Here's the thing about old man strength. Nobody knows how it's created. Does it come from a father's unwillingness to yield to his son or is it caused by a son buckling under the pressure created from an intense desire to surpass his dad?
I could make sound arguments for either source. When I have a son, there's no fucking way I'm going to let him beat me at anything. He's going to be wearing diapers and I'm going to lower the goal to 8 feet, dunk on him and pound my chest. Just so he knows where he came from. If we're tossing a baseball in the backyard, every 5th throw he's getting the stinky cheese. Even if his hat is so big on him that' it's blocking his vision. I'm going to throw his shit on the hardwood (or more likely driveway). I'm going to block his shot so fucking hard the garage door dents when his ill-fated shot bounces off of it. He will know who's the Master.
As a son, I've come so close to pocketing the 8-ball to beat my dad in pool or bowling the spare on the last frame only to fold under the pressure. Over Thanksgiving a few years back, I was kicking my dad's ass so bad in racquetball he starting hitting the ball so that it hit me square in the back. He did this at least 3 times. Have you ever been hit by a racquetball? Hurts like a paintball. He says it wasn't intentional, but I have my doubts. The message was clear. Time after time, sport after sport, I buckle under the pressure, grasping defeat from the jaws of victory.
But there has to be a ceiling right? I mean, Old Man Strength can't last forever. Right? At some point, senility has to set in. But it hasn't yet for my dad. And I was reminded of that on a fateful night a few years back. But before I get to the story, here's some info about my old man...
My dad's in his early 50's. He looks like he's in his early 40's. Taking after me, he's a good-looking guy . He's not in bad shape, nor is he a terrible athlete, but Father Time is starting to catch up to him.
At full sprint, his stride measures approximately 18 inches in length. He scoots more than he runs. His legs, though reasonably defined, have the girth of pixie sticks. Back in his prime, he was a decent athlete. In fact, he was such a specimen in high school that when he tried out for running back, the coaches conferred, and sure enough, they'd found their center. Yep, not even having his older brother (my uncle) as one of his coaches could keep him off the offensive line. That's my Pops.
To my dad's credit, he's still the only person I've ever known who can do a Chinese pushup. If you have to ask what it is, you can't do it.
He could do one right now. Crazy shit.
Thankfully, he passed the family speed down to me. I showed up to practice at middle school having never played organized football.
What position do you play Jay?
What position do you want to play?
Probably running back. Or receiver. Maybe quarterback.
The coaches were so impressed as I sliced and diced through cone drill after cone drill that they agreed unanimously. They'd found their center too. Thanks, Pops.
So here's the story. About 3 years ago a group of friends and our girlfriends and their friends and whoever wanted to join got together for a few weekends in the summer for some pickup games of coed softball. The competition was far from intense, but we weren't just fucking around either. One of the guys was the athletic director for a private Jewish school in town named after a dude named after a strictly male appendage (hint: think hot dog). It was awesome. We'd turn the lights on just for us, load up a cooler full of Smirnoff Ice and pound them down while pounding underhanded softballs all over the field.
We'd been playing for a couple of consecutive weekends when we were short players. Not wanting to end the streak, we searched frantically through our Zach Morris phones trying to round up a few more troops. I exhausted my cell phone directory before thinking...hey...didn't my dad play for his company softball team a few years ago? Wait. That was like 8 years ago. Shit. I wonder if he's any good. Don't want him to embarass himself. I wonder if he'd want to play. I don't know. Hmmm...yeah...ask him. Yeah...I'm going to ask him. I think I'll ask him. I'm going to ask him. Yeah.
Hey Pops...we need another player for softball. You want to play?
Shit. I don't know. I haven't played in years. Besides, I don't want to show anybody up out there.
Ha. Good one, Pops. Seriously. We're short guys. C'mon. It'll be fun.*
*This takes me to a quick tangent. Kids are mean as hell. Every guy reading this, take a quick moment to reflect on your childhood and your pickup sports games. How fucked up was it that there was always one kid in the neighborhood who didn't even know about the game unless you needed another player? And if you needed one more, you recruited him like he was the fucking MVP.
Yeah Timmy. C'mon Timmy. We need your hands out there. We gotta add more speed.
If you can't think of the kid I'm talking about, I hate to be the one to break it to you...but you were that kid.
I'm not saying my dad was Timmy, but you get the point.
After a little coercion, my dad agreed to play and we hit the diamond. I'm watching him closely as we kind of fart around and he doesn't look too impressive. Not embarassing, but not some 20 year old Domican pretending to be 16 either.
We pick teams, and my dad is of course the last person picked. And as such hits lowest in the order. We end up on opposite teams. My squad hits first. We slap a couple of hits around, plate a couple of runs in the first. A standard start to a coed softball game.
My dad's team manages to retire the side. When his team hits we can't get anyone out. Everyone is slapping the ball for singles. We're misplaying grounders. Overthrowing first base. Just bungling easy defensive plays. I realized shortly thereafter that all these miscues were merely setting the stage...
Bases juiced. My dad's turn to bat finally comes. He looks a little awkward stepping into the batter's box. Drama can't escape my dad on this night. Thoughts are flowing through my head...
C'mon pops. Just slap a single or something. Just don't strike out.
The first pitch flutters to home plate and my dad watches it thud on the ground for ball 1.
Oh fuck. C'mon pops. Don't take pitches like a little bitch. That's bush league shit. Swing dammit.
The second pitch flutters to the plate...
My dad makes contact on the second pitch and absolutely fucking drills the ball. It's a no-doubt moonshot...
My jaw dropped as the old man scooted round the bases, 18 inches at a time.
It was a helluva a swing. But not quite mighty enough to shake off the skeptics. You could feel the sense of lucky ol' bastard in the air.
We finally retire the side and score a few in the next inning to make it a game again.
Then we get a couple of outs in the next inning with minimal damage before another barrage of singles. Up comes my dad again. Bases juiced...
I use whack instead of smack to describe this one because the sound was definitely different. The first one was a moonshot. This one was a majestic blast that soared like a bald fucking eagle over the Alaskan wilderness...with the Northern Lights as a backdrop.
Before the night was over, my dad would crack two more homers. And I have to say. I was pretty impressed. And damn proud. He definitely didn't embarass himself.
The following week we didn't need players because we've found one. From that point forward he was the first player picked. How's that for vindication?
Maybe your old man has Old Man Strength over you until you become the old man. Maybe it's passed on from generation to generation.
Here's to hoping it doesn't skip mine.
If you have 5 minutes to spare and you want a watch a slightly...and only slightly...dramatized version of what happened that night, click here.