Does There Always Have to Be a ‘But’?

Ryan and Dad at Penn State

Sunday afternoon, our house. I am sacked out on the couch, vaguely paying attention to an NFL game in which my favorite team is about to fall to 0-5. I am exhausted from the trip with Ryan to Penn State from which we have just returned. Despite Michigan’s terrible, awful, no-good loss, I am riding high.

I am riding high because of the experience I have just shared with my son. I’m pretty sure this game was the tipping point, the one that will leave him fully indoctrinated as a Michigan fan. All the signs are there. He rooted passionately throughout the four-plus hour game. He was bitterly disappointed by the outcome, something he continued to express early this week. He does not hesitate when I talk of finding more Michigan games to attend. He is enthused that starting next year, Rutgers is joining the Big Ten, meaning a Michigan game here in New Jersey every other year.

Veronica pulls Ryan aside. She tells him she is proud of him and so, so happy that he was able to share this trip with me. She knows how much it means to me to share this passion with him. She is thrilled at the time he and I have been able to spend together.

Ryan’s response at once both lifts and saddens us.

He tells her the game was great and he loved going. And then he says the words that remind us that no matter how well things are going — and they’re going pretty damn well right now — challenges are always lurking near the surface.

“I really like going to football games,” he says. “Because I don’t have to worry about the stats. I can just watch the game.”

Veronica relays this conversation to me and I immediately try to put it out of my mind. The trip has been too successful, and I refuse to allow negative thoughts to enter. But it lingers. If I keep pushing football on Ryan, will he develop a similar compulsion about an arbitrary football statistic, the same way shots on goal has made watching his favorite sport, hockey, a challenge (that sometimes spills into a full-on nightmare) for him?

I recognize this way of thinking. It’s the ‘but’ statement. As in “things are great, but …” or “school is off to a wonderful start but … I just wish Ryan could make a friend …”

The ‘but’ seems to follow progress around. It is the ‘U’ that follows every ‘Q.’

Does it have to be that way? I sense that the ‘but’ is more a product of our thinking than Ryan’s. It is a defense mechanism, a speed bump that guards against irrational exuberance and optimism.

Maybe that’s for the best, I don’t know. I do know that at times like Sunday afternoon, after a wildly successful outing with my son, I resent the hell out of the ‘but’.

I wish the ‘but’ would just butt out.


2 thoughts on “Does There Always Have to Be a ‘But’?

  1. Hi Neil,

    A few gentle thoughts…

    • It sounds like you feel on some level responsible for Ryan’s stat-related compulsions because you fostered his interest in hockey. I’m a little confused by your words, “If I keep pushing football on Ryan…” My impression throughout your posts is that you have been excited to share the love of various sports with Ryan since his birth and you’ve encouraged him to take interest in sports, hockey and otherwise – but you can hardly be said to have pushed these interests on him, especially (as it sounds) over more recent years. It seems more like you haven’t backed down from your own sports interests in addition to hockey, left it out there for Ryan to show interest of his own, and been there to foster whatever interest he’s begun to show. It also seems you encourage Ryan’s non-sports interests/endeavors (e.g., his writing). The way you write about him, Ryan sounds very capable of determining and communicating what he likes and doesn’t like. You’ve indicated he has/has had non-hockey obsessions and compulsions as well – developing these in relation to something that holds such a central place in his focus strikes me as a simple consequence of having OCD and not of anything you’ve done to promote, foster, support his interests in that particular area. Put another way – if it wasn’t hockey stats, it might very well be something else; hockey stats just got caught in the crosshairs. The deciding factor is OCD. You certainly don’t need anyone to point out the host of positive experiences Ryan himself and your family as a whole have enjoyed through hockey. Providing opportunities for your children to experience new things and develop new interests is a good thing.

    • Ryan’s words, “I can just watch the game” makes me smile. It’s so wonderful to hear what sounds like an experience of freedom and abandon from other concerns. It sounds very liberating for him. I don’t remember specifically, but I think you’ve written something similar among the reasons why you enjoy sports so much – sometimes you just like to get lost in a game. Through your writing, I’ve understood Ryan to share your love of hockey while at the same time having an experience of watching games that’s uniquely his. This is great. At least at this point, perhaps football is an opportunity for you and he share a more similar game-viewing experience with one another, which is also great. A new way to share your passion – not just a different sport but a different type of internal experience, if that makes any sense.

    • As far as “buts” go…perhaps you could look at it this way? Ryan currently experiences certain challenges that complicate his enjoyment of something he loves (watching hockey), but he has found a new interest (watching football) where those challenges don’t exist.

    It feels very strange to write so much unsolicited commentary on another person and someone else’s child…I guess the points I really wanted to make are (1) I don’t think there’s much basis for your concern about encouraging Ryan’s budding interest in football because I think OCD is an entirely independent factor, and (2) I think it’s so, so wonderful Ryan is thoroughly enjoying a new interest that offers so many positive opportunities for both of you, individually and together.

    P.S. I only you and your family through your blog and I absolutely hope I don’t sound dismissive of your feelings or concerns; I just wanted to share my thoughts/feelings upon reading your post today.


    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. I appreciate it and I’m amazed that as you said, we are total strangers but clearly you understand a lot about my family’s dynamic. I think you’re right about the first point. I have struggled with this in the past, when Ryan had such issues over shots on goal, feeling like it was my fault for ever exposing him to the sport in the first place. To hear someone say “it’s the OCD, it’s not you” may seem obvious but it is so, so helpful to hear. So thank you for that.

      You are also correct about the second point. The older I get, the more I view my time spent watching sports as escapism, a few hours at a time. I love that I can get completely wrapped up in the essentially meaningless outcome of a game, and pretty much leave it behind once it’s over. And to share that with the people I care most about in this world? That’s also very rewarding.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond. It is very, very much appreciated.


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