We are always in transition. It’s the nature of the game, but we don’t always realize it. Sure, we get the graduations and marriages and all of those big days, but lots of life changing moments pass us by without fanfare, only recognizable in hindsight. For most folks, you don’t know when it happen and that’s, mostly, a good thing. As a kid, how long would you hold on if you knew it was the last time your mom was going to pick you up? How tight would you hold your own child if you realized how soon they were going to grow too large for you to carry them in from the car. We wouldn’t be able to function. How would you ever be able to say goodbye and walk away if you knew that this was the last cup of coffee you were ever going to share with a friend? Sometimes, we are blessed by ignorance. We know that all of those things are going to happen, eventually, but that’s off in the future and nothing to worry about today. So, with a nod toward those little moments, the firsts and the lasts that sweep us by, won’t you please join me now as we stand and make The Patriot.
I have had rites of passage on my mind all day as summer draws to a close, schools reopen and young men hit the football field to seek their moment of glory under those Friday night lights, or in our case, Tuesday night lights. Yep, it’s football time again and that has me looking for a cocktail to make with even the most tenuous connection and relevance. I found it in this drink created by Johny Sweet at Lillie’s Victorian Establishment in New York City as a specialty drink for New England Patriots fans to enjoy during Super Bowl 51. I know a lot of folks don’t give much credence to these one-off drinks made for a party, but they are often decent riffs on classics and some even go on to become classic themselves. The Rob Roy was originally created to promote the Broadway play of the same name for their opening night party and things seem to have worked out way better for the beverage than the show. This particular party drink is a riff on the Old-Fashioned, subbing in some traditional ingredients of New England.
Grab your mixing pitcher and pop in 2 ounces of rye whiskey, I chose James E. Pepper 1776 100 Proof; 1 ounce of cranberry juice, 1/2 an ounce of maple syrup and 3 stabs of Angostura Bitters. Add some artisanal ice and stir to the beat of Kenny Chesney’s “Boys of Fall“. Give it a good stir to make sure it is well chilled and diluted before straining into a rocks glass over a king cube. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and serve.
That’s lovely. Actually, a little sweet for my tastes, but that is probably my fault for choosing a bottled cranberry juice. It says it has no sugar added, but it is sweeter than I expected. When paired with that maple syrup it’s just a bit too much for me. That’s my mistake though and there is a lesson here. Whether you are cooking or making drinks or building a life, if you can, sample your ingredients before adding them to the mix. If I’d bothered, I could have cut the maple back a bit to compensate for my ordinary shoes. Still, this is a nice drink and my wife loved the sweetness, so I guess it still takes different strokes to move the world.
Last night was the first game of the season for my son. He had to make some decisions and that can be tough for any of us, but especially for a young fella. He’s going in to middle school this year, so he had the option to try out for the school team or to continue to play in the youth league where he has been since kindergarten. That may not seem like much, but it’s the difference between being one of the biggest players with the most experience on the team or starting back at the bottom of the hill. I did not think about it at the time, but it also meant that if he moved up, I would not be coaching. It’s a small school and he worked hard, so he made the team as a sixth grader. We discussed swapping back to the other league several times but he decided to stick it out and play with the bigger boys, even though that would mean less time as a starter and more time as a tackling dummy. So last night he hit that field he has played on his whole life representing his school as a Liberty Patriot.
I knew there were going to be changes. New league, new coach and a new number for the first time since kindergarten. Those things were expected. What I did not expect were the emotions. I drove him to the field like usual and dropped him off. Since I am not coaching this year, I volunteered to help with the chains, but they decided my talents could be better used elsewhere, so I made my way to the press box to get ready for my new gig as the woefully unqualified “Voice of the Patriots”. I was nervous and wanted to do a good job, so I busied myself testing equipment, double-checking everything, you know the usual. I was so distracted with my own worries that I sort of forgot why I was there; until I walked outside and saw the boys coming out of the field house.
I say boys, but they looked so much older than that making their way out onto the field for warmups. I did not recognize him at first, it was a new number, a new uniform and everyone was wearing white socks. That was when it hit me, like the proverbial ton of bricks. Since he began playing I have only missed a handful of games, always because I had to be out of town for work. Hell, I have barely missed any practices over those years, much less games. For each one of those games we had eaten breakfast together before I helped him get into his uniform. When we got to the field, I helped him with his pads and jersey, handed him his helmet and patted his head to make sure it was on tight before sending him out there. Doesn’t seem like much, but standing there looking out across that field, I teared up. For the first time, I was there, but he had gotten ready without me. He was taking the field without one last good luck pat from Dad. That’s when I realized we had crossed another of those transitions.
For all these years, I had been his squire, fitting his armor and making sure he was ready to go into battle. I had done that for the last time and never even realized it. If he keeps playing, chances are, we won’t have that moment again. That’s good. It is the nature of things. We grow and learn to walk for ourselves. There is that moment of pride, when they take those first steps, but it is tempered with pain when they let go of your hand because they can do it on their own now. Like I said, you usually don’t realize when those moments come. I am glad that he did not notice. He just went into the locker room and got ready for his first game in this new chapter. I am proud of him for who he is, who he is going to be and I am proud of his mom and I for getting to this point, but there is a part of me that can’t help but grieve as the little boy fades and the young man emerges.
I know that this is just one of many changes to come. We have had so many of these moments already and I recognize that they are just going to keep coming faster and faster as we work through the teen years into adulthood. Each step a terrifying leap into the unknown, hoping that we have done enough to prepare him for what lies ahead. I knew this was coming when I held him for the first time. I just somehow thought we would have longer before we got here. So smiling through tears I watched him on the field and off as I did my best to get all the names right and not let the waver in my voice the too obvious. The boys played well and jumped out to a big lead, so I should not have been surprised to see the sixth graders roll into the lineup, but it hit me again to see him out there, mixing it up with the big boys. When it was over, we waited outside the field house with the other parents, waiting for our boys. When he came bounding down those steps, he was all little kid goofiness as he ran to give me a sweaty hug and ask if I had seen him play and his two tackles. Looking down into his eyes, I could see that five year old dressed for his first game of flag football. I could also I can see that man, yet to come. “Yeah, son. I saw them”…and so much more. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.