If you weren’t an athlete you were practically nothing. This was a household philosophy. This was my dad’s way of thinking about us kids. If you weren’t in a sport you were working your tail off. It starts in the sixth grade—you do track and wrestling. You follow your older brother’s footsteps step for step; it’s been this way for four generations.
When I was just entering middle school, my dad lectured me about sports and how important they were for me. Then my older brothers all lectured me, saying very similar things to what my dad had said. This was peer pressure, family peer pressure to be the same. Of course I listened to them…I had no choice.
When football started up and I didn’t join, I convinced Dad that football was only for seventh and eighth graders, and sixth graders couldn’t sign up. Eventually he seemed to believe me, but lectured me again on how important sports were and how athletes get paid lots of money. To this day I hear him muttering “If I had ten million dollars, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be hunting every day, trap shooting, and living off the fat of the land.” …
I was just a small sixth grader unaware of what I really wanted. I joined wrestling and did okay. Then track came along and I “naturally” joined the team. Through my whole sixth grade year Dad didn’t show up to one meet, not in wrestling or track.
When seventh grade came around, I didn’t want to play football. My dad had a problem with that. I had borrowed money from him over the summer, and if I wasn’t going to play football I was supposed to pay it back. So I played football. Towards the end of the season I nearly blew out my knee. There I was, a thirteen year old kid, with bad knees.
Then the time came for wrestling again, my dad encouraged me to persevere. I made varsity and did alright. Track time came around again…After another speech about sports and being an athlete and making millions and millions of dollars, Dad congratulated me on the season and for how my “athletic career” was “really taking off.” Meanwhile, he’d never actually even seen me participate in any sport.
My eighth grade year I didn’t play sports for my dad. I thought he only saw me as an investment that would make him rich and help him live his dream life. I was no investment. I resented him and my brothers. I played for myself, because I learned to enjoy sports…all but football. I had bad knees and they only got worse with football. When I told my dad about missing a game because of my knee he seemed more interested about it than the first time. I went and had my knee examined. They took a huge needle, drew out some liquid and said I’d be fine to play.
I didn’t miss another game that season, (another perfect season) which pleased my dad. Wrestling that year was also perfect, but there was something about wrestling that pleased my dad even more. Wrestling is more about the individual performance and when I won districts undefeated my dad was ecstatic, almost hysterical. I’d come home and hear him almost screaming at himself about how certain this dream of his was in his grasp.
I was only an 8th grader and I think my dad assumed I was destined to be an all star athlete for the rest of my life. He couldn’t have been more wrong. After a continued chain of injuries, I decided to discontinue my “career”. When I broke the news to my dad he thought it was a joke. My brothers all talked to me individually about it, each one lecturing me on the same thing, as if they were puppets and my dad the puppeteer. I was done. I was tired of the injuries, tired of being an investment. There was no convincing me otherwise. I was going to work, pay off my dad, and get a car, be done with the whole “if you’re not in sports you’re nothing” idea. I was going to prove my family wrong.
Now I work and have to study hard so I can graduate on time. It’s hard for me. My dad still looks at me like a lost cause, an investment that never grew to be what he wanted. It’s because of my dad and the feeling of resent I have towards him that I struggle against the urge to just give up…to become like so many other dropouts. If I quit I would become nothing, just like he said, and I won’t let him be right about me.
Writing and Photography by Aaron Jobin