Today’s “Challenge The Curmudgeon” topic comes from Paul Green a/k/a Mindfump. If you don’t follow his blog, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice. This guy posts something virtually every day and I can’t recall a single one that didn’t leave me in absolute stitches. But he’s more than a one-trick humor pony; he writes very honestly about depression, anxiety, death and other topics that sometimes make folks uncomfortable – but his hilarious take on all of it makes discomfort impossible. But that’s enough out of me, just see for yourself: https://mindfump.com/. Paul’s challenge comes at a very opportune time. My parents will be driving out from New Jersey to see me on July 6 and staying for 3 weeks. This is a mixed blessing, as you’ll soon see. Paul asks: “Which parent took you to a schools sports event first and how did it change your view of the other parent?”
My mother is 84 years old. She is Italian and headstrong and obsessive-compulsive and anxiety-ridden and chronically depressed and belligerently Roman Catholic. She has worn her hair in a B-52s style beehive since before I was born. My father is 80 years old. He is Irish and slightly effeminate and henpecked and boring and belligerently Roman Catholic. Together, they look nearly identical to every human couple from Gary Larson’s The Far Side comics. And obviously, they are far too old to understand the way people like me and my sister think and how we choose to live our lives.
I am not a sports fan. I don’t play sports, watch sports, peruse the sports page or even own Huey Lewis and The News’ yawnfest of an album named Sports. But this wasn’t always the case. From roughly 4th grade to my freshman year of high school (which in New Jersey was the final year of junior high school), I traveled the path from spectator sports enthusiast to insufferable jock. Then I discovered weed and the whole thing evaporated into thin air, but that’s a subject for another day.
My sister and I theorize that my dad is gay but his religious fanaticism precludes even a secret mental acknowledgment of his true sexuality. Thus, he is almost asexual. He is petrified of sex in general, refusing to discuss it in any way other than to remind people that its God-mandated purpose is solely procreation. Linda and I think it’s quite possible that he and my mother have only had intercourse 4 times, resulting in a daughter, a son and two miscarriages. So when I first expressed an interest in spectator sports, I think he felt it was his obligation to nurture my enthusiasm. His biggest fear must have been the prospect of learning that either of his children was gay and in his mind, an interest in sports is an unmistakable sign of heterosexuality (I’m not sure what he made of Arthur Ashe, Martina Navritilova, Billie Jean King and Greg Louganis).
We didn’t play sports together. I can only recall one occasion where we threw a baseball back and forth in the backyard and despite the fake smile plastered on his face, I got the distinct impression he would rather have been doing just about anything but throwing a baseball back and forth in the backyard. So he concentrated mainly on the spectator sports angle, since he was a fairly big fan of the New York Knicks and Giants and sitting in front of the TV watching a game with your son isn’t nearly as uncomfortably interactive as a game of catch.
When the Nets franchise first moved to New Jersey, the Meadowlands Arena hadn’t been built yet, so they spent a season playing their home games at the Rutgers College gym in New Brunswick, NJ, about a 15 minute drive from our home. The first sporting event my father took me to was a Nets game at this venue. There were only two more occasions after this that I can remember: a 76ers game at the Philadelphia Spectrum and a NY Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. The passage of time has caused all three of these outings to blend into each other in my memory, so what I recall here might have elements of each. And here’s what I recall: not much. We got some drinks at the concession stand, found our seats, sat in them and watched the action below. I do remember that my dad, in typical fashion, was too embarrassed to cheer with gusto so while the rest of the fans were out of their seats losing their minds over some amazing play or horrible call, my dad kept to his seat, his knees touching and his hands in his lap like Jessica Beals in the famous Flashdance movie poster, proffering a politely inaudible golf clap.
This was my male role model growing up. Thank Xenu that I’d soon discover Jello Biafra, Kurt Vonnegut, Johnny Rotten and Henry Rollins to counteract his influence.
But more to the point: these 3 seemingly uneventful outings to professional sporting events actually did have an effect on how I viewed my mother. They proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was the “man of the house”. While my mother has never expressed an interest in sports, she was the only element of strength in the Loughman home. She made every major decision, took care of disciplining the children, made the rules and enforced them. She worked full time, cooked dinner, engaged in a maniacal form of housecleaning that made our home uncomfortably institutional and antiseptic, yelled, swore (in Italian), and took an attitude toward her husband that was almost condescendingly maternal. Dad worked full time, ate dinner, did crossword puzzles, followed her around the house with the vacuum attachments, and fell asleep in front of the TV with a half-drunk Black Label beer bottle in front of him (on a coaster, of course).
So the upshot of the “male bonding” that occurred between me and my father was that I was left with a lifelong curiosity about his masculinity. I sometimes entertain the idea of pretending that I’m gay and coming out to my dad, just for kicks. But since he is 80 years old and has helped me out enormously throughout my life, I’ve decided to forego that potentially cruel gag. After all, if his religious beliefs turn out to be true, he may find himself awkwardly coming out to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, and I think that’s punishment enough for having lived a life immersed in hypocritical homophobia.