Since becoming a parent I have found an endless number of lessons from my past that are directly applicable to my present and have helped me grow as a father and flow along with the insanity that is this journey. Some of these lessons went unnoticed or unheeded at the time, only to find footing when I was staring hopelessly at some unanswerable question and armed only with reflection. Some were the byproducts of moments long forgotten. Some came from stories filled with warmth and love, like wisdom bestowed by a friend whose only wish was to guide me through a moment of youth or misdirection. Some of these stories are ripe with inspiration and beg to be told.
This isn’t one of those stories.
I was cool in college. OK, not really, but that is what I thought at the time. Really, I was a goofball with a bunch of goofball friends. Mind you, they were great goofball friends – and still are – but the fact remains. And we were happy goofballs, for the most part, doing what happy goofballs do in college – nothing. We went to parties and stood around waiting for that perfect moment to go talk to that girl we never actually talked to. We watched pitchers disappear at Shakey’s and planned our weeks around pint-night at Stratton’s and happy hour at Acapulco’s. We sat in Meyerhoff Park for hours, staring at the clouds and students with much better GPA’s than ours race up and down Bruin Walk. Occasionally, we went to class. And we played Sega. A lot.
If you are not familiar with Sega then you were probably not a twenty year old male in the early nineties. Or maybe you were, but you were one of the students we watched go to class as we played hacky sack in Meyerhoff. Either way, Sega was the video game system of choice back then for the lazy and the anti-go-getter (also known as the it-seems-just-fine-right-where-it-is-er), namely, us. We would erase hours of our days playing Madden and Bill Walsh football and NHL hockey while insulting our closest friends and celebrating victories like we had reunited the Koreas. Unrepentant goofballs.
As I mentioned, at this time in my life I actually thought I was cool. My ego swelled when I miraculously passed classes I had trouble finding, scored touchdowns in intramural football, or regaled my fellow goofballs with tales of successful intoxication or how the occasional girl across the quad hadn’t immediately burst into laughter at my wry smile. My accomplishments were many and noteworthy, as is plain to see. Except when it came to Sega.
More often than I can remember, there would come a point in our games that, after staying relatively even, my opponent would go on a hellacious tear against me, piling up points like an honest man in a political debate. It never lasted long, maybe a couple of minutes, but when it was over I was always too far behind to have any prayer of winning. It was infuriating. How could this keep happening to me? I mean, I was really good at drinking and remembering song lyrics and stuff. It couldn’t be because I sucked at Sega, could it? That concept was not within my grasp.
But, it was because I sucked at Sega. In fact, this phenomenon was so prevalent that it got a name – The Poor Mitch Run. I was forever to be remembered as the personification of sports video game ineptitude, my song a requiem for glory (average college-kid, stupid, misplaced glory, sure, but glory nonetheless). And I didn’t like it.
As years passed, The Poor Mitch Run lived on. No more were there video games as post-college life took on actual meaning, but the ability to find crushing defeat when staring in the face of victory anywhere, whether mine or another’s, was labeled as such. I was the less famous Mendoza Line. It was humbling. But it didn’t take long for me to find the humor in The Poor Mitch Run precisely because it was humbling.
I learned not to take myself seriously.
Twenty years later I am a nearly forty year old stay-at-home father of two who could teach classes in humility. My days are filled with dishes and dog poop, cleaning up spills and washing laundry. My words are often met with responses measured on the Richter scale or ignored altogether. If their mom or grandma or great grandma or uncle is around, I am as popular as a cold sore. Victories are intangible and losses can be heard three houses away.
I have struggled at times with my place as servant and bottom rung, but I have found my peace with it – and even relish it at times now. This humility has not come easy, but it has come and it serves me well, I find, in all of the other aspects of my life now. I no longer need acknowledgement to know satisfaction. I know when I have done well and that is all that matters. And this humility was, in some ways, conceived in those halcyon days of college when my best friends laughed until they nearly peed themselves at their good friend Mitch.
I find it hilarious that the roots for my humble path in which I now take so much pride were laid down long ago as I played video games. Lessons do come from strange places sometimes. I should call up those goofballs and thank them.