Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Football Game: Iowa City 1974

Only my father and I loved football. No one else in the family--my three brothers, sister, mother--had any interest in it, at least not until much later. I also shared a love of plants and trees with my father--a love of gardening and growing vegetables. But, as I said in the post about buying a vehicle with my older brother, there was still an emotional distance between us when I grew up, as there was among us all in the latter stages of the family as a unit (that is, before we all got older and moved into our own, separate lives).
So--and I'm hazy on all of the specifics--one fall I agreed to go to a football game with my father. Just he and I. And it was not just any game, it was an Iowa Hawkeyes game. Father had gone to Iowa and was a rabid follower of the Hawkeyes. I--and my brothers, sister as well--were supporters of the team, more or less, but not avid ones (that would come later as each of us, like my father, would attend the University of Iowa). So, he drove us over to Iowa City from Urbandale/Des Moines. Not a long drive--two hours at best--but long enough to go back and forth in one day. It was early in the fall. Sunny. Warm. Green. I had not really been to a college game before (maybe once in Tennessee, at the small college in Johnson City because a friend of mine's--Bobby, who had a glass eye--father was the band director at the school) and was pleasantly surprised to see the crowds, the general pleasantries, hear the marching band, see the baton twirlers and all that went with the game. We had parked in a grassy lot in someone yards for five dollars or such (we had entered the town the back way, which was why, years later when I drove to Iowa City for orientation, I came the wrong way--it was all I knew) and had brought ham sandwiches that he had purchased in a store. We sat and ate by our car, he drinking a beer and me a soda, I think.
The game was not a great game. Either Frank Lauterber was coach or maybe Cummings by then but they had both always fielded bad Hawkeye teams. I don't recall who they were playing (Nebraska? Not a Big Ten team, I don't think) but they were losing, as usual. But then the Hawkeyes made a big play--a long pass which the receiver barely caught. My father and I cheered. We looked at each other, cheering, straight in the eye. And then we didn't.
It was as if we both had caught ourselves in a faux pas--this act of shared emotion, this father and son moment, one that would be considered healthy and normal and sweet, both of us cheering and sharing a near touchdown for the home team. But that was not done in our family. Not much, anyway (at least by our teens). Again, expressions of affection or love, even at a sporting event, were suspect expressions. That's not to say that my father or mother never said they loved me or us or each other, but if they did it was on very rare occasions. I don't know. It just seems strange to me now, that I--and perhaps Father--would be embarrassed to share a cheer at a football game. And I'm not trying to place blame, or make it into more than it was. I loved my father, love my mother, my siblings, my wife and own children. My parents were good parents all through their life--my mother still. They had much tougher childhoods than we--their children--can understand. As a father, a parent, I know that as your kids grow older, hit their teens, things change in both how you view them and certainly in how they view you.
I know love.
But, I guess I wish it had been a bit different. I wish I could have easily yelled for the Hawkeyes with my father on that bright sunny day in Kinnick Stadium in 1974. I wish we could have cheered the team on to a touchdown and be able to hold our hands in the air and look each other in the eye as we did so. I wished we could have hugged.

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