Somewhere back in my early adolescent days I must have made my dad think I was gay.
Not sure if it was that I was scared of everything, or because I showed no real signs of being a “man’s man.”
A few (wretched) examples: When my parents took me to see Santa Claus when I was five, I ran like hell out of the building; When my mom took me to see Ronald McDonald and the McDonaldland Revue in the parking lot of our local Golden Arches, I ran like hell towards our car; When my dad took me on our Indian Guides weekend retreat to the snow, the after-dinner movie one evening was Frankenstein, I freaked and said, “I am sick and tired.” My dad put me to bed and watched the movie without me.
When I was five years old, in an effort to butch me up, my dad enrolled me in a wrestling class at Pierce College. I didn’t care. My mom would drop me off and I would learn how to wrestle/become a man.
Now, here’s where I failed at this: One kid (I keep thinking his name was “Kenny”) was very hyper. Even when it was two of the other kids’ turn to show the move they taught us, Kenny would move up and down the line of kids waiting for their turn and would try to do a headlock/chokehold on us. No big deal, right?
It so happened that my father had enrolled himself in a night class at Pierce a few days after my enrollment. His class let out, and he came to check on his son’s new masculinity. What did he see? Me pressed up against the wall with Kenny performing his best date rape techniques on me.
When I wrestled away from this kid, all I saw is my dad looking over at me, shaking his head in disgust and then walk away. Hmm, not good.
Once I got home, I heard my dad and mom talking in the other room. It went something like this: “I go to check on him and he’s busy hanging all over the other boys.” I wasn’t old enough to understand what was being said, only that my dad was disappointed.
Fast-forward seven years to midway through the sixth grade. My dad popped up at my mom’s house one day (they had divorced six years earlier. Think it might have been because of the wrestling situation?), and said, “I will sign you up for football. What do you think?”
I kind of shrugged and said, “Sure, whatever.” As far as football goes, I’m the wrong guy to ask. Shit, my favorite football player was O. J. Simpson and look how that turned out.
So, my dad left, and my mom asked if I “wanted to play football.” I thought about it for a while, and said: “No, I want to run track.” Why did I say this? I’ll never know.
So when my dad returned to pick me up the following week to sign me up for football, my mom made me face him and say, “I don’t want to play football, I want to run track.” My dad went slack. My words, in his mind, meant “My son wants to skip around in shorts and a tank top rather than smash the opposing team’s players.” Oh, the pride in his face.
He said he’d “Be back next week.” He had to check into track programs.
A day or so later my mom asked if I was sure I wanted to run track. Again, I thought about it, and said: “No, I want to play soccer.”
That weekend, when my dad returned to pick me up to sign me up for track, my mom makes me face him, yet again, and say “I don’t want to run track, I want to play soccer.” This time he seemed relieved. It was as if I’d just said: “Dad, I’m not going to troll Santa Monica Blvd. and pull tricks.”
Again, my dad left, to check into soccer enrollment before I changed my mind. I got enrolled in a small organization called West Valley Soccer League, not the larger AYSO. I was fast and fairly strong. I started at “forward.” Then moved to “fullback” and finally over to “goalie.”
I did great as a goalie. Very seldom did I let a ball get by. Then just as I’m showing my dad that there might be hope for me — in our second-to-last game of the season, as I was defending the goal, it started to rain. A forward from the opposing team came up the center, as my backups were slipping and sliding on the grass. We were squaring off. He kept running in, ducked down like a bull and charged. I jumped for the ball and the base of his head slammed into my eye-socket. I swear I heard my skull crack. I fell, he scored, I cried. Coach took me out of the game. I sat next to my mom, she rubbed my head and I tried to stop crying. My dad walked over and said, “You’re fine, go back in the game.” I looked at my mom, hoping she would overrule it. She hugged me, and I stayed out of the game.
After the game, my dad took my brother and me to his house, as it was his weekend with us. (When I turned eight my dad started to exercise his visitation rights. He’d left when I was six. I didn’t see him. Then at eight, he started the every-other-Saturday visits. After six months to a year, it turned into every other weekend.) The car ride to his house was tense. “Mumble, mumble, you could have still played, mumble, not injured.”
We walked into the house and as I went to change out of my soccer clothes, my dad started telling the story to his wife: “He could have still played and he was not really injured but he was crying,” he said. “Oh shit, here it comes,” I thought to myself. I hurried into the room, changed, then stayed in the room and read a comic book, hoping they would forget.
Then I heard “Come on guys, lunch is ready.” I sheepishly came out.
Next, surprise, surprise, my dad’s wife started in: “Why didn’t you go back in the game? Your dad pays a lot of money for you to play soccer. You shouldn’t waste his money by sitting on the side.” I just nodded and said, “Next time I will.”
The one good thing that came out of this is that I played my ass off in the next game, and our team came in second place in the league and I got a shiny trophy. Hurray!
Did I redeem myself? Was I officially heterosexual? Not so fast. Since my dad saw that I completed an entire season of soccer, he wanted to enroll me for the next season before I changed my mind and decided to take up macramé.
The first day of practice of my second season was odd. The coach did drills and every person played every position. Most of us–a few guys from my last team included—went to the coach and explained what position we were best at. Invariably, he said to each of us “Get back out there and run the drills.” Fine. Every day the coach wore this T-shirt that said “Sunkist, all juice, no seeds.” Whenever he would turn his back, all the mothers would shake their heads in disgust. Most of us kids were clueless. (Hey, it was in 1978; we were a bit more naïve back then.)
After the second practice, the coach sent most of the team home and asked to see about five of us with our parents. He stood in front of my mom and me and said, “Sorry, he isn’t any good. I want to win the championship this year.” My jaw dropped. Oh boy, I’ll never be a man’s man now.
My mom tried to keep my spirits up on the drive home: “Don’t worry. He’s a stupid old man. Your dad will straighten this out.” Great. Just what I need.
My dad was steamed, he showed up at the next practice ready to lay the guy out. The coach was prepared. He had a reimbursement check for the soccer enrollment and an apology. My dad argued, “This isn’t fucking club soccer, it’s a few twelve-year-olds!” The coach agreed but said, “This is how I coach.” The funny thing is that my dad never asked me to play any kind of sport or activity after that 1978-1979 soccer season.
Years later, I would do well as an amateur and, briefly, a professional boxer. But I don’t know if it was boxing or me having kids that finally made my dad realize that I wasn’t going to be a dancer in the La Cage Aux Folles revival.