I'm not a soccer fan. In fact, I make fun of friends who worship the sport because it is just so easy to do. They set themselves up for it because they are always hollering about how their game is awesome and everyone who hates it can kiss their asses. I also happen to like teasing hipsters. What can you do?
It is not that I hate the actual game. I probably could get into it, but I just have too many options on my TV already. I get the Bills, the Sabres, the NBA, MLB sometimes, WWE, True Blood, Game of Thrones, Mad Men and so much more. I just don't have time for another thing.
One of the main reasons I think soccer is so popular in Europe is because there seems to be way more sporting options here than across the Atlantic. If that's an arrogant perception, so be it. But I don't think the Italians in Northern Italy give a crap about the NFL.
However, there are some things I do follow about the sport, enough to give me something to talk about with a certain person I have affection for. It is kind of like when you meet a girl you like or a boss you have to kiss up to. You find something they enjoy that you can talk about just enough to strike up a conversation. "Hey! I watched Glee and how about them, um, singers?"
That's where my father comes in.
My dad is 67 and he's from Sicily. His English is about as broken as the officiating in the Premier League and my Italian is worse than his English. In other words, real communication is scarce. One of my biggest regrets about growing up is that I never tried picking up Italian. I can't even explain how a kid in an Italian household with two parents who only knew that language didn't pick it up. I think it had to do with my parents working so much. My mom worked during the day at the pizza place from 10am-7pm every day while my dad worked the night shift from 5:30pm-4am.
By the time I got home after school, my dad was usually sleeping because of working the night shift. He'd get up, yell for me to turn on the espresso machine, he'd make coffee and ask if I needed lunch money. That was about it. We didn't play catch, we didn't go to games together, and he sure as hell didn't teach me about the birds and the bees. We just didn't talk all that much. I don't think I've ever told my dad about a problem I had with school, girls, or just trying to figure out who the hell I was at 16. We'd talk some Bills stuff, but I normally found his opinions to be way off-base because he was convinced that the fix was in with American sports.
I assure you, I don't have any sort of bitterness towards him because of this. My older sister played the role of role model and took me where I wanted to go. Plus, my dad was working a lot. But again, we just didn't have much of a connection the way some fathers and sons did, and I guess I do wish we had that. I was a kid who didn't really speak openly with my parents, which I still have problems with today. I'd rather pour my heart out to a stranger than to them because I don't want to worry them. It is easier for a stranger to pass judgement on you than it is for your parents.
As you get older, you notice that Father Time is catching up with your parents more and more everyday. They aren't in their 40's anymore like when you were 16, and you really start thinking about how much longer they have to live. When that happened, I started to try and find some sort of way to speak with them, something that goes beyond "How is this or that person?" Something that goes into everyday occurrences. Still, I found it hard to talk to my dad because he doesn't keep up with anything American, doesn't know English all that well, and doesn't watch the Bills anymore. So the best thing I can do is to try and broaden our discussions to things he actually knows about even if my knowledge of the subject lacks.
My dad loves Italian soccer. He loves talking about it. I could just say "'98 World Cup" and he'll take off into tangents about this or that player for the Italian team.
I could ask him about the '94 penalty kicks in the WC Finals against Brazil when Roberto Baggio Norwooded a kick and it's like he's going back in time to watch the play. The emotion on his face and the anger when he speaks about the play kills me. His reenactment hits on about every single lame Italian stereotype about elaborate hand motions and swearing you can think of. He still hasn't gotten over it. Kind of like how I haven't gotten over a number of Buffalo disappointments. On the other hand, he'll be as giddy as a school boy when talks about how that idiot from France headbutted an Italian player in the 2006 WC Finals. It is really fun. He is so bonkers about it that I've thought about having him on a podcast to discuss the state of soccer.
For a few years now, whenever I see the Italian team play on national TV, win or lose, I'll give him a call to ask him what happened.
"How could America beat the Italians last year, Pops?
"Gio, it no matter. It was no real. Practice. It doesn't meant shit. Half our players didn't care. We are better than America."
"Who is this Mario Balotelli guy?
"Oh, Gio. He's good. Stupid haircut. But good."
I like having these soccer talks with the old man. After Sunday's Italy vs Germany game, which Italy won on penalty kicks, I gave him a call to see what he thought. The guy was happy as all hell. He talked about this goalie named Buffon, how the guy with the weird fauxhawk is the future, and how England plays the NJ Devils trap. (He didn't exactly say the trap, but I got it.).
I still don't care about the sport, but I do care about my dad. Hearing him talk about it and taking the time to actually listen to him makes me think about how dads and sons love playing catch and fishing. Sure, it is only a phone call and he's doing all the talking, but it is cool to just sit back and take it in. It is fun to like a team when your only connection is through your dad.