Our two boys were born while we lived in Clemson, South Carolina. Though we moved to Virginia four years ago, my nine-year-old Seth has remained loyal to the Clemson Tigers. He wears his jerseys and checks the weekly ESPN rankings and sits beside me, glued to the TV, through every thrilling and agonizing moment of every game. Several months ago, Seth began to beg: “Dad, I want time for just me and you. Will you take me to Clemson for a game?”
Of course, then, I knew exactly what my birthday gift to Seth must be. I pulled him out of school on Friday, making this the ultimate coup. “Dad,” he said, “I bet every kid in my class wishes he were me right now.” What dad doesn’t want to give his son a hundred of those moments?
After loading up with Taco Bell, his favorite, we made our 6.5-hour road trip to Clemson. I’d been unable to locate tickets through my usual connections, but I planned to grab discounted seats from scalpers before the game. If you wait long enough, you can always snag seats on the cheap. Perhaps this would be the appropriate place to say that I’m—how shall I put this—frugal. I prefer free tickets. I manage with discounted tickets. However, I am genetically unable to fathom paying face value to watch college students toss a ball back and forth.
We bunked at a friend’s house, and on Saturday morning, we drove to the game. In true Clemson fashion, several square miles surrounding the stadium were afire with purple and orange energy. We parked a mile-and-a-half away where (see frugal above) I could avoid the “Park here for $25” price-gouging. We found the normal spot where I’ve snagged tickets before, and I had to hold Seth’s hand, the massive crowd so dense and forceful. There were few scalpers, and those few demanded exorbitant prices. After much searching and several dead-ends, Seth panicked. “Dad, are we going to find tickets?”
“Of course, Seth, don’t you worry.”
We continued through the swarming mass and trekked around the stadium, scanning anxiously for anyone holding a pair of tickets in the air. We spotted thousands and thousands of people. We saw precious few tickets. “Are you sure, Dad?” Seth distressed. “Are we going to miss the game?”
I spotted the ticket office and thought I should at least check the possibilities, as I’d been told they offered a $10 special on kid’s tickets. We waded through the long, long line and when we arrived at the counter, the ticket lady delivered bad news. “I’m sorry,” she said, “the discount tickets are gone. Two tickets will be $70.” There was no way on God’s green earth I was paying $70.
I turned to exit. And I saw Seth. His eyes hinting red, his body slumped. A boy believing a door was about to slam shut.
I had every confidence that eventually I could track down tickets. We might miss the kick-off, but I’d stick to my principles and Seth would learn that we don’t get everything we want. Truthfully, I didn’t feel I had $70 to blow.
But this was not the moment for principles. Or lessons. This was the time to throw down 70 crazy dollars and snag two tickets and give Seth a high-five and buy him an outrageous $6 Coke from the concession stand and climb to those seats that (even with the chunk they devoured from of my wallet) were still a good mile high. This was the time to heave caution to the wind and be reckless with love.
Sometimes parenting means tough decisions. Sometimes it means saying no. But also, sometimes, it means being foolish. Foolish with love.