When my son came home and complained of "feeling uncomfortable" when his PE class started a unit on wrestling, I felt bad. It took me a while to unravel just where that "bad" came from. I wrestled, way back in junior high school. It was the narrow pathway that lead me to the novels of John Irving. It was also the second time I was on a team. Even further back into the mist, when I was in fourth grade, I played Young America football. Then I took a few years off. My older brother had wrestled, and so there was a bit of a legacy at Centennial Junior High for the Caven boys. In seventh grade I was still far too consumed with the intricacies of locker combinations and social cliques to imagine spending my winter afternoons locked in that gym.
Social cliques? Maybe that was the key. I remembered that my neighborhood pal and chief tormentor had insisted that the only way I could overcome the plague of being in band was to go out for a sport. He was on the basketball team, after all, just like his brothers before him. It was my destiny to follow in my big brother's footsteps. The ones with the funny pattern made by a pair of wrestling shoes.
Of course, I found out, weeks after I had started attending the nightly practices and had our first match, that wrestling wasn't on the approved list of "cool sports." All those hours spent in a Bikram Yoga-style environment were not improving my social status. At best, I was getting an asterisk for doing something that was not band. At worst, I was grappling with other boys. Not cool.
All of this came flooding back as I considered my son's level of discomfort. I remembered how I didn't quit, even though I took a good deal of grief from "friends" who wanted to improve their junior high caste by pointing out just how gay wrestling was. And so, like my brother before me, I committed myself to sticking with it, through the season, and all through ninth grade as well. I even went to the district tournament that year. For "B" mat. I was never that good, but I stuck with it and as a result I was featured in a couple more yearbook photos.
All that time, we wrestlers labored in the shadows of the basketball team, who practiced in the less than sweltering gym upstairs. I endured countless bloody noses and any number of strained muscles and twisted joints. I endured.
I tried to explain that to my son. The Ultimate Frisbee player. He listened respectfully, and agreed to do his best. He's already had his picture taken for the Frisbee team.