I never heard of soccer before I met Butch. And, despite being very involved in things in high school, I had no idea our high school even had a soccer team. Nor did anyone I knew. They were not much more than a rag tag bunch of guys. The coach was from South America somewhere and taught them to play dirty to make up for their complete lack of experience and limited talent. There wasn’t much budget available so they barely had uniforms. For shin guards, most of them stuck cardboard in their socks. Our field went partially under water in the rain. Being very accustomed to playing in a swamp, they did their best work on cold and rainy days. I was the only fan. After high school, he played what could be called semi-pro for a team in Dixon. He was much taller than the rest of the team, who primarily came from Mexico and South America. He only had to lift his foot thigh high and he would be called for a dangerous kick because his thigh was nearly chest level to his teammates. No one spoke English so it was very lonely on the sidelines. I did learn many colorful words in Spanish! I remember one game when I was thrilled to see the other team coming to the field and they were all blonde. I thought I would finally have people to communicate with on the sidelines. They were German and I understood them even less than the Spanish speaking fans.
Not wanting to force the boys to play soccer just because he loved it, we waited until our oldest son brought a flyer home from school about sign-ups for soccer and insisted that I drive him to the home of the director of the league that very day. He became a great soccer player and now makes his living in a job that is all about soccer. Butch coached his first team, with me for very shaky backup. The team signed up to participate in a fun tournament on a day that Butch was hunting. I will never forget how embarrassed I was when I made an illegal substitution of half the team on the other team’s throw in. Everyone had to wait while my players who had been taken off the field were retrieved from the playground.
Noticing the sidelines coaching and referee harassment from the parents in our small club, Butch decided to put together a men’s team. His theory was that if the coaches and rowdy parents had to see what it was really like for the kids on the field, they would stop nagging. They called themselves the BenGay Express because they used massive amounts of the stuff before and after the games. They looked really good in their matching uniforms. Their combined years of experience playing soccer was a very small number. They improved over the years and recruited some talent. They had a great time. But they were never more than a rag tag bunch of guys like his first team. At least they had real shin guards.
So much of our lives together involved soccer. He actually built a full-sized soccer goal in our back yard so our boys could practice and spent hours out there with them. He taught them the importance of polishing their shoes after each game to keep them in good shape. We drove miles for State Team practice. To pass the time, I would read books out loud in the car. We didn’t go to many of the away games because we were home working two jobs to pay for soccer and Jesuit High School. Extend that to college, professional outdoor and indoor teams, and supporting the Sacramento Republic and you have more hours on the side of a soccer field together than most people spend watching TV as a family. Our granddaughter, at age 2, just began attending “Kids Soccer” on Friday mornings. She is generally not doing what she is supposed to be doing and greatly prefers chasing dogs and squirrels, but she does it with tremendous enthusiasm. He would have loved that so much. I will now spend the rest of my life doing soccer without him.
Nothing is untouched in the process of mourning this loss. Even fun has to be redefined. We don’t have to do things just because they loved them anymore. We have an opportunity to try new things we didn’t do before because they would not have enjoyed them or because we didn’t want to take the time away from being together. But we can’t necessarily walk away from everything we ever did together and develop all new interests. Life isn’t that simple. Becoming us without them will require us to figure out what we love to do for fun. If that involves things we previously shared with them, then continuing to do them will include managing the pain and sadness that comes with knowing we can never share that with them again. As with everything about this time in our lives, we will need support to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater just to avoid pain.
Soccer without Butch is like Christmas without Santa Claus or 4th of July without fireworks. But being a member of this family means lots of soccer. And I love soccer too. I especially look forward to watching my granddaughters play. I just have to believe he is watching them from where he is now.
If nothing else, I can teach them how to make shin guards out of cardboard and the importance of shining your shoes after each game……….