Brad Breaks His First Bone
I picked Brad up from the afterschool program and he was limping a little. They said he jumped off the monkey bars and landed wrong and may have sprained his ankle. I watched how he walked on it with just a limp and no grimace of pain and thought it wasn't even a sprain just a twisted ankle. That night his mom watched him limp around the house and she concurred with my assessment. There's a reason the teachers and Brad's parents aren't doctors.
The next morning his foot was very swollen and his mom took him to the doctor. It turned out his foot was fractured longways across the top of his arch. My first reaction as a father was to be proud that he had been walking on it without complaining. They had him use crutches for a few days and then put him in a walking boot. The walking boot probably wasn't the best idea.
It was the middle of his first flag football season. He was bummed out about not being able to play so I kept taking him to practice figuring he could watch and learn and at least see his friends. That probably wasn't the best idea either. When he was on crutches it was okay but once he got the walking boot on I looked up halfway through practice and he was out on the field. The coach looked at me and smiled and shrugged and I smiled back and shrugged. We're guys and it was football so playing through pain was a good thing. It'll sound like a stupid thing to do to a lot of people out there but someday he's going to wake up and his back will hurt and his head will ache and he'll still have to drag his ass into work so he might as well start learning how to do it early. I let him practice and told him not to tell his mother.
He practiced for a month in his walking boot and even played in his last game a little. Of course, his mother found out but I convinced her everything would be okay. The one person I didn't want to find out, though, was his doctor because I didn't want to listen to a lecture so I told Brad not to say anything when we went to his last appointment. The doctor walked in, looked at Brad, and said, "I know your foot is okay. My son is on your football team and I've been watching you practice on it for the last month. You're a tough kid." Then he looked at me and winked. The doctor was a guy, too.
Brad Wrestles With Losing
That same year was when Brad started wrestling. It didn't go well at first. He liked it but he joked around and talked in practice and didn't do very well. He always handled losing okay in other sports but in wrestling it's one on one and he couldn't blame anyone but himself. After he lost his fifth match he was crying and I didn't show any sympathy. I gave him a lecture about how if he paid attention in practice and worked his ass of he would get better.
My tough guy act worked and at the next two practices he was focused and working harder than I'd ever seen him work at anything. I was proud of my little guy but worried too. If the work didn't payoff with a win at his next wrestling meet the whole thing could backfire on me. He deserved a win, too, after his hard work and I wanted it for him more than I've ever wanted anything for myself.
I had heard my father tell stories about pacing in nervousness watching us boys play sports and about how it was more exhausting but rewarding watching us than playing himself ever had been and I'd always shrugged them off. Now I knew what he meant. As Brad shook hands with his opponent my hands were shaking. Things didn't start off well. Brad was taken down very quickly and I started to curse under my breath in between screaming encouragement. Brad escaped and stood up and took his opponent down and my heart soared. At least, it felt like there were wings on my heart and it was trying to fly out of my chest.
The first period ended and Brad was ahead on points but my hands were still shaking and my throat was raw from screaming. Brad started on top and maintained control for the whole second period. He scored a few points for near falls and was comfortably ahead on points. I didn't let myself get too hopeful, though. His opponent would start on top in the final period and still have a good chance to pin him.
The buzzer sounded and just that quick Brad was on his back. Inside I'm screaming "oh shit, oh shit, oh shit" outside I'm yelling, "fight out of it Brad keep fighting." He didn't hear me because when you're wrestling you go to this place where you don't really hear anything but he did what I said anyway. He fought out of the pin attempt and kept struggling. His opponent had tied him on points now and that worried me. I could tell Brad was giving it his all and wouldn't have any energy left for a sudden death period. I watched the clock nervously as it ticked under twenty seconds. Then suddenly Brad slipped free and stood up. That's one point for an escape and it broke the tie.
The last few seconds ticked off the clock, the buzzer sounded, the ref raised Brad's hand, and I collapsed on the bleachers. Once when I wrestled in high school I had been so exhausted after a match that I actually fell on the bench instead of sitting on it. I was more exhausted than that after Brad's match. Still, the biggest part of parenting is just continuing to do it even when you're exhausted so I went down to meet Brad as he came off the mat. His mother and I hugged him and told him how proud we were of him and as big as his smile was ours were a little bigger.
"I won, Dad," he said, "You said if I worked hard and paid attention in practice I would get better and you were right."
I smiled as I hugged him again, breathed a sigh of relief and thought to myself about my dad, "You were right too, Dad. You were right too."