Football, Fury, & Fatherhood

It was a crisp fall day in the desolate canyonlands of southern Utah, almost exactly 10 years ago. I was on a week-long road trip with Danielle, my beautiful wife of 8 years, who at the time was my beautiful girlfriend of 5 months.

And I was ranting and raging. On a pristine day in paradise, with orange canyons all around me, I was spitting mad.

Not at Danielle, thankfully. As a rule of thumb, I’m smart enough to know that there is never a viable reason to be angry at my eminently reasonable wife.

No, I was angry because the Philadelphia Eagles had lost a football game.

Danielle and I were taking our sweet time heading back to Colorado, luxuriating in the otherworldly wonders of Utah. In the ensuing decade, the southern swath of this state would become a kind of mecca to which we would make a handful of blissed-out pilgrimages. But right smack dab in the middle of this particular picture-perfect Sunday, I had the brilliant idea of grinding to a halt at a watering hole in Moab in order to watch the Eagles game.

So to be clear, I wanted to sit with my resplendent girlfriend in a daylight-deprived dive bar for three and a half hours on a perfect fall day in one of the places on earth that’s most conducive to perfect fall days. That makes sense, right?

Anyway, the Raiders beat the Eagles 13-9 (a score that’s been rolling around in my brain like two stray ball bearings for a decade). And I then proceeded to throttle our carefree day in the canyonlands by foaming at the mouth about football.

There is an image emblazoned in my mind of Danielle and me pulled over at a scenic stop on the side of route 191, and my brow is furrowed as deep as Zion Canyon as I pace around, gesturing dramatically as I bend and twist Danielle’s ear about Andy Reid’s play-calling, or Donovan McNabb’s red zone inefficiency, or whatever meaningless thing was torquing me out about that game.

I also remember realizing at some point shortly thereafter that I was a horse’s derriere. And then apologizing to Danielle, mortified that I had momentarily sabotaged our road trip with my shallow rage.

In hindsight, it’s as clear as the crystal-blue Utah sky that I was out of my mind to waste half a day in paradise watching a football game in a darkened bar and then twisting my face into knots by the result. But that’s the kind of football fan I was back then. I refused to miss a single quarter of a single game, and I refused to be anything but miserable if the game in question didn’t go my way. I would mope and scowl and act like the universe had done me an unspeakable injustice.

In short, football brought out the worst in me. My entitled self. My petulant self. My lesser angels.

Now fast forward one (very eventful, very happy!) decade to 3 days ago. It was another beautiful fall Sunday featuring another maddening Eagles loss. Or at least it would have been maddening if I had let it in any way madden me. But this time, I sat nervously on the edge of my seat as my team slowly let the game slip out of their fingers. And then as the final seconds ticked off the clock and the Eagles sports writers started furiously scrawling their scathing postmortems, I just… moved on with my day.

Novel concept, right? Why didn’t I think of this 10 or 15 years ago? Of course, it doesn’t hurt that beyond the edges of the laptop screen Danielle and I watched the game on, two sweet and carefree children played happily with each other — giggling and running around and giving their adoring parents a new reason every 30 seconds to beam with pride.

I’m sure that an extra decade of life experience and knowledge of the world has made me a little bit wiser too, placing sports into a realistic context. But the primary catalysts that have helped me evolve — from an ardent, unstable, self-pity-addled, unbearable football fan into a still-ardent but quite stable, self-aware, and (I think my wife would say) bearable football fan — are named Greyson and Violet.

Fatherhood is a pretty airtight way to put everything on earth in perspective. It gives you a front-row audience for all of your unexamined flaws and quirks, offering the purest form of accountability. Don’t want to set a bad example for your impressionable, carefree toddler? Then you’d better not have an ugly meltdown after your football team drops 7 passes in one game. Don’t want to disorient your sweet baby girl? Then maybe don’t contort your face into an unrecognizable sneer just because your football team lost a winnable game at home.

It’s all about stakes. While there were certainly stakes when it was just Danielle and me, I also knew that she knew me well enough to be longsuffering while I ranted about a game not going my way.  And boy did I ever rant.

But now that we have kids, the stakes feel so much higher and every moment feels so achingly precious. Do I really want to squander entire Sundays (and even the ensuing Mondays) feeling oppressed by the result of a football game? Heck, Sundays are half the weekend! And weekends are when I can forge indelible memories with Danielle and the kids. I would be out of my mind to disfigure these days with angst about which way an oblong ball bounces — be it off the uprights or out of someone’s hands.

Even beyond that, though, I can’t shake the thought that whatever sort of football fan (and person) I am is the kind of football fan (and person) our kids might grow up to be. Am I willing to actively bequeath a legacy of needing to feel despondent somewhere between 3 and 13 Sundays a year? Do I want to convey to them that their happiness and contentment should be contingent upon a sporting event?

There’s no way on earth I’m willing to put that on our kids. They deserve to see the best possible version of a what it looks like to be a football fan, since that is ultimately a microcosm of what it looks like to respond to the ups and downs of life itself. Modeling healthy emotional behavior for children is vital, and there is perhaps nowhere (other than maybe politics) in which healthy emotional behavior is more lacking than in the realm of sports fandom. I have seen grown men throw the kind of temper tantrums that would make a petulant toddler wince.

And I, more often than I’d like to admit, have been that grown man. Just ask anyone who saw me at the bar in Moab on that glorious October day. Or better yet, just ask Danielle.

But I am that person no longer. And I have my innocent, carefree, wide-eyed kids to thank for it. Like any good eagle father teaching his offspring to fly, I will do anything in my power to not let down the little ones who have been graciously placed in my nest. Anything.

So thank you, Greyson and Violet, for giving me the best possible reason to be a better man than I used to be.

Fly, eaglets, fly.



Thumbs Ups & Peace Signs

Sometimes you read a bumper sticker and without hesitation, your mind and body unequivocally assent it to its worldview. It seems somehow beyond rebuttal, beyond argument, beyond question. The other night, while driving home from work, I saw this adage on the back of a compact car:

God is too big to fit into one religion.

Every single thing inside me aligns with this philosophy. My mind, my heart, my life experience. It rings true in the deepest part of my being. Here are a few of the internal premises (speaking only for myself) that make this adage reverberate for me.

No religion has God figured out. Each one represents a well-meaning attempt to pierce the veil. Every religion, and the millions of adherents of those religions, simply make a mortal attempt to unravel the ultimate mysteries of the universe.

But God is not a being that can be figured out or unraveled. There will always be a veil — a thick, gauzy one — over our understanding of the infinite.

I resonated so much with the bumper sticker’s ethos that I immediately wanted to thank the owner of the bumper in question. As I pulled up next to the car, I could see that the driver was a young woman, probably about 25, and she was looking at her smartphone. I gave her a big, cheesy thumbs-up. She saw me and I think may have initially interpreted my gesture as a sarcastic critique of her phone usage in the car. But as we then pulled up to a stoplight, our cars were adjacent. And I smiled again and pointed toward the back of her car. She immediately seemed to understand and smiled back broadly, holding up two fingers in a peace sign.

Because she was a young female, and because of the fraught world we live in, I also immediately felt self-conscious that she or some other random motorist might somehow, absurdly enough, think I was flirting. So I faux-casually (i.e. self-consciously) rested my left arm on the rolled-down window, tapping my wedding ring on the chrome of my Caliber, just to make it abundantly clear to passing drivers that I am a very happily married man.

Virtue signaling is a funny thing. Sometimes we’re signaling our virtue to ourselves more than anyone.

When the light turned green, I gave the young woman a peace sign of my own, luxuriating in this small gesture and its residual connection to the peace movement of the last century. And I savored this tiny moment of connection, based as it was on a shared affinity for an inclusive, world-expanding view of the creator of the world.

But here’s the thing about this simple epiphany. I can envision friends of mine who are evangelicals and friends of mine who are atheists both bristling at that bumper sticker slogan. In fact, I hesitated to write about this for that reason.

I can immediately hear the likely rebuttals in my mind’s eye (mind’s ear?) and as a rule, I have an allergy to discussing religion. No conversational waters are less navigable — not even politics — and many seaworthy vessels have capsized from trying.

While all of that is true, it is also true that if I hesitate to share an epiphany as simple as God is too big to fit into one religion, then I am essentially censoring myself. So I’ll put this rumination out there in hopes that it will be meaningful to someone.

But even if you don’t resonate with the adage in question, for whatever reason, I’ll give you an alternate adage to take away from this anecdote — one that is both more specific and more universal. I’m not sure it will fit quite as easily onto a bumper sticker, but here it is:

Make tiny connections with passing motorists whose bumper stickers you find meaningful. After all, life is short and a work commute can feel quite long. And whether or not we remember to act like it in 2019, we’re all connected.

Plus, being on the giving or receiving end of a peace sign, or a wave, or a smile, just feels really good.



Violet Skye Is the Limit

1 year ago, at 2 in the morning, the 3 of us became the 4 of us. (Or 5 if you include Dom.) And after only 6 minutes of pushing by the most fearless, tireless, medication-less mama ever. The resulting baby girl was 7 pounds and 8 ounces, born in the 9th month of the year. And by all reasonable metrics, she was a perfect 10.

Violet Skye Marie Wingert entered the world in a room that was incandescent with love and gratitude. If she had mail-ordered her parents from a catalog that encompassed all of humanity, there is no way she could have hand-selected a mama and papa more delirious with joy to gaze into her bright blue eyes. And if we had mail-ordered her from a catalog, there is no conceivable way we would have conceived any other baby. We would have stopped dead in our tracks as soon as we flipped to the ‘Vi’ page. And we would have paid any exorbitant processing fee or expedited delivery charge in order to have her in our arms even one day early.

But there is no mail order catalog, and there is assuredly no expedited delivery. Especially in our case. We waited 4 full years to get pregnant with Greyson, a grueling process that wiped us out emotionally (before it restored us, and then some, in one magical moment). And beyond that, both our sweet Greyson and our sweet Violet took their sweet, sweet time vacating their private womb (without a view) at the luxurious Hotel de Danielle. Clearly they wanted a late checkout time, but they never bothered to notify the beleaguered woman working the night shift — and every other shift — at the front desk.

Both of our snug, cozy babies emerged into the light of day (or the dark of night in Violet’s case) a full 8 to 10 days after their due dates, putting their decidedly un-snug, un-cozy mama through the ringer. Which led to Danielle’s classic one-liner: “I wish my womb wasn’t quite so comfortable.”

But all of that impatient waiting is forgotten in a heartbeat. And even more so with Violet, who unlike her big brother was thoughtful enough to make a beeline for the daylight — and her mama’s arms — once things finally started moving. Heck, it happened so fast that the doctor had to ask Danielle to slow down so he could get his rubber gloves on! I’ll never forget the incredulous look on her face when the doctor said this to her. Telling a woman in active labor to “slow down” is like telling Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980 to “hang tight for a bit.”

Fortunately, Dr. Bucher’s gloved, skilled hands (rather than my sweaty, clueless ones) were the hands that caught our eager baby girl that night. But the hands that were most ready for Violet that night were the ones, shaking with joy, into which the doctor carefully placed her wriggling body moments later.

Two of my most intensely cherished moments on earth were the moments when I got to see Danielle holding each of our babies for the first time. It was like seeing a galaxy of stars and planets suddenly, in an instant, come into perfect alignment. To see a perfect baby placed into the arms of your true love, a woman who has dreamed of that baby not just for years but for decades — that is a profound sight to behold. No solar or lunar eclipse, no radiant heavenly body, could match the transcendent glow on her face as she looked at Violet’s face for the first time.

In that moment, our family became 4. The number of hearts we’ve helped bring into the world became 2.

And reality and our wildest dreams became one.



What the Antonio Brown Saga Says About Us

Brown & Belichick

Last week, the football world watched in horror and/or fascination as Antonio Brown, through an escalating sequence of temper tantrums, managed to get himself kicked off the Raiders without playing a single snap for his new team. Then while the dust was still settling, and while sports writers were furiously typing up their postmortems, the Patriots pounced, rewarding Brown with a generous 1-year contract mere hours after his release.

Some people like to think that sports is just entertainment. Just a business. Nothing more.

I’m not one of those people.

Sports is a microcosm of what we choose to value — or choose not to value — as a society. The way we think about sports affects the way we think about politics, and money, and labor, and family, and criminal justice, and life itself.

Everything flows downstream into the culture at large. None of it is meaningless. Things matter.

It matters that an exorbitantly paid professional athlete publicly bashed his employer and then threatened to punch his boss in the face — an act which would have gotten any of us immediately fired and made us un-hirable for the foreseeable future — and that athlete not only went unpunished but was almost immediately rewarded with a lucrative contract from the most prestigious employer in his job market.

It matters that many fans of this athlete’s new team, along with fantasy football fans and NFL fans in general, immediately shifted into spin mode and started crafting a justification for the Patriots’ decision to reward this athlete. Justifications that somehow didn’t even reference, or make any moral judgment about, anything this athlete had done in the previous 4 days (or 4 months).

It matters that this isn’t the first, or the fifth, or even the fifteenth example in this decade alone of an NFL player being rewarded with fame and fabulous fortune right on the heels of doing something inexcusable.

And it most assuredly matters that this example, as ugly and unsettling as it is, doesn’t even compare with myriad other cases where the player in question did something genuinely menacing and destructive to the social fabric. Punching pregnant girlfriends. Abusing children. Abusing dogs. Sexually assaulting women. Even murdering people.

[NOTE: In the time since I began writing this blog post, Antonio Brown has been accused of sexual misconduct and rape in a civil lawsuit. I will not comment on these allegations since I haven’t read nearly enough about them to speak knowledgeably. To be clear, the entirety of this blog post is based only on what we knew before these accusations went public.]

All of the players referenced above were subsequently given lucrative contracts. Some of them have even been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame — or assuredly will be in the next decade.

All of this matters. Every last bit of it.

When I posted something on Facebook criticizing the Patriots for picking up Brown, multiple friends — including some fairly thoughtful people — either defended or downplayed the move. Some pointed out that it’s normal and simply to be expected. Some took a purely strategic approach, talking about how Bill Belichick will be able to rein in Brown’s antics. And some accused Patriots critics of being motivated by jealousy and resentment rather than principle.

Notably, none of them crafted a specific case for why it was defensible for a team to hire, and lavishly reward, someone who 24 hours earlier had threatened to punch his boss in the face.

In the end, the Antonio Brown saga says as much about us as it does about him. It reveals our tribalism and even our casual nihilism. Our willingness to silence our moral compass if our team will gain power (Patriots fans), if we might gain a little prestige or make a little money (fantasy fans who drafted Brown), or if we will be supremely entertained by a freakishly talented player (football fans across the board). Just as we’ve seen in the political realm, it exposes that we would rather consolidate power for our team and win at all costs than maintain a careful set of ethics that we consistently apply to everyone.

Die-hard sports fans, just like die-hard fans of politics, have never been known for consistency. Sports and politics have always brought out the worst in people, revealing double standards that are as deep as a chasm. Sadly, that is nothing new.

But to quote the new Joker trailer, “Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?”

Maybe it’s because fatherhood has amplified my sense of the moral stakes in the world. But I’ve never seen people as willing to casually look the other way at wrongdoing because of a tribal affiliation — be it to a sports team or to a political party — as I have in the last 3 or 4 years. Or even in the last decade.

What we need in both realms is for individuals to embrace their own obligation to call out every moral indiscretion, regardless of whose team the wrongdoer plays (or politics) for, and despite the fact that it will impede our enjoyment of a national pastime or muddle up our clear-cut political narrative.

We should do this for the sake of our own moral clarity, but we should also do it for our kids, who are seeing all of this play out. Everything we say that downplays or ignores the toxic behavior of an athlete or a celebrity or a politician or a president that we like or support is heard loud and clear by the younger generation.

As I said earlier: Everything flows downstream. Sports is not a vacuum, and it should never be impervious to our core values.

If winning is everything, then everything will be lost.


Thank you so much for reading! Please feel free to like and comment (or even share) on Facebook, since that’s the platform I use for my writing at this point. I know it’s increasingly hard to steer away from the almighty social media feeds these days, so I am deeply grateful for your interest and your support — and your click.

The Circle of (My) Life

The first time I ever cried in a movie, as far as I can recall, was when the wildebeests trampled Simba’s dad to death in The Lion King.

I was at the theater near the house where I grew up, then known as Hampden Centre 8. This was the theater where I also watched Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams in Flubber, Robin Williams in Patch Adams, as well as a fair number of movies that presumably did not star Robin Williams. I have many memories of laughing myself silly at that theater — while eating Junior Mints smuggled in via my mom’s purse — from childhood through my teenage years.

But the primary thing I remember from The Lion King (besides the soundtrack, which I totally bought) was the sheer devastation I felt when Mufasa died. That scene rocked my 14-year-old world.


Fast forward a quarter of a century to an era when Disney is raiding its animated coffers for remake fodder. It’s no surprise that the 1994 mega-moneymaker about a lion cub’s rise to power was high on Disney’s list of movies to reinvent for a new generation. In fact, both The Lion King and Aladdin have now been repackaged and released in the same summer, with The Little Mermaid and Mulan hot on their tails. Long live the ‘90s!

Hollywood cynic that I am, I spent this summer sniping about Disney’s greed and unchecked power. Their willingness to do anything for a buck (or a few billion bucks), pilfering pennies from our pockets by exploiting our carefully nurtured nostalgia. Their lack of originality, cynically peddling the exact same product to generation after generation of easily conned consumers. I really had Disney pegged.

But then the opportunity arose for me and Danielle to go to the movies. And wouldn’t you know it? All that high-minded stuff went out the window. Because I mean, come on. THE LION KING. What child or teenager of the ‘90s could resist?

It turns out Mickey has me wrapped around his gloved finger — one of the 4 of them — just like everyone else.

I could gush and gush about the extraordinary visuals (every hair follicle! and good heavens those backdrops!) or the mostly marvelous voicework (Chiwetel Ejiofor! James Earl Jones! John Oliver!) or the still-stunning soundtrack (Beyoncé and Donald Glover singing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”!).

But I’ll focus my attention on that seminal stampede scene. Because that’s the emotional centerpiece of the movie, and it’s the main reason we won’t show the movie to our kids until they’re well into their 20s. (Just kidding.)

All joking aside, though, we were 14 and 13 when the original movie came out and we plan to wait until our kids are pretty close to that age. Because let me tell you what — that scene, including its aftermath, is Dark with a capital D.

The obvious comparison from a half-century earlier is Bambi, in which a very young character learns that his parent was killed. I would imagine that scene was the same kind of emotional touchstone for our grandparents’ generation that The Lion King was for ours, offering a wrenching catharsis wrapped up in the guise of a cute kids’ movie. But the darkness of Mufasa’s death is more intense in several ways.

For one, Simba sees his father get caught up in the wildebeest stampede while trying to rescue his wayward son. So Simba is forced to watch the traumatic event unfold, while Bambi is spared at least some of that visual trauma.

Also, Bambi is gently ushered away by his father before he can see his lifeless mother with his own eyes. Simba, on the other hand, finds his father in the ravine and in his grief, he (*gasp choke sob*) nuzzles up against his limp body. That’s a brutal sight to behold, both for him and for us.

But perhaps the starkest thing that makes The Lion King’s death scene a particularly bleak one, and something that I had forgotten about from the original, is that Simba is immediately made to feel that his father’s death is his own fault. That is what felt most like a gut-punch to both Danielle and me this time around. Especially now that we’re parents.

A child losing a father is devastating enough, but a child who grows up thinking he’s personally responsible for his father’s death is a tragedy on top of a tragedy. I could sense Danielle’s discomfort as she shifted in her seat while this unfolded. We were both floored. And I’ll tell you what — that Scar is one evil dude.

Having said that, I do think that both iterations of The Lion King jump too quickly from the emotional carnage of the wildebeest stampede to the carefree credo of “Hakuna Matata” — a Swahili phrase which translates to “there are no troubles” — just 2 scenes later. I know it’s a kids’ movie, but if they’re going to show a father being killed, they need to do proper justice to the grieving son’s emotional aftermath before breezing right along to Timon and Pumbaa’s (admittedly memorable) goofballery.

I ardently support kids’ movies that help kids to feel bona fide emotions rather than just laugh at wacky shenanigans and fart jokes. That’s one of the biggest reasons why Pixar is high atop the animated game, including one movie that boldly and specifically addresses the need for kids, and their parents, to openly embrace their more difficult emotions.

So I see a great deal of value in the catharsis offered by The Lion King. It will help children who have lost a parent. And by depicting a child’s (cub’s) grief, however briefly, it will help all children to learn one of the most valuable traits of all — empathy.

But we’ll wait a solid decade before we give our little lion cubs that particular emotional jolt. After all, we want them to take their sweet time growing up as they explore the majestic, windswept savanna of central Pennsylvania.

Greyson and Violet will learn about Matata soon enough. Hakuna need to rush them into it.

That’s our problem-free philosophy. (At least for a few more years.)

Love and Other Unexpected Explosions

In late April 1980, Danielle St. John took up residence in her mother’s womb. Her parents lived in Pasco, an agricultural town in southern Washington. Pasco is part of the Tri-Cities area, which had a population boom 30 years earlier because of the nearby Hanford Site, a now-decommissioned nuclear production complex. This site is (in)famous for developing the plutonium that was used for the atomic bomb that the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki.

A few short weeks after tiny Danielle was added to the in-utero population of Pasco, on Sunday, May 18th, Mount St. Helens erupted a mere 200 miles away from where the St. John family lived. Three hours after the 8:32am eruption, volcanic ash covered her parents’ whole yard. Surprisingly enough, Danielle doesn’t recollect the blast — which her dad says was like a sonic boom — so I guess it must have happened while she was in the middle of a deep morning nap in the womb.

May 18, 1980. (USGS)

2,700 miles away, a 5-month-old baby boy in Pennsylvania was similarly oblivious to both seismic events. An eruption that forever sculpted the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, and a conception that forever sculpted the landscape of two human hearts. (Not to mention the as-yet-uncharted landscape of two tiny hearts yet to come.)

In the emotional continuum, true love is somewhere between a volcanic eruption and an atomic bomb.

And in the space-time continuum, my own true love was born right in the confluence of the two.

I will love pondering this fact as long as I live.