A Wrestler's Dad by David W Miller
A Wrestler’s Dad
Many years ago the young boy came home, handing his dad an athletic consent form. The dad asked the boy what sport he wanted to play. The boy replied, “a wrestler”. The dad looked down at the boy, he could not weigh 100 pounds, his shoulders, waist and chest were a straight line. A wrestler, the dad thought, why not, this will last no longer than his earlier goal to be a basketball player at UNLV. The boy also said he needed “wrestling shoes”, the dad wondered why his regular tennis shoes would not work, after all this was not going to be a long term commitment.
Soon it was time for the first meet. The boy was not on the “regular” team, he was a “back up”. But the dad went to watch. After the team wrestled the dad observed the boy talking to the coach and glancing nervously into the stands. The boy wanted the chance to be seen wrestling. The coach relented and let him wrestle an “exhibition” match. So it was, meet after meet.
Then one meet the boy ran up to the dad saying the regular wrestler in his weight was sick, and he would wrestle “varsity” (middle school that is). As the weight classes were called the dad began to feel a churning in his stomach, and his hands began to sweat. When it was his son’s time, the dad pulled to the edge of his seat. The boy walked to the center of the mat. The boy’s singlet hung on him, two sizes too large, and his ill ease was obvious from his face. The referee blew the whistle and dropped his hand, the two would be grapplers lunged at each other. The referee signaled point s which the dad did not understand, but for the score board. The match ended and by some miracle the boy won, and as his hand was raised he looked up at the dad and beamed to say “see I can do this”. The dad beamed too.
The meets went by and the boy reverted to wrestling exhibitions, including wrestling his own team mates. Anything to be on the mat and let his dad know “I can do this”.
High School came and the boy’s persistence waned. He lost far more matches than he won. The coach called to say the boy wanted to quit. The coach offered great advice saying, he had seen many wrestlers quit who later told him they regretted the decision. He had never had a wrestler quit who later said it was the right decision. The boy listened, and decided to stay. The 9th grade team was the best he could do, junior varsity was too hard and anything beyond that impossible.
The season ended and the boy decided to join “freestyle”. So the dad became the driver, and every weekend, from one end of the state to the other, the dad took the boy and his buddies to meets. The boy had no idea how to score, and the dad sure didn’t. The boy kept losing. A mother of another wrestler suggested, set a goal- win one match. The boy agreed- set the goal and won one match. Then something happened. The last meet of freestyle season it all seemed to come together. The boy won match after match, finishing second and getting a medal. The boy could hardly get his head through the door, had the dad not gone first.
Ninth grade passed to tenth, and one day the boy came home ready to explode- he had made the varsity team. No longer did he have to wear the plain singlet, he had one with the school’s name and logo on it. The dad was very proud.
The boy and his dad went through the next 3 years spending every Saturday from November to April at school meets or freestyle. The dad became a wrestling junkie, he had to be at every meet and watch every match. Before the boy could drive, the dad was up at 6:00 a.m. each morning to get him to weight lifting and packing his lunch of bananas and tuna to control weight. On nights before meets the boy slept well, the dad did not.
Effort was rewarded. The boy did well, better than the coach or dad ever imagined. The boy’s room became filled with bracket boards, trophies, medals, ribbons and plaques. The boy became the veteran, with the younger wrestlers asking his advice and wanting his coaching. He earned a letter jacket that was his proudest possession.
Then came the day the dad had long dreaded. The senior year, the final meet, the last match. Wrestling, and this wrestler, had become the dad’s main interest, a passion. The dad did not want it to end. The dad took his usual place in the stands. As the weight classes were called, that feeling which had followed the dad for 6 years and over hundred’s of matches returned, his stomach began to churn, his hands sweat, and he pulled to the edge of the seat.
The announcer called the son’s weight, and to the middle of the mat walked a young man. His singlet fit as though it were custom made, his arms, shoulders and neck showed the results of weeks, months and years in the weight room. His ears reflected the rough treatment a wrestler too proud to wear his head gear at practice endures. The faint hint of a fresh shave darkened his face. Where had the boy gone, and how did this happen so quickly. Before the dad could come to terms with what he saw and felt, the whistle blew and the match began. The young man, now skilled at his trade, worked through the take downs, head locks, under hooks and throws. Six minutes later the match ended, the referee raised the hand. The dad stood and cheered. It did not matter which wrestler won, it was the effort, dedication and love of the sport that triumphed. As always, the young man looked up into the stands and with every muscle in his body announced “See I can do this”.
That night as I walked from the gym I was very sad, but I thought how very lucky I am to be a wrestler’s dad. I also thought, if I continue to be lucky, someday my son will also be a wrestler’s dad and we get to do it all again.
P.S. A few weeks later the young man announced he was going to continue wrestling , in college. The son had goals to achieve, and he loved the time on the mat and with his brother wrestlers- it made him feel alive. So the dad got four more years of wrestling, this time travels were further, the meets more intense, but the familiar churning of the stomach, sweating of the hands and pulling forward-now at the edge of the mat- continued. Somewhere along the way the dad realized the journey was not about wins or loses, it was about the bond wrestling creates between the dad, the son, the fellow wrestlers and their parents- the “roadies” as they were known. All become very close, very much a family. Each match was a gift of time, together. Yes, there was another dreaded senior year, last meet and final match. But this time the young man walked across the mat, wrapped his arms around his dad, hugged as only a wrestler can, and said “thanks dad for being with me all these years”. They both cried, wrestlers and their dads do cry. And, as for wrestling shoes, the dad has a trunk full of them, each carefully saved and holding the best memories of a bond so close and a life well spent.