Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch


Through fortuitous turns of events, my alma mater Cal will be playing my father's alma mater Syracuse in the men's NCAA tournament this evening, a.k.a March Madness. I haven't written about sports much here in recent years -- even less than the other stuff I haven't written much about -- but have continued to occupy myself that way as much as I ever did. Maybe even more, actually, since I spend so much time with my father, who usually has his television tuned to some game or other (and almost always has his television on, as is often the case with the mobility-challenged).

Amid all the tumult in my life this past decade, the painful realization of how tenuous what we care about really is, my fandom has provided a crucial sense of stability. That may sound silly to someone who has little interest in sports. And I freely acknowledge that there are plenty of other fine ways, some of them no doubt better, to ground oneself. But I suspect that a great deal of people -- men in particular, I'll hazard -- benefit from spectator sports the way I do.

At the very least, they provide an incentive to pay closer attention to what changes day to day. When I was a kid, my father would sometimes get out the letters his father sent him when he went away to college. My mother typically commented at how lacking in content many of them seemed, since little more than the weather was mentioned. I have come to see, though, that taking note of the weather is a way to measure change. And so is taking note of the "weather" in the sporting world.

I am fully aware of the major problems that spectator sports can be blamed for, including the ones that pertain to intercollegiate athletics. An awful lot of money gets directed towards a pursuit that provides only vicarious benefits to the vast majority of people. If those funds were redirected to social works, a much greater percentage of individuals could be directly helped by them. Or, failing that, if the arts received some of the attention that sports do, particularly the sort that ordinary citizens feel empowered to undertake themselves, the divide between performer and spectator could be broken down to a degree.

I see all that. Yet I also see that much of what makes sports meaningful to me and others I talk to isn't each to quantify for a cost-benefit analysis. My father and I talk all the time. For the most part, though, the conversations we have about subjects other than sports revolve around medical care and the tasks I do for him and my mother. Talking about sports provides us something to be interested in and excited about that is outside of the domain of immediate need and responsibility. It's a source of sustenance that partakes of fantasy, however circumscribed. And that's very important for us.

That's why this evening will be such a huge deal for us. Cal and Syracuse have almost never played during the regular season. And the odds of them meeting again in the Big Dance are slim indeed. Part of me wonders whether the experience can possibly live up to our anticipation of it. But the truth of the matter is that the anticipation has been more than enough. Even Skylar's mom, who never paid a great deal of attention to sports and who has pretty much tuned them out in recent years, busy as she is, recognized the significance of this evening's contest for my father and me. Could we be doing something else together that would enrich our lives more? Possibly. The odds of finding it at this stage of our lives, though, are remote. So I will be more than content with the boon that the lords of sport have provided us today.
Tags: autobiography, everyday, family, sports

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