Funny You Should Ask

By Rick Reilly (Sport's Illustrated)

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Posted: Tuesday April 13, 1999 10:13 AM

So we were lying on our backs on the grass in the park next to our hamburger wrappers, my 14-year-old son and I, watching the clouds loiter overhead, when he asked me, "Dad, why are we here?"

And this is what I said.

"I've thought a lot about it, son, and I don't think it's all that complicated. I think maybe we're here just to teach a kid how to bunt, turn two and eat sunflower seeds without using his hands.

"We're here to pound the steering wheel and scream as we listen to the game on the radio, 20 minutes after we pulled into the garage. We're here to look all over, give up and then find the ball in the hole.

"We're here to watch, at least once, as the pocket collapses around John Elway, and it's fourth-and-never. Or as the count goes to 3 and 1 on Mark McGwire with bases loaded, and the pitcher begins wishing he'd gone on to med school. Or as a little hole you couldn't get a skateboard through suddenly opens in front of Jeff Gordon with a lap to go.

"We're here to wear our favorite sweat-soaked Boston Red Sox cap, torn Slippery Rock sweatshirt and the Converses we lettered in, on a Saturday morning with nowhere we have to go and no one special we have to be.

"We're here to rake on a jack-high nothin' hand and have nobody know it but us. Or get in at least one really good brawl, get a nice shiner and end up throwing an arm around the guy who gave it to us.

"We're here to shoot a six-point elk and finally get the f-stop right, or to tie the perfect fly, make the perfect cast, catch absolutely nothing and still call it a perfect morning.

"We're here to nail a yield sign with an apple core from half a block away. We're here to make our dog bite on the same lame fake throw for the gazillionth time. We're here to win the stuffed bear or go broke trying.

"I don't think the meaning of life is gnashing our bicuspids over what comes after death but tasting all the tiny moments that come before it. We're here to be the coach when Wendell, the one whose glasses always fog up, finally makes the only perfect backdoor pass all season. We're here to be there when our kid has three goals and an assist. And especially when he doesn't.

"We're here to see the Great One setting up behind the net, tying some poor goaltender's neck into a Windsor knot. We're here to watch the Rocket peer in for the sign, two out, bases loaded, bottom of the career. We're here to witness Tiger's lining up the 22-foot double breaker to win and not need his autograph afterward to prove it.

"We're here to be able to do a one-and-a-half for our grandkids. Or to stand at the top of our favorite double-black on a double-blue morning and overhear those five wonderful words: 'Highway's closed. Too much snow.' We're here to get the Frisbee to do things that would have caused medieval clergymen to burn us at the stake.

"We're here to sprint the last 100 yards and soak our shirts and be so tired we have to sit down to pee.

"I don't think we're here to make SportsCenter. The really good stuff never does. Like leaving Wrigley at 4:15 on a perfect summer afternoon and walking straight into Murphy's with half of section 503. Or finding ourselves with a free afternoon, a little red 327 fuel-injected 1962 Corvette convertible and an unopened map of Vermont's backroads.

"We're here to get the triple-Dagwood sandwich made, the perfectly frosted malted-beverage mug filled and the football kicked off at the very second your sister begins tying up the phone until Tuesday.

"None of us are going to find ourselves on our deathbeds saying, 'Dang, I wish I'd spent more time on the Hibbings account.' We're going to say, 'That scar? I got that scar stealing a home run from Consolidated Plumbers!'

"See, grown-ups spend so much time doggedly slaving toward the better car, the perfect house, the big day that will finally make them happy when happy just walked by wearing a bicycle helmet two sizes too big for him. We're not here to find a way to heaven. The way is heaven. Does that answer your question, son?"

And he said, "Not really, Dad."

And I said, "No?"

And he said, "No, what I meant is, why are we here when Mom said to pick her up 40 minutes ago?

Issue date: April 12, 1999 

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