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SANDY BANKS / Life As We Live It

Out of Touch With a Life Now Gone

January 23, 1998|SANDY BANKS

At first glance, I was stumped by the scene.

In an empty lot alongside a busy intersection, a knot of men were gathered around a long table, pawing through piles of what looked like huge, bright yellow, triangular bricks.

It wasn't until I drew closer and saw T-shirts hanging from the table and men with wedges of cheese on their heads that I realized the odd display must somehow be related to sports.

Cheese . . . Wisconsin. That could only be the Green Bay Packers. And that's football. Which means . . . the Super Bowl must be coming up.

And I realized with a start how thoroughly, pitifully out of touch I now am with something that once was a staple of my life.

It used to be I could mark the passage of time by the seasons and status of grown men's play.

If college basketball was down to the Final Four, it must be time to start planning the garden. Super Bowl meant get those Christmas lights down. And there was that window of opportunity--the one month in summer between the end of the NBA playoffs and the beginning of preseason in the NFL--when I could plan a family vacation that did not require a portable TV and daily fixes of sports section reviews.

We were a family then that revolved around sports. I chafed at the restraints that placed on our lives--the preoccupation with yards rushed and free throws made, the passion wasted on mere games, the sound of Chick Hearn's voice as I fell asleep.

It's funny those things you miss when they're gone.

*

I knew what I was getting when I married him--a former high school all-star, a used-to-be jock so enamored of the sporting life that our social lives depended upon which teams were playing what sport when.

Football and basketball were his favorite sports and ESPN his ticket to nirvana. So we ate in front of the television most nights, and learned to program the VCR. We could go out only if we taped the games he'd miss, and God help anyone who tipped him to the score.

Still, I didn't much mind. There are worse vices, after all, and I'd been a sports fan all my life. My first newspaper job was as a sportswriter, and I liked spending weeknights at basketball games and Sundays curled up on the couch watching NFL play.

It was a bit unnerving to hear the "click, click" of the remote control as he scanned the channels for basketball games . . . while he was supposed to be timing my labor contractions. But he managed to handle both fatherhood and sports fanaticism with aplomb.

When the kids came along, he wove them into his sports routine. He could dress a Barbie doll, fold laundry and diaper a squirming baby, all while a toddler climbed on his head. And never miss a play of the game on TV.

As I had, the kids grew accustomed to him sprawled on the floor watching TV, shouting out advice to the players and bemoaning their mistakes on the field.

And when he died four years ago and we had to dispose of his cremated remains, the image of Daddy as sports fan prevailed.

You put the ashes somewhere he loved, I explained to our three young girls. And the 5-year-old made an easy call: "On top of the TV. Because Daddy loved watching basketball."

*

It seemed strange those first couple of years--no more whoops of excitement from the TV room or copies of Street & Smith's on the bathroom floor.

But gradually we evolved into a different kind of family, with a new identity that did not include spectator sports. The girls and I all played the games--on school teams, for park leagues, with our neighbors and friends--but we did not watch them on TV.

And we grew immune to the sports fan routine, so removed from it all that weeks of Super Bowl hoopla failed to register on our radar screens.

How, I wondered this week, could the biggest sporting event of the year sneak up on me? And what does it mean that my 9-year-old daughter--stymied by the connection between football and cheese--could wonder out loud "What's the Super Bowl?"

I'm raising girls, it seems, who are doomed to be outsiders, to grow up unfamiliar with a cultural phenomenon that ties men together and unites their mothers, wives and daughters in good-natured reproach.

Now what once seemed like freedom--the glory of being untethered from the television set--feels more like a loss, like one more burden bequeathed to fatherless girls.

And I wonder if my girls don't envy their friends, who complain that their dads monopolize the TV and bury their heads in the sports section at meals. I know I sometimes envy those girls' mothers, who may think of themselves as "football widows," but get to sleep next to their sports fan at night.

*

* Sandy Banks' column is published Mondays and Fridays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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