My beloved Philadelphia Eagles trail their division rivals, the Washington Redskins by 5.
There’s 20 seconds on the clock.
The Eagles are 5-7, floundering in last place a highly competitive NFC East, with their playoff lives on life support.
Our quarterback, our white knight, Carson Wentz the strapping young lad from the North Dakota plains, who after 13 games this season appears to have all the tools–the strength, the speed, the football IQ, the moxie to deliver the starving Philadelphia fan base its first ever Superbowl title, takes the snap and drops back to pass.
He looks right. Rolls left.
Bodies clash, muscles strain as 70,000 fans roar like lions under the soft gray December sky.
The enemy pass rush presses forward clawing at the offensive line as our white knight stands bravely, squaring his shoulders, in the quickly collapsing pocket.
25 miles away and sensing victory, I rise up off the couch as Tostito crumbs tumble down my shirt.
Carson cocks his right arm back. Bodies fall all about him. He sees a receiver open in the flat. I see a receiver open in the flat. All of Philadelphia sees a receiver open in the flat.
In my living room I mimic our hero. I square my shoulders. I cock my right arm.
Then, a mighty paw like the paw of God appears from nowhere and swings and swats the pigskin from Carson’s hand.
Carson falls under the collapse of white jerseys. The football waddles across the green grass like a lost duck.
25 miles away I’m pointing and screaming, “Get the ball! Get the ball!” as if I’m saddled between the Lincoln Financial Field hash marks, when a monstrous Redskin lineman rushes the duck. Pounces the duck. Swallows the duck.
The Redskins celebrate. The Eagles hang their collective heads.
The game is over. The Eagles playoff hopes flat-line.
I deflate back to the couch with my hands on my head as if covering from enemy fire.
To my left, Chase sits with his hands on his head.
To my right, Dylan is holds the same position.
Both of my boys are waiting for my next move.
And that’s when I began to realize that fatherhood is like being an NFL quarterback.
This season, Eagles fans slid Mr. Wentz under the proverbial microscope. We dissected every pass. Every decision. We examined how he handled the pressure of being stalked by bloodthirsty linebackers. We scrutinized his press conferences. His poise when probed with tough questions. His willingness to shoulder blame.
We judged his ability on the field and his character off. We wanted to know if this quiet Midwestern boy was worthy of our faith.
What the entire Philadelphia fan base did to Carson Wentz this season is what children do to their fathers everyday. Our children study moves. They listen to the cadence of commands. They take mental notes on what we value and what we don’t. They scrutinize our interactions with the world. They take in how we treat people.
In his timeless interview with Bill Moyers, an interview that was ultimately turned into one of my favorite books, The Power of Myth, American scholar Joseph Campbell explained that since the beginning of man, children have always looked needed fathers to teach them how to engage the world.
Mothers give birth to a child’s nature and fathers give birth to their social character.– Joseph Campbell
I’ve seen how my children study my subtleties. My facial expressions and mannerism. How I celebrate. How I handle defeat. And at the tender ages of 8, 6 and 3 my children are beginning to mimic my behaviors. Behaviors that are weaving the fabric of their little mythology.
Fatherhood, like quarterbacking, is a tough business. You’re going to get beat up. Lose confidence. Question everything you know. You may even find yourself sitting in some darkened corner, ice packs on your joints, towel draped over your head, wondering if you were cut out for this business.
There are no moments more painful for a parent than those in which you contemplate your child’s perfect innocence of some imminent pain, misfortune, or sorrow. That innocence (like every kind of innocence children have) is rooted in their trust of you, one that you will shortly be obliged to betray.– Michael Chabon
It can downright terrifying to acknowledge how much influence dads have on their children. Yet as the dad, as the quarterback, we must accept our responsibility to lead and inspire. That’s what we were drafted to do.
Now, if we can correct our mistakes, survive our trials, if we can rise up after defeat– we can instill a belief, a spirit, a love in our familial fan base. A fan base that so desperately wants and needs a hero.