I wrote this piece for www.Stridepost.com, the online family organizer. Check them out and please enjoy.
You’ve heard the cliché, If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This is the story of how I joined ’em. And how we both won.
My husband and I got married in August 2001. After returning from our week-long honeymoon, the next three weeks were spent getting into a happy, harmonious rhythm. Weekdays, we went to work. Weekends, we went to church and enjoyed our couple time together.
On our fourth Sunday as husband and wife, we arrived home from church shortly after 12:00 noon. It was the first day of the NFL (professional football) season. Hubby turned the TV on. And he left it on. All day. The longer the TV was on, it seemed that the noises from the crowd, the excited shouting of the announcers, and the sharp blasts of the referees’ whistles got louder and louder. The TV stayed on until we went to bed that night. Blessed relief.
Monday morning, we both went to work and I was glad to turn that football horror into a distant memory. Until evening, when I was reminded that Monday Night Football was a thing. It didn’t take me too long to realize that my husband had another love. Her name: Football.
In hindsight, I can admit that this shouldn’t have surprised me. While he was in college, Hubby and his buddy created a fantasy football league. “Co-commissioners” they called themselves. It was the mid-1990s. These guys did fantasy football the old-fashioned way. When Hubby and his co-commissioner became roommates, their house had TWO land lines. One for regular home use, and one just for fantasy football. Every week, they’d update the league’s outgoing message with results (“Jeff’s team beat Jason’s, 121-108” and so on). Other participants in the league would hear the results and leave incoming messages (“Hey guys, I’m dropping the Cowboys defense this week and picking up the 49ers.”)
Knowing all of this, how did I go into marriage not realizing that football would dominate my Sundays for 3 months every year? Courtship. Stupid, blind courtship when your love is new, nothing is more interesting that your sweetheart, and the only place you go alone is the bathroom.
After a few consecutive weekends of football widowhood, I became resentful and started dreading Sundays. I complained. My husband, generally an easygoing guy, stood his ground. He was kind, but unapologetic. He assured me that he would never let football keep him away from important family events and obligations (a promise he has kept faithfully for 14 years). But it was clear that, whenever possible, autumn Sundays would be spent watching the games and checking scores. That’s how it was going to be.
I could have nagged. (I probably did.) I could have pouted and cried. (I definitely did.) I could have taken the passive-aggressive route, spending our money on Sunday afternoon shopping sprees to punish him. (I hope I didn’t.) But those techniques didn’t change his passion for football and they certainly didn’t make me feel good about myself. After all, the man loved me; he did (and still does) many things to please me. It was my turn to do the same for him.
I spent the last half of that first season entertaining myself on Sundays, even though I secretly thought football was a vapid, brutal time waster. Fantasy football ends a couple weeks before the regular season. Since the Lions didn’t make the playoffs, mid-December came and I felt like a prisoner getting a reprieve. Whew. We had made it.
The next year, as autumn approached, I was filled with dread. Meanwhile, Hubby enthusiastically agreed to join a second fantasy league, this one run by our brother-in-law. I privately rolled my eyes at their plan, but said nothing. Then, my sister-in-law called me.
“The guys need one more team for their league,” she said. “How about if you and I manage a team together?”
I knew nothing about football, fantasy or otherwise. Neither did my sister-in-law, but (a) she’s pretty fun and, (b) there was talk of draft night festivities, so I agreed.
Hubby gave me a few pre-draft pointers: Pick up running backs and wide receivers first. Taking a quarterback in the first round is for rookies, unless you’re one of the last people to draft and Peyton Manning is available. (This was over a decade ago.) Defenses are plentiful, so pick your defense toward the end of the draft. (Although I later learned that you “draft” or “sign” players – you don’t “pick” them – because you are a team “owner” and it’s not a child’s pickup game of kickball in the park. [Eye roll again.])
I don’t remember where our team finished in my first season as co-owner, but four positive things happened: (1) I gained a basic understanding of how fantasy football works, (2) I had something/someone to root for on game day, and therefore (3) I stopped dreading Sunday afternoons. Finally, (4) I got why it appealed to Hubby.
As I grew in my knowledge of fantasy football, I recalled something we had read during premarital counseling. The book was called Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts (Parrott & Parrott, 1995). I don’t have a copy in front of me – I eventually gave it to someone else who was dating and contemplating marriage – but the gist was that relationships flourish when partners share their hobbies. In our case, this was definitely true. (Which is why he now helps me troll for vintage Pyrex bowls when we visit secondhand stores.)
Over the next few years, Hubby and I had quite a few discussions about football. I eventually withdrew from my co-owner status in the family league and took a spot in the hard-core, formerly-of-the-two-phone-lines league. (Their technology had improved by then.) In the years that I “owned” a team (I still can’t write about it without using sarcastic quotes), I never finished in first place. Other than that, I couldn’t tell you whether I finished second or tenth. I honestly don’t remember and I never cared. I joined the fantasy league so that I would stop hating football and would stop resenting my husband. Mission accomplished.
At the zenith of his fantasy career, Hubby owned teams in three different leagues. I resigned team ownership several years ago. With two kids in our house and 14 years of marriage behind us, I now have plenty of other interests and activities to occupy my time. If I never saw another football game as long as I lived, I wouldn’t miss it. But you know what I would miss?
Sunday afternoons in the fall, snuggled under blankets with our plates of nachos, watching the Lions, and talking about his players’ matchups for the week. Groaning together in frustration as his benched quarterback racks up 40 points; gritting our teeth while his starter barely manages to eke out 20. High fiving when his running back rushes for over 100 yards, receiving the 3-point bonus. Most of all, I would miss seeing someone I love – someone who patiently carries the weight of my crazy and the antics of our children with gentle, unyielding strength – anticipate the coming of football season like a kid anticipates Christmas.
Your partner or child may be passionate about something you find mind-numbingly dull, but I encourage you to give it a try. You could end up loving it. You may never learn to love it the way they do, but there is satisfaction in sharing the experience so that you’ll REALLY understand. When they experience failure, you’ll be able to genuinely sympathize. And when they succeed, your joy will be exponentially greater.