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SALT LAKE CITY — I am both tall and unimposing — like a dusty ficus or a piece of celery. What I lack in girth, however, I make up by being remarkably mediocre in everything else. It’s the magic that makes me "me."
Unfortunately, the magic that makes me "me" can’t help me win an arm wrestle, or fight back when a bully gets a hankering to kick a little sand in my face.
It all didn’t start in junior high school, where I didn’t go out for the ball team, and I didn't make it into marching band. I was, however, in the orchestra as one of the non-marching, sedentary “power violas.” When I wasn’t rosining my bow, I ran the follow spotlight when the real follow spotlight technician had a conflict, or an emergency chess club meeting.
Long story short, I never had sports to teach me to be tough, or to let the non-important stuff go, to bend like a tree in the wind — which my son has been learning in his years of football.
Long story short, I never had sports to teach me to be tough, or to let the non-important stuff go, to bend like a tree in the wind — which my son has been learning in his years of football. I know he has been learning this because I am the guy who films the games for my son’s team. (My audition was the following question, “So Cheney, do you have a video camera?” I did indeed. The job was mine.)
Filming is as close as I will ever be to having some positive influence on something manly — other than the powerful pregame chili I make for my son and a lucky few on the offensive line (also known as the O-line).
So there I am, filming away, when the real football dudes for the other team show up, push my stuff into the corner, and then tell me to vacate the press room — a small trailer looking thing on stilts with windows and a trap door.
Rule No. 1 my son has learned from football: Let the stupid stuff roll off your back.
Normally I may have just smiled a manly smile, tucked my camera in and run. But big, burly men throwing their weight around because they can, or because no one has ever told them to stop, hits a sore spot with me.
As a recent dad — the “Prodigal Dad” I call myself, because it took me a few years to commit and quit wasting time — I want to teach my boys correct principals. I want to show them by example how to be a man.
Rule No. 2 learned from my son’s football: There is also a time to not let it roll.
The Charles Atlas approach to world peace — “bigger biceps to gain respect” — never rang true to me. With age however, and to my chagrin, I am naturally filling out. Subconsciously, with my new bulk, I thought I had left the bullies and the punks behind. But there is always someone bigger, and this will also be true for my boy.
This time I stood up for myself, which means that I got a bit sarcastic and wise mouthed. However, there were too many sets of well-developed pectorals in team Tees in that room on stilts, and I almost got smushed into a stain on the press room carpet.
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 can tomato juice (We use Grammas' mystery bottled tomato mixture)
- 1 can tomato sauce
- 1 can kidney beans, drained
- 1 can black beans, drained
- 1 large chopped onion
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon white sugar or honey
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 cup chili powder
Place ground beef in a deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until brown. Drain.
In a large pot over medium-high heat combine the liquids, beans, onions, cayenne pepper, sugar/honey, oregano, pepper, salt, cumin and chili powder. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat. Add meat. Simmer for an hour-ish.
Have ready lots of saltines, oyster crackers and cheese. My group likes lots of skim milk to go with it.
Hind sight says I should have removed myself from the situation and bragged to my boy about how tough I was later. And, for literary purposes, I would like to say that our team whomped our opponent that day to give this story a happy ending, but no.
Forty-some-odd years and I am still worrying about who is going to beat me up? Is this the behavior I put-up with for years in the orchestra, chess club, choir and Thespians United so I could say I paid my dues?
In a modern/adult/advanced/mature world, are we still making allowances for people to push others around simply because they can?
The coach that day was quick to let me know that he was indeed the “head” coach (as if I couldn’t tell by the moniker “Coach” hand inked on the waistband of his stylishly showing skivvies,) that he ruled the roost, and that I had no place in it — even as a timid celery stalk just filming a game.
After a weak attempt to hold my ground I relinquished my space and left the press room with my Diet Coke and my bag of camera stuff handed to me. As I reached the bottom rung of the ladder I almost didn’t notice an open padlock hanging next to the hatch door I had just exited through. Almost.
I am a little too proud to say that "Head Coach Fruit of the Loom" found some extra time for reflection concerning his own personal growth and vulnerability that day, and that I (with help from a cheap combination lock) assisted him on his road to self-discovery.
A personal message to his highness and to the pectoral posse: Neener, neener.
Having spoken those words, I hereby call to the front lines all of the emotional celeries-in-waiting. It is time to ask the bullies to step aside for a higher order — one that is not survival of the fittest, but mutual respect and kindness.
Rule No. 3 that I learned on my own just recently: There is safety with the safety’s, the defensive ends, the O-line, and sometimes the cheerleaders.
So prepare your chili, mothers and fathers of the band, parents of the orchestra, the chess club or the bench warmer. Throw on extra cheese and begrudge not your children extra crackers.
It takes a lot of positive energy to do things decently, even-handedly, impartially — an approach for a world beyond Charles Atlas. One that has no place for bullies.
Main image: Davison Cheney — keeping his friends close and the O-line closer (Photo: Marie Cheney, DCheneyStudio)
Davison writes about things he is familiar with: things like raising children, taking children to therapy, bailing children out of trouble, and trying not to beat up parents of other children when they yell at his children for not getting the basketball to their children. Read more from Davison at davisoncheneymegadad.blogspot.com.*