I am competitive by nature. More so than you, I bet.
See what I did there?
I’m competitive. Don’t believe me?
If I’m going to the school father/son bowling event, I’m going to try and get the best score among all the other dads. I’m especially going to try and beat the big guy who brought his own shoes and ball and is wearing a black and hot pink team shirt.
He’s clearly a league bowler — I’m suddenly in a league of my own. I want to take him down. Now, I haven’t bowled in a league in, oh, at least … forever. So what do I do?
I send Lebowski a pitcher of beer. Not a glass of beer. A pitcher.
Faster than you can say bathroom break, big Dick Weber’s in the gutter. I win.
Challenged to a game of pool, or foosball, by a lady friend? Regardless of my own beer intake, I am acutely aware she wouldn’t want me to let her win — so I’m not going to. Even on her birthday.
Sinking the 8-ball was purely intentional. OK, fine, an accident. I was trying to win. She won. So did I.
Jeopardy on TV? I want to be smarter and faster — and louder — that the smart people on TV. And fortunately, my kitchen table doesn’t take points away when I get an incorrect answer.
Driving along the 101 and you’re ahead of me? I have five lanes of choices, and I will be passing you. Legally, of course.
Board games? I have been accused of “playing to win.” As opposed to …?
Scattegories? Don’t even bother. An example: The category is “Awards.” The letter is F.
No one else comes up with an answer.
I submitted the “Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award,” and was begrudgingly awarded 4 points by family members, who also gave me a finger.
Free international online poker, where I play without money? You might think I have nothing at stake. But I’m not letting that Russian guy Ukraine me, or that Brazilian woman wax me. I’m playing to win. And that’s no bluff.
Is your alma mater playing mine? I will come to your house wearing my team colors. The bright, garish orange and blue you despise. Go Gators.
The thing is, I am not a jock — I’m just an average adult athlete, and competitive. Decent softball player and I love the game. I’m the kind of guy that will play hard — but fairly — until the game is over. I may also vehemently — but politely — argue a rules interpretation with an umpire in a game that we’re losing 11-4.
But I will also apologize to him when I realize I was wrong. I will congratulate him on that win. In case I run into him at Chili’s after the game.
I’m a scratch … I mean, hack golfer, but I still expect to sink the putt. I used to be a pretty good tennis player — but that was in high school, a whole bunch of Olympics ago — and I haven’t picked up a racquet in years. But I’d still play you for a 10-spot, sight unseen.
I still have fairly decent speed, though I hate running. My idea of running is getting down the canyon trail faster than I hiked up, or getting from first to third on an outfield single. But I will gladly stop there if the coach gives me the “hold” sign, so I can regret not having stretched before the game.
I’m not a runner. But I’m faster than my teenage sons in a race in front of our house … and that’s where the quandary starts.
Should I be faster? Should I beat my kids — every time?
Do I let them win? Do I just barely win? Do I crush them? They’re teenagers. They should start to understand you don’t always win — at least not without effort and practice, right? Or do I give them false encouragement by dialing it down?
There will come a time when they can beat me … shouldn’t they earn that? Or, is that just me, wanting to hold onto winning?
What do you do when you’re blessed with the blazing cool speed of a Zamboni machine, but your kids move more like the consistent plodding of a riding lawn mower?
(**Note – I did extensive research on these comparisons. I asked my exceptional research assistant, Siri. According to her tireless two minutes on the job, the above comparison is roughly a comparison of 9-10 mph vs. 7-8 mph. Both of which are actually faster than I run. But I think you get my point.)
One son is active in 2 or 3 team sports, one is inactive in all sports except for occasional pick-up basketball. I am far from a gym rat, but I try and stay in shape. I bike. I hike. I run a little. I have weights at home. I do push-ups and sit-ups — sometimes — and we have pull-up bars in the house.
Can I do more than them? So far, yes and given the chance, I usually will … but only one or two more pull-ups than they did. Enough to know their “old man” is still able to out work them … but not by so much they won’t keep trying.
Of course, the older they get, and the more they grow, the more I have to push to just stay one or two ahead. But, so far …
When they were younger, and significantly smaller than they are now – I used to work out with them. Not along with them, as in, side by side, but with them. They were the equipment, and I would use them as part of my workout. I would do push-ups with the smaller one sitting on my butt, holding on. Curls with a 3-year-old cradled in my arms — then another set with the 5-year-old.
Bench press (okay, laying-on-the-floor press) with my arms fully extended like Superman flying, with them laying across my outstretched hands. Or leg lifts with them balanced on my feet — raising and lowering for as long as I could keep them balanced. I would start with the younger and build up to the older, each of them for a few reps.
But all that stopped quite a few years ago. They’re way too big for that now. My oldest is bigger than me. At 16.
I coached each kid all the way through Little League, when boys first learn competition and teamwork, along with attitude, and backtalk. I had plenty of opportunity in practice to be a tough guy and throw fastballs by them if I wanted to. Instead, I threw just fast enough so they’d know what an 11- or 12-year-old fastball would look like when they see it. I never humiliated them — I wanted to give them confidence. If they knocked one out, or up the middle at me, I took pride in that too.
If they gave me backtalk, or lack of effort, I took pride in the fact that I threw the next pitch right down the middle — not even a little bit inside … even if I had considered it.
If you’ve ever coached your own kid in sports, or known a parent who has, you’ll understand that fleeting thought.
No, when they were younger, I encouraged them to do their best, and believe they would always win.
They’re older now. Do I still do that? Do I let them win?
I still can’t believe they can each beat me 1-on-1 in basketball in the driveway.
Like THAT’s a sport.
See what I did there?
(Editor’s note: And just because Mike brought it up, we have to add the “Jesus” scene from the film,
The Big Lebowski. We may never know who won the bowling tournament.)
Mike Brennan has been a Pulitzer Prize-nominated newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, an investigative journalist, a nationally touring stand-up comedian, a joke writer for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a morning radio host, a professional auctioneer for numerous charities, an editor, and a film and TV script consultant. He is currently working on a romantic comedy screenplay, and a humorous book on being a father, called The Tooth Fairy Doesn’t Pay for Yellow Teeth. He has lived in the Valley for 19 years, and has two teenage sons. Contact the author.