Why the World Cup means so much to someone who lost their father

Why the World Cup means so much to someone who lost their father
Soccer can be something that brings families together. Courtesy photo

I remember waking up the morning of the 2002 World Cup Final. I ran into my parents’ bedroom and sat between them as we watched Brazil win their fifth World Cup. I will never forget Ronaldo’s ridiculous hair cut or the way Oliver Kahn sat disappointed against his goal post after the loss. I was only eight years old then, but I will never forget the experience of my first World Cup.

Early that summer, my dad made his annual trip to Mexico. He returned with a gift for me in the form of my first jersey, an Alberto Garcia Aspe Mexico jersey. With that jersey, my father sealed my fate as a life time supporter of El Tri. Mexico made it out of the group that tournament, but was upset by The United States,thus, fueling my ironic disdain for the USMNT. I remember calling my dad at work to give him the bad news, Mexico had been eliminated.

Unfortunately for us, the stories are not much different in 2006 and 2010. Mexico, though showing potential going into these tournaments, did not make it out of the Round of 16.

But 2014 felt different to us. Mexico barely qualified that year, but the emotional leadership of Miguel Herrera was unlike anything I had ever seen before by a Mexican head coach.This team felt different. A Giovani Dos Santos goal in their Round of 16 match against the Netherlands had them two minutes from finally getting to the next round.Then, Wesley Sneijder scored off a corner kick, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored a penalty that Mexico fans still talk about today. In a matter of six minutes, the dream was over. I remember both my dad and I sitting in utter silence after that loss.

Eight months later, my father lost his battle to Pancreatic Cancer.

These last three years have been an emotional blur. Not only did I lose my father, but I lost my favorite person to watch sporting events with. For a long time after his death watching sports did not feel the same. As emotionally numbing as it can be to be a Houston sports fan, losing my dad made me have to adjust to watching games alone. For a long time, watching sports was just an action for me. I could not allow myself to get too emotionally invested.

That began to change, though, when my childhood team, Chivas, won their first league title in a decade in the Liga MX. Last November, the numbness completely vanished when the Astros won the World Series. That day was the first time in a long time that I cried because of something sports related. Sure, I was excited to see the Astros win their first World Series, but that day I felt something that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt my dad right next to me as  Charlie Morton rushed off the mound to celebrate with Brian McCann. Thanks to these moments, I finally began to feel like a normal sports fan again.

A couple weeks ago, I was preparing to produce Glenn Davis’ Soccer Matters. I began surfing through the web for some of my favorite World Cup goals of all time, and it dawned on me, this was going to be my first World Cup since my dad died. I immediately felt a pit in my stomach, so I walked away from my studio to recollect myself.

At that moment, I texted one of my good friends, contributor to this site, Jerry Bo. I told him how I felt, and he told me something his dad told him before he, too, passed away. “Soccer is a sickness that we all share. But, in sickness or in health, we are always together.” At that moment, I did not completely understand what he meant, but him saying that brought me the peace I needed to continue with the day.

This week, the 2018 World Cup kicked off, and after a few decent matches, we were treated to an incredible 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal. I watched that game from the living room, and by the time Diego Costa tied it at 2-2, my mom was sitting right next to me.  As Ronaldo lined up to take the free kick that would tie the game, my mom was sitting at edge of the couch. I will never forget how she jumped up when the ball hit the back of the net. Ronaldo had done it, he had scored an incredible goal and picked up a Hat Trick in the process. At that moment, what Jerry said made complete sense: “Always together.”

As the game came to an end the excitement on my mother’s face remained. The excitement and joy that has been harder to come by since my dad’s passing. She had no dog in the fight and she probably will not watch another soccer game this year after the World Cup, but in that moment she felt the sickness that is loving soccer, or sports for that matter. The sickness my dad instilled in me in 2002, and the sickness that I hope my children will one day have.

Today, Mexico will play their first game in the World Cup. The fact that it has landed on Father’s Day feels like more than a coincidence to me. Since my dad’s passing, I have had a tough time with the holiday. This year it will be different. This year I will celebrate my dad’s life with my unrealistic optimism and expectations for the Mexico National team. This year, I will watch on with my family as Mexico tries to survive their opening match against the defending champions of Germany. I will watch as they try to get over the damn near mental block of the fifth game. And no matter what happens in this tournament, I will unapologetically enjoy every moment of it.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  Thank You for teaching me to love the best sport in the world.


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