Before people become parents, they’re liable to make lots of sweeping proclamations about the things they will and will not do when they have kids.
I’m only going to use cloth diapers.
I’m only going to feed them organic, whole food.
I’m only going to get them toys that are educational.
I’m going to strictly limit their screen time.
These statements are usually well-intentioned, but infused with a sense of happy naivete that quickly crumples when they get wrapped around the telephone pole of reality. We realize that cloth diapers are horrible to clean, dinosaur chicken nuggets and Kroger’s 3-minute microwave cheese pizzas can save a lot of screaming at dinnertime, educational toys aren’t fun or educational, and screen time is awesome.
I made a lot of these proclamations a few years back, and on nearly all of them, I ate crow. There was one, though, that I really thought I’d be able to hold out on.
I’m not going to make my kids root for my stupid teams.
This seemed like it would be easy. You see, I’m a fan of Cleveland’s professional sports teams, by merit of growing up in the Cleveland area. These teams that I love, they’ve given me a tremendous amount of heartache, frustration, disappointment and distemper over my nearly four decades of life, and very little satisfaction to balance it out. One of my earliest sporting memories is The Fumble, and that’s just one from a long list of proper-name horrors they’ve inflicted upon me and people who share this unfortunate predilection.
It wouldn’t be fair to inflict this on another generation. I’ve had actual philosophical debates with fellow Cleveland-fan friends about whether it would be ethical to pass on such an accursed association, as though we were debating a genetic predisposition to a fatal disease. There’s no justification for knowingly inflicting this perennial frustration on an unsuspecting youth. On top of that, it should be incredibly easy for me not to pass it on, simply because we don’t live in Cleveland.
So I held out.
Until this year.
The Cleveland Browns have had a remarkable turnaround this season, making the playoffs for the first time in 18 years and winning a playoff game for the first time in 27 years and, well… it withered my resolve. I’ve loved and hated this team in equal measure for most of my life, but for the first time in ages, I was excited about them, and that excitement quickly rubbed off on my kids.
For yesterday’s Divisional Playoff game against Kansas City, my 5-year-old son decided that he was going to watch along with me. (My 4-year-old daughter swore she was excited to, and then ended up watching Aladdin in another room while wearing a Browns sweatshirt. She’s a quick study, and she’ll do well in life.)
There was a lot of explaining.
Who are we rooting for this week?
The Browns. The orange and white team.
I thought they were brown.
Well, yeah, but today they’re wearing orange and white.
What about the Bearcats?
That’s college football… it’s, uh, a different kind of football. This is different. These men get paid.
Oh. So what’s happening?
Well, we need to stop the red team, and—um, okay, they just scored.
No, not yet. There’s still like three hours of this left.
We just don’t want that to happen again.
Should we do a cheer?
Sure, let’s do a cheer.
What’s the Cleveland Browns cheer?
We mostly just woof like dogs. Do you want to make up a cheer?
Yeah! Whooooooooooaaaaa Cleveland Cleveland Cleveland GO BROWNS.
That’s very good. I like it. Hey, look, we scored!
But they have six and we only have three.
Well, three is more than zero, isn’t it?
Yeah. But we need more.
Yes. Yes we do.
What’s the yellow thing on the TV mean?
Well, that’s a penalty flag. That means that one of the players did something wrong, and one of the teachers threw a yellow flag. See, okay, that guy scored—that was good! But then he mocked the other team a little too much. He acted like he was taking a nap in the endzone and used the football as a pillow. You’re not supposed to do that.
But that’s funny.
Yes, it’s very funny. That’s why you’re not allowed to do it.
Like when I—
The glacially slow pace of play in NFL games doesn’t exactly suit the attention span of a young child, so he drifted in and out, occasionally working on Legos and disappearing for snacks. But he kept coming back to check on the score, and on me.
They have 22 and we only have 10?
No, look, we just scored.
So we have eleven?
No, you get six points when you score.
No, just some of the time.
The Browns rallied to turn a first half blowout-in-the-making into a competitive game in the second half, and opened up an actual window of tantalizing possibility in the fourth quarter, drawing within striking distance when Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes exited the game with a concussion, putting the game in the hands of backup Chad Henne.
A younger fan, less scarred by decades of creatively traumatic losses, might be filled with hope at the possibility of a storybook comeback. As a more experienced fan, I knew the sword of heartbreak hung right over us, but I drew his attention back to the game.
Hey, look. We have a shot here. We just need to stop the red team one more time, and then we’ll get the ball back and have a chance to win.
Yay! Let’s do another cheer! C! [he bends his body into a C] L! [he continues to contort on each letter] E! What comes after E?
V. Hold on, look, here it is—
Of course, Chad Henne, a washed-up backup who hadn’t started a meaningful game for the better part of a decade, scrapped for a critical first down that sealed Kansas City’s victory and spelled the end of the Browns’ season. It wasn’t necessarily a surprising loss, considering it came against the defending champions on their field, but it still stung, knowing that the Browns came within a few key plays and questionable decisions from advancing to the conference title game. I felt that feeling welling up again; I felt bad for introducing him to this world, one that doesn’t always have the storybook endings like the movies we watch together do.
I started to think of an explanation, about how things don’t always work out like we plan, and how there’s always next season, and—
Daddy, it’s okay that our team lost. I liked watching with you.
Thanks, buddy. I liked watching with you too.
Maybe someday we’ll get to watch the Browns win a Super Bowl together. Maybe they’ll backslide and we’ll suffer through another fallow decade of high draft picks and coaching changes. I hope it’s the former, but suddenly it feels less dire, like it’s not all about the wins and losses but about having something we can share. I’m glad we got to watch something together, and if he thinks it’s okay, then maybe it is.
We should work on the cheers, though.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
Hey! Are you a full subscriber to The Action Cookbook Newsletter? You should be! Get three newsletters a week, including the food-drink-and-more Friday emails, for only $5/a month!