when it starts in childhood, particularly through a relationship with a parent. Mostly, I have learned to be incredibly tolerant of anyone's current fan allegiance -- no matter how (or when) they arrived at it. Sincerity is where the authenticity comes from.

Sidebar: Take this "Pink Hat" civil war that the self-obsessed Boston sports fans got into over Red Sox fans. My favorite part is the way the Red Sox "die-hards" mocked the "Pink Hats"... as if ANY of them gave a rat's ass about the Patriots until the Pats won their first Super Bowl. If they say they did, they're lying or fooling themselves. And they gave up on the Celtics, too, right up until they traded for KG. Now, it's like they never abandoned the team (even though they all did). I just find it ludicrous that anyone would feel so insecure about their own fandom that they would make competing with others in the same fan base – who generally aren't competing back – into such a large part of their fandom. It's kind of pathetic, actually.

That's a roundabout way of saying: My son can root for Florida or not. I'm certainly not one to judge. (My wife, on the other hand, as a Florida lifer, would like to see him be a Florida die-hard forever. If he became a Georgia or FSU fan, I think she might disown him.)

However, I do think a parent and child who share the same fan appreciation and affiliation can create some very special memories together that transcend sports fandom and become integral to the relationship itself.

Now, if he didn't like sports at all? Tougher question. I actually think there's a certain minimum level of sports interest that anyone/everyone should have in order to simply function in society – particularly "guy society." Being able to talk about sports is social currency -- perhaps its most potent form.

But I feel the same way about TV or movies or books or politics or current events or food or technology or home improvement or most popular Google keywords or anything else: There is a certain cultural literacy one should have in order to be a functioning person.
I would much rather Gabe become a restrained polymath than a sports nut, to be honest. If he ends up a sports nut, that's great, but I hope he takes the time to try to understand other things.

-- D.S.


coach said...

While the surface detail of the question is sports, the meat of it is much deeper.

How does a parent react when their child rejects their values? That can be sports, fandom, or anything else.

It's possibly the toughest thing a parent can face. Part of raising children is teaching them your personal values in regards to both important stuff and trivial stuff. We don't raise them that way expecting them to reject those lessons, in essence rejecting us.

I think that's why many people have a problem when their children make different decisions than they'd like. They see it as their child rejecting them, when it's really the child asserting their own identity, it's them becoming them.

Jingoist said...

My favorite part is the way the Red Sox "die-hards" mocked the "Pink Hats"... as if ANY of them gave a rat's ass about the Patriots until the Pats won their first Super Bowl. If they say they did, they're lying or fooling themselves.

So you're saying my Craig James jersey from 1985 (when I was 10) is not a valid testament to my lifelong fandom of Boston teams, including the Patriots? Or crying silently on my parents' bedroom floor so as not to wake them after watching Game 7 of the '86 World Series on their TV? Or how about joining the local hockey league when I was 5 (five!) because I loved Bobby Orr, Terry O'Reilly, and all the old Bruins. (All fandom, by the way, that was passed on to me by my grandfather and great uncle- a sportswriter here in RI in the 60s/70s no less.) Incidentally, my dad grew up a Giants fan (started before the Pats were established). Did I follow him? No. Stuck with my Pats and Sox and Bruins and Celts.

I agree the "die hards" and "Pink Hat" dichotomy is absurd and need not be recognized. But don't mock Boston fans in aggregate over it. We "purebreds" are here too. And my son (4) has started to follow the teams too.

Jen said...

I truly feel that kids that grow up in sports-fanatic homes will more than likely become fans themselves...whether it is for the team(s) that the parent(s) root for or not. If football is on the TV every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and mom and/or dad are cheering and screaming at the TV, chances are the kids are going to do the same. At least that is how I grew up, and so far, my three-year-old son is following the same path. I have posted before that he is already loving all things Ohio State, thinks he Grady Sizemore when he's playing baseball, and wanted a "real" football for Christmas. Who knows though, he could end up loathing all things associated with sports as he gets older. I highly doubt it, but you never know!

He definitely isn't going to start wrestling until he's older though.

bird said...

Dan, I truly don't think that short of brain-washing, water-boarding, or any other form of torture, that Gabe will become a fan of FSU or Georgia. After all, I spent an entire year of graduate school at FSU and managed to maintain my Gatorhood! Of course, assuming that he goes to college at an institution such as Johns Hopkins :-), he can easily be a fan of their athletic teams, as well as the Gators!!

Jibblescribbits said...

Not a bad way to kick off '08 Dan.

Janie_Wilcox said...

From my past experience, I believe that any child will go through a period of self-exploration. This time for me was in high school.

I, embarrasingly enough, grew up a Duke fan. My dad hated Dean Smith. However, when I started looking into colleges and deciding what school fit my goals, Carolina was the best. I had absolutely no desire to even apply to Duke.

Although my father brought me up a dookie, I appreciate the fact that I was brought up a sports fan. It provided a closer bond between my dad and me, and I can also hold my own with almost anyone in a sports' conversation.

I must warn any parents of little girls though. Guys do not always want to date the sports girl.