traditional programming

Today I’m thinking about tomorrow instead of yesterday for a change (ha). But I mean that literally. Tomorrow starts baseball season. More importantly tomorrow is opening day for the Chicago Cubs. How fortuitous that I should have that 50/50 roll of the dice all Chicago kids get land on the team known most of my life as the Loveable Losers? The northside squad and all the losing while showing continuous loyalty, yes that is very fitting for me to identify with.  

But I’m not writing about this particular tomorrow because I am alpha sports meathead bro guy. I mean, part of me is, I do run a 17 years long fantasy football league. And, while part of this post is about opening day, and that league actually, I am coming at it as more of an inward look at traditions. I’ve read some very cool blogs people write about the traditions in their families, how they changed since the addition of kids, how much the kids gravitate toward them. I’ve always loved that stuff.

I am a traditions oriented guy. It was bred into me. I also see it most in my youngest brother. He was an oops. My next brother was born a year and a half after I was, which was when my parents were 19, and the third guy was 10 months after that so 3 boys at 21 for mom and dad. My youngest came out 12 years after I did. When my family was starting he was still very young, so I know he has his traditions due to the double whammy of my parents and watching me cultivate mine with my little family. He has the same (sometimes copycat identical) traditions with his similarly large group of long term friends as I do, and is as aware of traditions with his adorable little family as I always have been as well.

I say that I believe he gets at least some from me because for lots of my family’s traditions the littlest brother was a baby or not around yet. Every Sunday we watched the Bears game but before that we wore full pads and played two on two football, my next youngest brother and I against the then-baby brother and my dad. We played a full season and kept the record of wins and losses that culminated in a superbowl where my whole family came, even when very snowy. My grandma sang the anthem into a kid toy microphone, my dad spray painted lines on the backyard field for this one, family friend refs in full regalia, MVP voting – it was awesome. My dad usually made pasta on Sundays too, except when he got into a dumpling phase. We had traditions for new years eve, fourth of july – all stuff that, looking back, I see why which random holidays or moments are so important to me these days.

Tomorrow is opening day. On a whim, when my firstborn was just 6 months old I made a little sign and stood by the tv and had his mom snap a pic. This is before cell phone cameras I believe. It was opening day but really, it was his first game. His first Cubs game. I didn’t know it that day but when the next year came around we made a sign and did it up again. We now have 15 pictures having lost one of the hard copies somewhere along the line. I don’t think I ever realized how awesome this tradition was until Facebook to be honest. Now I have an album in there and I will be adding to that as we snap another pic in front of the tv eating Doggie Diner hot dogs to celebrate the start of a new season.



In 1984, after 8 years of being told I loved the Cubs, I finally actually did. I remember racing home after school to catch the second half of 1:20 games on WGN before there were lights at Wrigley Field. I remember Bowa, Davis, Sarge, Dawson, Dunston, Durham, Moreland, Sutcliffe, all those guys. After or before games and on days off my brother and I would be out back making up baseball catch games or we’d have some neighborhood kids over and convert the winter’s football field into a backyard wiffleball field. We’d keep stats and argue over who we got “to be”. But my guy was always Ryno. Ryne Sandberg. What a stud. He just did everything right. I love that dude. 8 year old me saw him as a real life superhero. That summer, although they ultimately fell short, was amazing and came at the perfect time in my life.

My eldest wound up being a die hard Cubs fan. Die hard everything his weird little mind gets into fan as well. But he loves sports. Loves diving into the numbers and making far-ranging speculations that sound like they should be yelled over beers at a tavern between scruffy men in like flannels and work boots or something. The other two are along for the ride yet, Cubs-wise. They know it’s their favorite team. Ha. No choice there. But they’d rather be out playing than spending hours watching others play, and that, of course, is fine.

So when the Cubs finally won it was on a school night and my eldest was legit sick, like flu sick, but we were watching game 7 together no matter what. See, the kids don’t stay with me on school nights, but this was obviously special and he was staying home sick the next day anyways. Game 7, of course, was miraculous and memorable and we hugged after they won and will always remember it. Of course, after watching it with my son, I saw on facebook that my brother (the other traditions one, the oops) got in his car in the late innings and rushed to be by my dad’s side to watch the drama unfurl and be there with him as well. The game had me all torn up inside. So stressful. Toward the end lines started popping into my head and what helped me, I think, keep my composure, was that I was recording what I saw in real time in poetry form and it was just flowing out. Literally creating a memory to help enhance an already monumentally memorable one. A short while after the game ended and we hugged and were watching champagne cover our heroes I was able to post my poem in celebration on the facebooks to add to my feed’s festive explosion.

They blew it in the eighth. 
The game 7 Cubs. 
And then a peculiar thing happened: the tears of the scores of Cub fans who died waiting for this began to saturate the ballpark as they fell in torrents 
from the celestial grandstand above.
It served not as an omen, but a reminder – not you guys. Not this time.
And the wait was prolonged, and nails were nubbed to bleeding 
on fingers pruned 
by angelic pleading – but somehow the drama seemed obvious, even in its 
striking cinematic hyperbole.
The watershed came and went 
as Schwarber, who is a poem himself, added to the legend of the moment.
Riz was given a pass
And then Zobrist made good 
on a previously made blue-eyed sacrifice, and countless cubbie blue-eyes 
A different floodgate now opened, its current rapidly rising – the fevered dream of legion die-hards 
spanning back ages.
When impassable walls crumble
they do so in a blur. 
Something standing so long 
it becomes firmament suddenly gone disorients. At first. 
But when it becomes clear the thing is finally done 
and the eyes adjust to the reality of it all – there waves a white flag
not of surrender but success
and it is soaked immeasurably by the comingled weepings from the sky and 
this brand new earth.
A white flag, drenched in hope redeemed, and a W. 
For, finally, it is done. 
Finally, the Chicago Cubs have won.
“Never” is merely a challenge, and “impossible” an invitation to prove loyalty and dedication.
“It happened.”

I tell my students, and I don’t know if this is morbid or extreme or whatever, when they are faced with behaviors and decisions based on seeming cool in fifth grade or whether or not this girl or that boy thinks they’re cute or funny or whatever – that most of their lives are ahead of them and very tiny slivers of this time in their lives will even be remembered! That girl who did the equivalent of “checking no” on that instagram message or the boy who teased the girl for the shirt she purposely wore hoping to catch his eye? You probably won’t even know what happened to that person when life becomes life, that’s what the odds say anyways. I assure them I know it feels like the whole world to them right now because they’re in it but beg them to believe me and not take any of it so seriously as to allow it to affect who they are becoming as young men and women. Inadequacies, self-esteem, defeated/jaded natures – those are long lasting sometimes – the kids who instill these feelings in you are not because they all grow up and evolve into who they will be.

You remember, maybe, the first person you “go out with” but for the most part our memories become populated with other relationships and some pop out in retrospect for a billion reasons over others etc etc. But early on as a father one thing I became very cognizant of was the fact that every single person has one childhood that they will look back on for the rest of their lives. Mine is long over. I, like everyone else in the world, look back on it all the time. When asked, when reminded, and sometimes just because. It is mine. Everyone has theirs. And while lots of things play a part in what that childhood winds up being, it is the parents who set the stage and have the heaviest hand in creating this amazing thing that will forever be singularly looked at for the rest of this human’s life. I am very aware that a major part of my job as a parent is helping create a childhood to be looked back on by these 3 people with as much happiness and joy when they are my age as humanly possible. And traditions stick out, so I take special care in the preserving of them.

Sometimes they falter with time or fall to the wayside. I watched the hit reality television program Survivor, without missing an episode, from day one. Before I even thought about having kids. That’s 2 seasons a year for something like 97 years, which mathematically means like 8.9 billions episodes. Shortly after starting the tradition with my kids as a family tv show to watch it got tainted for me in a petty way and we just stopped. Some holiday traditions have had to be altered, other ideas that come when you’re constantly thinking about making traditions count wind up being excellent in theory but then just too much work in practice. They have to feel organic and natural.

We watch every Star Wars movie over winter break. Way back when there were just I think 4 or 5 dvds to watch we would just get a bunch of junk food, throw down blankets, and do it over 2 days. Now we do it differently. This year, for example, the new, and NINTH film came out BEFORE xmas AND we were going to Florida for break and had plans to see the new movie on day 2 of our trip with the whole Star Wars loving family so we had eight (!) films to watch, after school, on weekends, and in between basketball and winter workout baseball practices all before break even started. In the name of tradition we got it done.

At the end of every August we go see their grandma at the cemetery. Only the oldest was alive while she was. It is important that memory of that woman stays alive. We spread out blankets, eat her favorite cookies smothered in whip cream, and I tell them stories. All mostly the same ones. I get choked up but hide it decently well. They take turns telling her gravestone about their years and tell her they love her. The kids each leave a cookie with whip cream on top. I say my goodbyes and we listen to a mix cd she made me one year for xmas. Then we bring their mom her favorite her mom steak dinner and fixings for black russians, grandma’s favorite drink. Tradition. Important.

We have fish and coins in our hands when the clock strikes midnight on new years for Uncle Chuck. This year we used goldfish crackers after my baby girl dry heaved sardines last time. We bang pots and pans afterward because that’s what I did as a kid. Fourth of July tradition starts weeks before with an expensive trip to Indiana or Wisconsin and is always a huge friend event and now the kids are getting bigger and more free and it’s so amazing to see them all together watching our own fireworks display. Annie’s cake always has a big anarchy symbol A on it since I was so punk rock with her 1 year old bday smash cake and added it. If Corgan has a freshly cut and dyed mohawk you know school is out and summer is underway. It looks like if Lollapalooza keeps putting one of “our” bands on the docket a day in Grant Park each summer is a new tradition we started last year.

It looks like my kids will not grow up rich. Beach houses and vacations and “that year we splurged and went to France” – but I still have some control over how this time, this childhood, will be remembered. I throw myself into that. It is possibly, besides actually creating them, the most important thing I will ever do. When you’re at the end of the road, no matter what things you have accrued, all you really have are your memories. And everyone just has the one childhood to look back on. I hate that I am missing a good deal of my kids’ childhoods. That was not the plan. But I am always their dad. And as such I will always put that responsibility for helping shape this time as a memorable one for as many happy reasons as I can. The very rare times my family all gets together, my brother and I reminisce about growing up in front of my parents. We bring up stuff we remember, confess sneaky thing they didn’t know now that we can’t be grounded and all made it out more or less in one piece. Ever since my first guy was very young I knew that day would one day come for them. For us. While I hope every day that time would just please slow down because it is with breakneck speed we seem to hurtling toward that time, I know that eventually we will find ourselves there. I just hope I wind up doing a decent job of giving them the childhoods they deserve.

Oh, and go Cubs!

4 thoughts on “traditional programming

  1. This post took a few different directions and you brought all home in the end. From your love of the team to your youngest baby brother, to your own experience as a dad, the traditions you weave through have a universal appeal. I especially like the line “I throw myself into that.” It sounds like you do just that!


  2. As an Australian, who knows nothing about American football or Independence Day or any of that, I loved reading about your family’s traditions.
    Traditions are such quirky things but they are so vitally important to who we each are.
    My family has some funny traditions as well- we have a bonfire once a year where Dad always ensures the flames are multiple colours (meaning, he usually burns something that should not be burnt, like an old TV!).
    We have strong Christmas traditions and Easter traditions too. Our traditions would be very different to yours though and I love that too. Reading about family traditions is a great way to glean information about another country I think.
    Thanks for sharing.


  3. Haha! Looks like we were both on a traditions fix this week. I wrote how my sons were arguing over Easter traditions that I had forgotten and then they all started percolating in memory. I was like, I need to write these down before some are gone or evolve into other things. Which ones will stick and which won’t. I think that will be interesting. Back to your post here though, can I just say, I love the Cubs poem. It’s so so good. Good doesn’t even cover it. It’s perfect; clearly not one of your so-called caveman writings with your left hand. As a writer, your voice is very laid-back, funny and honest AF. It’s all good stuff.


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