I have been doing pretty well with my pregnant emotions lately as far as not crying at silly things like commercials or running out of breakfast cereal. But one morning I turned on the TV and ESPN came on since that was what J had been watching right before bed and there was a special about Joe Namath. I think I vaguely remember that Broadway Joe is from Beaver Falls, PA, which is a suburb of Pittsburgh (but let’s be clear - I was born after he retired from football so I missed his heyday, for sure). This was the very beginning of the show so they were showing footage of his high school days as a Beaver Falls Fighting Tiger. I had to go to work but I recorded the show.
Last night, I finally got around to watching the rest of it. What a fascinating career and life. What a personality. The Joe Namath they were interviewing is of course almost 70 years old now, but there is still so much joy and sparkle in his eyes when he tells his stories. And his stories are not all pretty. He was injured and in pain for most of his pro career, was wild with the ladies, and liked to party. Yet he would play outstanding football after being out all night before the game and led his team to win a superbowl. Some of his teammates talked about how they would have to back up in the huddle to get away from the fumes coming off Joe beacuse of his hangover. They showed film of him putting a ridiculously large wad of snuff in his lower lip. He owned a bar and quit football for a tiny bit when commissioner Rosell told him he had to give up his share in the bar after it was alleged that mafia people frequented the place and drugs were used there.
I guess my point is that here is this man who, while doing really amazing things also lived his life in a way that is dangerous and can lead to tragedy. He never apologized for his past nor did he make excuses for his behavior. He just had all these experiences and for better or for worse they made him who he is. I worry that sometimes I have unreal expectations of how people should behave (I’m thinking of you, Rutabaga). There is obviously more than one path to success and and being a productive member of society and generally being a good person. Sometimes those paths include drinking too much and making mistakes but ending up happy and smiling in the end. A mistake I don’t want to make as a parent is not allowing Rutabaga to make his own mistakes. This silly documentary really brought that home. He will have his life and he has to live it. I have to let my kids make their own decisions and mistakes so that they can learn from them and grow, even if I took a different path myself. Easier said than done, I’m guessing. Hopefully awareness is the first step to making it happen.
But what about the tears, you might ask. Well. At the end of the program, after all the debauchery and winning and losing and joy and pain, Joe comes back to Beaver Falls for some kind of tribute. I have actually never been to Beaver Falls, but just seeing the western Pennsylvania hills and rivers and bridges started the tears flowing. There is something about the place you grew up and I was reminded of how much I miss that place, and how Rutabaga will not have that shared sense of home. And I think J would agree that he wishes his son could know what it is like to grow up in Kansas. Maybe it is for the best that we won’t have to choose one or the other for him - he will have his own experience entirely. But I do hope that we can each teach him about the places we grew up and why they are so special to us and how, even if he won’t know them like we do, they are still a part of him.