“The thing about football - the important thing about football - is that it is not just about football.”
One of my earliest Thanksgiving memories revolves around a moment when I was about six or seven years old. It’s just a moment that I remember and it may not even have been Thanksgiving, but I remember the autumnal feeling of the day so I will assume it was. We lived in Posen, Illinois a suburb of Chicago, but we would often go to my grandma’s farm in Lake Village, Indiana, about an hour away. Most of my mom’s family also lived in Illinois or Indiana. The moment I remember was running around playing with my cousins. I ran into the house and I saw the men, my grandpa and my Uncle Ray or maybe my Uncle Al, watching football and the women in the kitchen. While this memory might cause amusement for its old-fashioned depiction or even rankle feminist sensibilities, I might also add that no one seemed unhappy.
That moment informed my Thanksgiving for many years. From that point on I thought that on Thanksgiving men watched football and talked sports. (I made no assumptions about women.) Yet as I grew older I developed an apathy for sports and especially for professional sports. Most of my childhood experiences regarding sports as a small, thin boy were less than positive. Sometimes I even made a point to let that apathy be known. Then a few years ago I went to Turkey to try to find my birth mother. I did not find her, but the experience changed me in two strange ways in what was a combination of my early Thanksgiving experience.
First, like the women of my family on that Thanksgiving, I began to spend time in the kitchen. I was never afraid of the kitchen but I never really learned how to cook much more than a few recipes. But now I was cooking regularly. I started looking for new recipes. I learned about spices and tastes and how to shop for food. I organized my kitchen and made sure I had fresh food. I shopped constantly. I learned how important timing is in the preparation. More than once, because of not timing things well, a meal was ruined. Once I had a friend visit after I had been bragging about my newly formed cooking skills and I overcooked the meat because I wasn’t paying attention. That was embarrassing, but he was gracious. I had to be focused and when I was, dinner came out pretty good. But there was something else that happened after getting back from Turkey. I suddenly found that I loved watching football!
This was startling. I had spent most of my life ignoring or hating professional sports. I would complain about the overpayment of professional athletes, especially compared to teachers. I considered it all mindless entertainment and except in 1995 when the San Diego Chargers went to the Super Bowl I almost never watched a game. (The Chargers lost to the San Francisco ‘49ers, 49-26.) But, after getting back from Turkey, I could not get enough football. On Sundays I could literally watch games all day long. I didn’t care who was playing or who won (except for the Chargers or the Chicago Bears, my new hometown and my old hometown. I always rooted for those teams.) I didn’t know anything about football. I didn’t know statistics or players or standings or the history of any particular team. I just liked watching the game. And if I wasn’t watching the game I was in the kitchen making food to eat while watching more games. I still like watching football, but I don’t own a television these days. I’m fine with that, but I wish I had one if only to watch football on Sundays. And on Thanksgiving.
Many cultures have no problem dividing gender roles. Men watch sports and women cook. Ironically, going back to a very traditional culture enabled me to comfortably embrace both roles.
I’ve been struggling with finding a direction with this blog because I realize that the discussion of gender roles might upset people. Then I realized that I have to not care because I have to write from what I know and that it’s not my intent to offend. This isn’t a sociological treatise on gender roles. I’m describing what I experienced on Thanksgiving in the Midwest in the 1960s. I also agree with David Deida who says in The Way of the Superior Man that each of us has a masculine and feminine side. In my travels to Turkey I found both. I became a whole person. Or I started to, at least. I became more whole when I met my Muse and started taking responsibility for my choices.
Today I don’t have as much opportunity to cook or watch football. But I can Get Started and Keep Going. I can enjoy life and be thankful for what was, what is, and what will be.