There comes a time in everyone's life when some jerk comes along and pegs your bullshit meter. For Toby it came this week during a football game.
Toby has always been my laid back kid. For years I have tried to get him amped up for football games by playing an array of intense, in your face, shatter your skull music. Metallica, Disturbed, SOAD --- just about anything I could think of to get Toby into the rabid state I felt he needed to be in to play this game of legalized brutality.
......and it never worked.
Toby would switch over to Bob Marley and be bop around the house with the contented look of a Zen master. All is right with the world, brother...
I just couldn't understand how a kid as laid back as Toby could possibly get anything out of football. I've seen him make tackles and come up smiling. I've seen him get trucked by a bruising fullback just to get up and jog back to the huddle as if nothing had ever happened.
"Don't worry.....about a thing. Cause every little thing ---- gonna be alright."
Having never played football I had always been told that it's a game of controlled rage. That you have to approach every game as if you are going into battle.
Toby acted as if he was going to the beach.
I asked him once what it is that he liked about football.
"Defense. I like hitting people."
Really? I was really confused now. Is it possible to be a happy barbarian? Can you really bludgeon someone with a smile on your face?
"Toby, I don't get it. Don't you ever get fired up and angry? Don't you just want to go out there and rip someone's head off?"
Toby shrugged nonchalantly and said, "Nah, that's just not who I am."
That was before this year......
This year, his freshman year in high school, I've notice some subtle, and not so subtle, changes in Toby. The higher dose of testosterone surging through his body has brought along a growth spurt, pimples, and a wider range of emotions. He can go from laughing to surly to laid back to pissed off -- sometimes all in one day. It's not something I am accustomed to seeing. I'm used to Toby being so quiet that I have to occasionally check on him just to see if he's alright.
But, despite this new range of emotions that his family members are trying to adjust to, Toby is still the mellowest one in our little group. He's like a suddenly enlightened Spock, an emotionally constipated Vulcan who is now beginning to experience the wide range of feelings that an irrational human being can feel.
The first time I saw Toby get mad I thought, "Wait, who in the hell is this kid?"
The good thing is anger for Toby is very rare. All in all, life is good in my fourteen year old son's world.
Then I went to watch him play and saw something out of him that I had never seen before....
I won't mention the school, but let's just say that I am not a big fan of them. The three years that Toby's team has played them, two had been nothing but one long game of cheap shots. The one game that wasn't was when we were the home team and it was actually a good game.
The two years we were the visitors we blew them out and by the halfway point of the second quarter things would start to get chippy.
Toby had never played against a dirty team before. The first time he got blindsided after the whistle he mentioned it after the game but, in typical Toby fashion, he smiled and went on with his life.
This year was different.
I watched as Toby fire out of the slot and drove his hands into the cornerback's chest, driving him back about five yards. The cornerback responded by grabbing Toby's face mask and throwing him to the ground.
Next play ---- Toby went after the corner again and this time the corner wasted no time in sticking his hand inside Toby's helmet, grabbing his mask, and throwing him to the ground again.
Toby went back to the huddle.
The third time it happened (all consecutively) Toby fired off the ground and got nose to nose with the kid. The corner raised his hands as if to say "What?"
Toby came off the field and from the stands I could see how pissed he was. He was very animated when he talked to his teammates about how this corner was playing him. The happy-go-lucky kid had disappeared.
Toby went out the next series and lined up in the slot with his new friend lined up across from him. As soon as the ball was snapped Toby fired off the line, went straight at the corner, and punched him in the groin.
My first thought was, "Son, you are going to get your ass kicked out of this game."
But apparently the referee had left his glasses in the car. He never flagged Toby -- just like he didn't flag the corner for throwing Toby down by his face mask. And he didn't flag the corner after he blindsided Toby after the whistle blew. It was almost as if these two kids didn't even exist.
Toby must have landed a good shot because the kid never bothered him after that -- although one of his teammates stomped on Toby's foot. (I missed that one. Toby told me about it after the game.)
The next day I talked to my brother, Tony, about it.
"Oh yeah," said Tony, "That kind shit happens all the time. I always hated being in a pile because some jackass would either pinch your legs or grab your nuts. There's a lot that goes on that the referee's don't see."
While such lowbrow tactics may be just part of the game for some, I don't want my kid playing that way. I would like to think that he's above such nonsense.
That being said, I get it -- there is only so much crap a person can endure before he feels that he needs to take matters into his own hands.
So I told Toby, "You did a good job blocking that kid. You know how I know that?"
"Because you had him so riled up that he spent his time focused on you and not the ball. You basically took him out of the game. You did your job and you should be proud of that."
Then I encouraged him to not let people like that get the best of him.
"The referee wasn't calling it," said Toby, "I had to do something. I wasn't about to let him do that to me the whole game."
I remember showing Toby youtube videos of Dick Butkus and told him that the growling maniac anchoring the middle of the Chicago defense was the very definition of a football player. This is the kind of attitude and ferocity that you need to bring to each and every game.
But, after watching Toby fist a kid's testicles into his lungs, I'm not so sure anymore. The round faced, happy child has given way to an enraged berserker. This is just not the Toby that I'm used to seeing.
So maybe we can compromise. Conan + Marley = Carley? Um.....No. I'll work on that.
"Conan, what is best in life?"
"To crush your enemies, see them flee before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women. (addendum) --- And to do it with a smile on your face." :)
"Stir it up.....Little darlin' stir it up......."