When I was a child, my dad subjected me to year-round athletic training. He wanted me to be a great football player. Apparently I wasn’t a very wise child, because for the longest I thought we were just bonding. What kid wouldn’t want to play catch with his dad?
But my father wasn’t content to bond. No, he wanted me to run pass-receiving routes. I ran down and outs. (For you non-football players this route is like the letter ‘L.’) My father had me run the ‘go’ route. I ran as fast and far as I could, and he threw it as far as he could. If I missed a pass, I got the opportunity to run the route again. If I caught the ball, I got the opportunity to run the route again.
One day, my father arrived home with what could best be described as a vest filled with sand. He informed me that from now on I was to wear this contraption whenever we practiced.
My father completed the outfit with a matching pair of boots. Apparently, he had someone sew sand bags to my boots. I thought I had misplaced them, but no there they were in my dad’s hands, in all their modified glory.
“Let’s test them out,” my father said, as if they were a new sports car. I looked toward my mother for help, but she suddenly found a stain on the counter that required her utmost attention. I stood there as dad helped me into my gear. Once we were done he stepped back with pride, smiling to himself.
“Well son, you’d better get to it,” he said as he opened the door.
Mom paused long enough to see me off, as well. It was my maiden voyage in my new gear. My parents stood there waving like Granny and Jed Clampett.
It was during my daily runs that I realized we weren’t normal. As I ran, I saw the other kids in the neighborhood riding their bikes, shooting marbles or playing basketball. They shot me puzzled glances, and I shot them puzzled glances right back.
They didn’t understand why I ran so much. I wanted to be like them, but I had to do what my parents told me. That was my childhood.
I have omitted the countless push-ups and sit-ups. I didn’t share with you the sand pits, for fear that the Department of Human Resources would track down my dad. In time, I came to understand that all of this repetition was done for my good.
Flash forward to my senior year in high school. We were back in America, and I was a senior at Litchfield High School. (Go Eagles!) The letters were coming in from various colleges interested in me joining their team.
Coach Fuller, then the head football coach at Jacksonville State, left four game tickets with my high school coach, informing him that he wanted me and three of my teammates to attend an upcoming game. I didn’t know about my teammates, but I was honored. After years of child abuse via dad’s personal boot camp, I was about to sign a scholarship.
The four of us met at school and shared a ride to Jacksonville.
As I got into the car I noticed that there were rolling papers on the rear seat. I quickly grabbed them and placed them inside my sock. It should be noted that these guys had made a pledge to get me high before I graduated.
Since my arrival in Alabama, at times they gave me the same puzzled look as the neighborhood kids in Germany.
They didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand them. By that point, I really didn’t care to be understood. I knew which side my toast was buttered, and I knew who paid for that toast and butter.
We rode in silence out of Gadsden and through Glencoe.
As we approached the Jacksonville turn the driver said, “Are you guys ready to do this?”
“Yes,” my fellow passengers replied in unison.
“Do what?” I asked.
My question was dismissed with a wave of the driver’s hand. I watched as the other kids began their search for the rolling papers. They checked between the seats, glove box and ashtray. I offered to help them look, but they wouldn’t tell me what they were looking for. When it became apparent that they weren’t going to find the papers, the driver announced, “Man, David must have thrown the papers out the window.”
All eyes turned toward me. There was that puzzled look again. I had not thrown the papers away. They were in my sock, but I wasn’t telling them that. They pulled into the next gas station and purchased some more.
After we resumed our trip, I watched as they rolled their joint and rolled up the window.
In my mind, I flashed back to all those hours spent running routes and littering the streets with sand. All of that work was done to make me who I was and to help me fulfill my dreams and goals.
On the eve of my accomplishment, I found myself in the car with these guys. The guy seated in front of me was holding the joint. I gathered my courage.
“If you don’t put that out and let down that window, I will kick your butt,” I informed him.
If the car had been silent before, it was really silent now. My statement hung in the air like the smoke from their joint. I didn’t know what the response was going to be, but my ultimatum was out there.
I watched as his hands slowly went toward the ashtray and then the window.
“You punk, you wimp, we can’t have any fun with you,” he said.
I subsequently attempted to condense a lifetime of training into a moment of explanation, but in the end, they looked at me with puzzled expressions.
I shot them a puzzled glance right back.