When — and why — are men driven to tears?
My father once told me that the only time he ever saw his dad cry was when Bob Cousy retired from the Boston Celtics. This says a lot about what it took to get a man to reveal his feelings of pain and loss in 1963.
It also says a lot about Cousy, whose six championships with the Celtics match up nicely with Tom Brady’s six Super Bowls for the New England Patriots.
Until now, I never quite understood this bit of family lore. I read it as a parable about how bottled-up men can be, and never considered why my grandfather felt so connected to an athlete… one everyone called “Cooz.”
I was never an athlete, and I never followed sports until the ascension of Larry Bird; which happened to dovetail perfectly with my high school years. Together, these facts partially explain the total sense of disconnection I felt from my grandfather’s reaction.
But even after I became a fan, I didn’t cry when Bird retired.
I never had the chance to talk to my grandfather about Bob Cousy or the feelings he held for him. Instead, I was left with this kind-of-humorous, kind-of-sad recollection. Rather than focusing on what could have possibly been so important about Bob Cousy for Grandpa Sam, I was left wondering about all the feelings he never showed us, and why.
But when my son Sam texted me “Tom Brady retired” from his college dorm on Sunday, I was struck by a wave of feeling that was different from anything I had ever felt about an athlete — but perhaps very close to what forced the tears from my son’s namesake back in 1963.
For me, Brady’s retirement has everything to do with my son.
Sam was born just a few weeks after September 11, 2001. To say it was a challenging time to bring a child into the world is to vastly understate the mood of the country in that moment. The nation’s uncertainty, anxiety, and protectionism were like a giant parabolic mirror, gathering and reflecting and exponentially amplifying those very same emotions of this first-time parent.
Every instinct in my body told me to stay home, to hold my newborn son against my chest, and to wait for the world to regain its equilibrium.