When a boy first fills the shoes of a man


“You OK, Dad?”

My son’s football coach asks me this generous question as I’m bent over on the sidelines, liquid joy pouring out of my eyes. Ecstasy surges. The weight of happiness pushes my head down, hands on my knees.

Yesterday, my youngest, Joseph, age 12, lost a football game. But a miracle happened, and having a front row seat for that miracle makes me the richest man alive.

There comes a moment in a boy’s life when he “gets it.” The penny drops. A golden light pours down from heaven and young Arthur pulls the sword from the stone. He understands the power in his heart, his head … and his body. He understands this is his power. That he is responsible for the power. That he can wield his own power.

I’ve been waiting for this moment since Joseph first played organized football last fall.

Up until yesterday, Joseph was constrained. Tentative. Careful. Polite. You could see it in his body language. In his gait. He ran less like a thoroughbred and more like a busy bellhop, scooting across a hotel lobby.

Yesterday was the day Joseph saw his first real glimpse of himself as a competitive athlete.

Yesterday was the day he learned to play football.

It started with a perfect seam route. (On offense, Joseph plays tight end.) And, wonder of wonders, the quarterback threw him a perfect ball, which Joseph locked into his hands seamlessly. He then shrugged off his defender and scrambled for a 20-yard gain before he was caught from behind.

Joseph went down in the pile as a self-conscious boy. He arose from the pile living into the blueprint of the man he will become.

It wasn’t over.

On defense, Joseph plays linebacker. And suddenly he was a one-man wrecking crew. He got his first quarterback sack. He dominated the edge, so much so that the opposing team began to run away from him, forcing Joseph’s coaches to bounce him from the left to the right side and back. He pursued. Turned plays. Contained plays. Ended plays. Flat balling.

Apparently, when you make the very first pass reception of your life, you begin to get the idea that you can do anything.

I have never, until yesterday, seen that look in his eyes. Absolute concentration combined with absolute passion. Missile lock. Fox One. Fire.

Carl Jung said that, every time a man becomes a father, he has another chance to become a king. Jung means, of course, the archetype of the king. A leader, at once merciful, benevolent and powerful. We lead our children.

Fathers, need I remind you? When our children are born, we win the lottery. We assume a mantel of ridiculous riches. We feed them. Protect them. Teach them. We set limits. We surround them with high expectations. We push but don’t crush. We critique, but we don’t criticize. We demand accountability, but we don’t humiliate, degrade or hit. We encourage constantly and raise our voice sparingly.

And then we wait. We wait for them to see it. To discover it.

It? I mean we wait for life to awaken them to themselves. And, in awakening, they find their passion. And their passion pushes them to their destiny.

When that happens, fathers are rewarded in a windfall of riches. We get to stand, speechless with admiration. Just a big, grinning goofus. Overwhelmed with happiness for our child’s happiness.

“I had a lot of fun,” is Joseph’s only commentary after the game.

Good for you, boy. Fun is underrated. Fun is a good thing.

Me? Fun is one word to describe it.

“You OK, Dad?” Coach Nick says.

Yeah. It only looks like I’m having a coronary episode. In fact, my heart just melted into my shoes and is overflowing onto the synthetic grass. The joy is taking me apart. I don’t exactly know how gravity is holding me to Earth. I’ll be OK in a minute. Or never.

I was standing there the day Joseph was born. Lucky me. But I was standing there for this birth, too. For the second time in Joseph’s life, I wonder if I should head to the tobacconist and buy a box of cigars to hand out.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.