It’s been a lot of years since a sexy stranger approached me on the street. But there he was, moving closer, smiling knowingly.
Only this hot guy didn’t want to talk to me at all. He was looking to chat with … my 11-year-old son, clad in a Portuguese soccer jersey, walking by my side. And chat they did. About Manchester City. Then Bayern Munich. And finally, where Real Madrid would rank in the Champions League finals.
Lucas gets this all the time. CVS workers, Uber drivers and regular joes heading to work as we walk to school all frequently call out to him in response to the sports teams on his T-shirts.
“Nets were on point!”
I just smile like I have a clue.
And that’s only the start. I’m not just illiterate when it comes to talk about sports — I’m allergic to sports themselves. I can’t throw a ball and never cared to watch others doing so. While an undergrad at Northwestern, a Big Ten school, I didn’t attend a single football game. I’ve only been to Citi Field to see Lady Gaga. If a friend wants to speak about sports, they find some other lucky soul. It’s all worked out quite nicely for me for decades.
But that was then and this … can be exhausting. My husband, Jack, and I are parents to a boy who every year gets more obsessed with those who catch, kick and dribble. Now a preteen, he stays up to watch the college basketball draft on ESPN, knows by instinct when the Knicks are playing, and his bedroom walls boast posters of sports stars (a generation ago, mine were exclusively movies and Madonna). His other dad follows sports and conscientiously engages with Lucas about them, to moderate success. But for me, it’s not even worth trying. I can’t keep up. And sometimes it hurts.
Lucas gets invited to the Barclays Center for championship basketball games. No one texts me to join. Lucas makes plans to attend a Super Bowl party. I’m left at home eating too many Buffalo wings.
Often it feels like my son and I are on two parallel tracks — doing the same thing, but very differently. I haven’t missed the New York Post’s gossip-filled Page Six in 25 years, but Lucas starts the paper in the mornings from the back cover and stops reading after the Sports section. A couple years ago, he began firing up Netflix, not for “The Crown” but for “The Last Dance,” the Michael Jordan doc he wanted to watch (and rewatch and rewatch). We both speak a lot about “Chelsea,” but I’m referring to the area of New York City in which we make our home, and he’s charting the U.K. soccer team’s standings in the Champions League.
It’s not just men on the street who end up in conversations with Lucas about sports, either. A few months back, Lucas diffused the tension in a broiling, shared van ride from an airport with the exasperated dude next to me wearing a Minnesota Vikings T-shirt, talking scores and plays back and forth across me for 20 minutes until they were like two old drinking buddies.
Then at a March Madness game in Las Vegas over spring break, a sports journalist spotted Lucas’s UCLA sweatshirt and interviewed him, asking, “Who’s the most entertaining college basketball player of all time?” Lucas’ answer: “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — three championships.” He’s the only kid featured in the segment that ended up on TikTok, which was fitting, as that’s where Lucas and his friends regularly glean their sports stats. The fun Kareem fact, of course, didn’t come from me, as my knowledge of the star starts and ends with the movie “Airplane.” And I’m not sure why, but no one came up to me to chat about my “Carrie White For Prom Queen” T-shirt.
Lucas is so good at talking sports with adults that he sometimes connects better with the dads in our lives than I do. The night my cousin Bill stayed over, he and Lucas were up into the wee hours discussing whether New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones deserved a big contract. (I just went to bed.) A few weeks ago we visited our dad friend Doug, who within 60 seconds invited Lucas to shoot hoops in his driveway. (I just sipped coffee and yakked with Doug’s wife.) Various friends regularly bring Lucas out with their sons to play football or soccer or basketball. (I just ask when they’ll have him home.)
I’m not embarrassed that these men can offer something to my son that I can’t. I’m proud — tickled even — that they have mentor-like relationships with Lucas. I am who I am. And he is who he is.
I’m not embarrassed that these men can offer something to my son that I can’t. I’m proud — tickled even — that they have mentor-like relationships with Lucas. I am who I am. And he is who he is. These dads can be his sports-fan surrogates. And I return the favor when their kids want to talk movies, media, travel and politics, as I have plenty to say on a plethora of topics. Just. Not. Athletics.
Besides, I contribute to Lucas’ sporty life in ways that only a father can — even if the experiences can sometimes be painful.
When I moved to New York decades ago, I pictured Friday nights filled with mixed crowds and mixed drinks. Who knew one day I’d be kicking off every weekend escorting my son to 8 p.m. soccer practices across town? Every Saturday or Sunday, I shepherd Lucas to games and sporting events up and down New York City, rain or shine (often, thunderstorm).
Fortunately, many of his teammates’ moms and dads have become friends, as they apparently find humor in my athletic anxiety and observations not often heard on a soccer field. One afternoon watching our sons’ scrimmage, I noticed a train of muscled-up, barely clad men walking by and realized that soccer practice — the most American of weekend pastimes — was being held just down the street from The Eagle, New York’s famed gay leather bar. And I had a laugh about it with my parent pals.
On one recent day, I transported Lucas from downtown New York up to the Poconos, then across to Yonkers and back to the Poconos over 15 hours so he could attend his friends’ birthday party at a water park and take part in his team championships. I didn’t complain. Who am I kidding? I complained a lot — just not to him.
And finally, there’s the whole boy-girl thing. As a guy who’s had close friendships with women his whole life (my cousin likes to say, “BJ was always one of the girls”), I like to think I have particular insight into the fairer sex — and I’ve been happy to advise my preteen on this burgeoning new area of interest in his life. “How do you know this stuff?” he asks.
Still, when it comes to conflicts between Lucas and the boys in his life, I’m kinda clueless. My default advice of “just talk it through” falls on deaf ears, as do suggestions I reach out to the other young men’s parents. Lucas steers me straight: “Papa, just stay out of it. It’s a boy thing.”
I offer lessons. I listen. And most importantly, I learn. That’s being a father.
No matter what my T-shirts say.