Soccer Magazine

Opinion: When Football Gives Solace

By Simplyfutb01 @simplyjuan11

Father SonThere’s been times in my life when soccer was more than a passion.  It was a necessity.  I don’t mean it in terms of it being a “drug” or something you can’t live without.  It’s just something that  ground you, gives you some type of center amid the whirlwind of things that occur in life.

It gives you peace and tranquility. It’s therapeutic.  While many might think it’s a nerve-racking situation to be able to speak to people, one thing it never became was a job.  It is a calling.  I never came looking for it, it somehow clotheslined me and I was stuck from the first stutter and stumble.

it is just a lot of fun to be able to do something you love and it helps you to remain sane as well as centered. More importantly, it was a life choice that was further assured in the darkest of moments.

My job was there for me, in a time that I really needed to have there for me.  But there are instances when that you need to experience in order to understand how deep your passions are and what they mean to you.  At the moment I wasn’t sure I was a workaholic or insensitive.  Maybe I was looking and feeling numb because of having to deal with a certain experience and football did that for me. Maybe I seemed cold and distanced, but I needed a disconnect.  I found it in my work. Although I had many people very close to me tell me that all I was doing was “chasing a ball around”, all the chasing was well worth it especially when I needed a bit of normalcy in my life.

Cinco de Mayo no longer means drinking and partying for me.  As a matter of fact, it will be the first time in a year where it’ll be very tough to watch football.  For me it was one of the days that I really had a tough time coping, yet football was there.  In the process, I also learned a great deal about myself.

During an entire month I  commuted between work, home and hospital as my father was in ICU upon his arrival from Colombia.  That trip from the airport to the hospital would end up being the last time he would ever be in a car.   Yet during that month, I had to endure the hardship of seeing my father with tubes coming in and out of his body. Nurses turning him from one side onto the other.  That entire experience was what he did not want to endure.  I was impotent.  I had no clue what to do.  Would have felt lost had it not been for the rest of my family that was there to share the load- a tremendous load.

He was a very strong man.  A very proud man.  He was not the biggest guy, yet his arms and his iron will made him larger than life at times.  For well over 30 years he worked in terrible conditions.  Under heavy equipment in a yard whose only remnants of grass were the patches of weeds that would sneak out of the scrap as they searched for sunlight.  Dust, humidity, monsoons and he knew that he had to have backhoes fully operational. There were no excuses.  ”Suck it up, man up” my dad would say when I complained about about it being too hot to mow the lawn or I couldn’t do another sprint in practice.  He would say that at times when I was frustrated and felt like a failure.  His candor might have not been the most soothing, but it got the job done on Lombardi-esque manner.

I would be seething mad for a few seconds, but then I remembered that my dad wouldn’t make an excuse.  He pushed forward.  Despite diabetes.  Despite health problems.  Despite his job.  So he dealt with sugar spikes, numbness and all the other issues diabetics deal with the only way he knew- pushing forward.  But this time, the body could push no more.

So to see him that way was a moment where sadness and impotence made me think and re-evaluate my existence.  Those late nights typing scattershot ideas and scribbling things in my blocked mind helped me remember my father and know what he was about.

I was in the middle of taping a voice over when my sister told me that my father had suffered a stroke and that his best prospect for my dad would be that he would remain a vegetable.  So having to talkin got my siblings about this was the toughest thing any son or daughter would have to even consider doing.

It was a tough time for me because I saw the man that I feared as a child and loved as I got older wither away. He was the guy that indirectly got me hooked on football the first time that he took me to a stadium while we lived in Colombia.  He was the one that would take me to Marlboro Cup, spending a week’s salary to go with me to a game.  It was him that drove me on several occasions to several tournaments in a beat up Chevrolet Malibu stationwagon that I later christened as the “Studmobile”.  That brown automobile suffered everything from acid attacks to hurricanes and it was a machine symbolic of our love for football.

I had to deal with explaining to my daughter what was going on.  I turned around to have a laugh and then when I turned around to put my hand over his head, he was gone.  I couldn’t react.  My first worry was to comfort my little girl.  She was crushed to have lost her second grandparent in two years. This time around it was tougher to digest because she understood what death meant.

Football was there for me.  When Monday rolled around I had to call a game on tape delay.  The Derby Della Madonnina, of all matches.  I honestly had no clue how that match played out because I was nowhere close to a TV.  I remember it being a very rugged encounter, much like several other previous editions.  There are many times I use sayings in telecasts, many of those came from my father.  On that day, every time one would be on the tip of my tongue, my eyes would well up.

As soon as the match was done, I jumped out of the booth and headed out to pay my final respects to my father.  I did my best to be strong in front of people; but that ride home I cried.  I had to wait about 20 minutes inside the car to compose myself.  I went up, got dressed and headed to the funeral home.  One of the habits I tend to do is to replay in my mind the match that I called in order to see what I could have done better.  On this day, I remembered the games that we shared.

The cloud of marijuana smoke that we sat in after Brazil played Mexico and listened to Carlos Santana.  The time when American fans told me “Hey, oye, we don’t want your type rooting for our team”.  He turned around and said, “we do”.   The time Teruyoshi Ito scored against Brazil in the first match of the Olympics in 1996. That was comical.  A Japanese fan hugged him and then they both jumped up and down.  He was a fan of the underdog.  The one that was hard to root for.   It was comical and it was touching as my dad embraced the Japanese fan overcome with tears and got a little emotional. That was one of the first times I saw that facet of his personality.

I knew him at that point as a stone faced mechanic that let very little affect him.  The only thing that seemed to get him down was the diabetes.  Yet at times, you wouldn’t know it because od his demeanor and attitude.  His laser beam eyes spoke volumes and you better know which chapter he was on at that particular moment, because he was not going to take nonsense too lightly.  At that moment, though that aspect of his personality came through as a radiant man.  One that cherished great moments and was willing to just enjoy the football moment- win, lose or draw.

I remembered that moment in my eulogy.  I also remembered the three times I saw him cry.  His crying was very controlled.   Ruddy face, scarlet, bloodshot eyes would be followed by a single tear.  That face was forever etched in my memory on three occasions. The first one was when my sister got married.  The second was when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  That face had a overdose of incredulity that broke my heart.  The third, well that was a great time; when Colombia won Copa América back in 2001.

Those moments gave me the strength to speak in front of people and give his eulogy. Football did that for me.  So to me, calling games is more than my job.  It has been my calling.  It has been my unrealized dream.  It was what helped me overcome a very difficult situation.  Remembering my dad with the thing that we loved most is what helped to overcome his loss the best.  For that reason, I am eternally grateful to football. I’m eternally grateful of my calling.  Eternally grateful to have been able to have a father to have enjoyed the game I love so much.

That’s why this is my story.  Actually, his story.

*** This is an excerpt of my second book, “Futbol With El Viejo”… currently in the works***

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