I never thought I’d use a sports metaphor to describe life, but sometimes your kids make you do things you thought you wouldn’t.
We were watching football on Thanksgiving, and the Giants came up.
“They’re terrible,” someone said, but my son Eli shook his head.
“No, he said, “They’re a good team, but for some reason they’re not winning.”
I smiled. He had seen them play live, sitting near an end zone that saw much of the action. He saw his team destroy the Texans, play after play. He saw them come back after a number of losses and win by a wide margin. He saw them at their best from just a short distance, with his own two eyes.
I bought him a hat and a big foam finger to support them, and he did, screaming loud from the stands. After the game, he was dead set on buying a jersey, and I found him one for cheap at Marshall’s. He wears it proudly, even now that they’re losing.
They have it in them to win, they’re just not winning.
I think maybe it is the clearest description of the problem with life. Isn’t that true of everyone, that we’re all walking around with this mountain of potential and yet sometimes we can’t figure out how to meet it? Isn’t it the case that we all could do so much, that we could very nearly fly if we tried — if we really put our full best selves forward — but that finding that best self is hard and putting it forward even harder?
Why any of us are unable to meet our full “winningest” potential is the great question for the ages. I think about how to help my kids meet their potential and how to try to continue to try to meet mine so that they have a good model of behavior all the time.
It is not easy. It is, in fact, very hard to maintain belief — like Eli’s unwavering faith in the Giants — when signs point to something otherwise. It is very hard to keep on the road strong and steady in support of the idea that we are winners when we face devastating loss after devastating loss.
It is hard to tell the story of losing and imagine that winning is still a possibility. So it happens that sometimes, after a time, people stop trying.
I am thrilled that my son still believes in the Giants, that he sees in the players their great ability and doesn’t count them out solely because they can’t seem to make it happen. It shows a lack of judgmentalism, I think, and a willingness to stick by things for the long haul even if they seem to be going badly. He is good like this, loyal like his father, and I hope that this kind of faith he has can be applied in his life well beyond football.
I have to learn this lesson myself: not to judge any individual action too harshly, not to take any single failure to heart too deeply, to continue to believe in the possibility of success. In parenting, this is crucial. I often feel that some stupid thing I did or said, some screaming jag or rude jab is the death of my relationship with the boys, that I’ve gone and screwed everything up past the point of no return. But then, as I skulk off somewhere imagining the worst, they will make some simple request of me nonchalantly and I’ll remember that I often make too big a deal out of small things, and that we are good. We have it in us to win.
Winning a football game and winning at life are obviously two wholly different things, but I think what holds the metaphor together is the idea of believing in oneself beyond failure. We screw up in our marriages, in parenting, in school, at work, with our friendships, and yet we have to stay the course and believe that, despite it all, we can be winners, that we are winners even if from all outer signs it may look as though we’re not.
Thank you, Eli, as always, for the important reminder.