When I was growing up, parents sometimes said things that didn’t make much sense. Maybe they figured that if we weren’t going to listen to them, why should they pay all that much attention to what they were saying?

"No playing tackle football without pads.”   

My father looked at me — a fully-grown 12-year-old — and looked for any small sign that his words had registered. I nodded.

“Do you understand me? NO tackle football without pads. Period.”

My father frequently repeated things to me when I was growing up. And I think he might have dismissed me on occasion with such old lines as, “If you break a leg, don’t come running ...” Well, you know the drill.

When I was growing up, parents sometimes said things that didn’t make much sense. Maybe they figured that if we weren’t going to listen to them, why should they pay all that much attention to what they were saying?

BEING OBEDIENT

So, since my dad said it was the “end of discussion,” I went outside, walked up the street and played tackle football with the neighborhood kids.

Oh, I didn’t disobey right away. I stood around with them and kicked at the dirt for awhile. Some of us threw a football until we had enough players for a game. Then, I played tackle football. There wasn’t a pad in sight.

In my defense ... wait, I have no defense. It’s been nearly 50 years, and I still haven’t come up with a defense.

Still, it wasn’t supposed to be a tackle football game. I even told the guys, because most of my life I’ve been sort of an idiot, that, “My father said I can’t play tackle football.” And they agreed that, “because Gary is a wimp,” we would play touch football.

We touched pretty hard, pretty fast.

In fact, it wasn’t long before a guy couldn’t tell where the touching stopped and the tackling began. We were tackling and then touching each other as we got up.

Personally, it hadn’t dawned on me that I was doing anything wrong.

Then, toward the end of the game — it WAS the end for me — I got touched twice at the same time. I caught a pass and one friend touched me in my chest and another friend tackled me — he wasn’t even making a distinction anymore — in my lower back.

A guy learns lessons as he walks through life, and sometimes even while he’s lying through it on the ground. This was sort of a physiology lesson. You know how you can bend forward at the waist? You can’t bend backward so well. It was pretty plain to me. If there had been a pop quiz on bending the next day in class, I would have aced it.

Somebody else might have had to write the answer for me though. I was having a little problem moving.

THE AFTERMATH

“Is he OK?,” I heard as I stayed deadly still on the grass. It hurt too much to writhe in pain.

“Should we drag him off the field so we can finish the game? It’s gonna get dark.”

“His dad’s going to be really mad ...”

That made me stand up. It might have been a miracle. But, I don’t think I was standing straight enough to prove any kind of true cure. All it showed was that I really did know right from wrong, after all. That was the problem, it was after it all.

My older brother helped me home, and I think he was getting ready to squeal on me until it dawned on him that he was playing tackle football, too.

“It was only touch,” he told our parents, mumbling, “sort of.”

My mother, the healer, ran for a hot-water bottle. I don’t think my dad bought the story, but he let it go with a shake of his head, then went to the dinner table.

When mom got me seated in my spot at the table, the heat from the water bottle, or her bean soup, already soothing my spine, dad glanced in my direction and shook his head again.

As I said, my dad repeated things a lot. I think that’s why I remember them so well now.

At 60, is it too late to believe I’m obeying him by not playing any tackle football at all anymore?

Contact Gary Brown at gary.brown@cantonrep.com.