Tuesday, August 20, 2002


I used to think I knew about guilt because I was raised Catholic and survived 12 years of Catholic school. As much as learning about man’s immense potential to sin and even accepting an original sin you had nothing to do with and then learning to confess those sins when and if you commit them can teach you about guilt. But, one doesn’t really know guilt until he understands the difference between culpability and responsibility. I think it was Brother Mark that tried to drive that point into my head Junior year of high school. Except what does a 16-year old know about responsibility? Your average 16-year old can shirk responsibility as naturally as a bird flies. Real guilt arrives when you fail to live up to a promise you’ve made to someone you love.
I feel guilty when I’m enjoying the time I’m spending with Nathan, as much as I feel guilty when I complain about being stuck with him. Because the fact of the matter is, I love being stuck with him. He drives me nuts and there have been moments where the things he’s done has put him in danger of physical harm (from me. [Let’s see you not react violently when human teeth draw blood from your flesh]). Despite those moments, despite all the frustration and angst, I consider myself infinitely fortunate to have this time with him. However, (and there’s always a “however,” a “but,” some disclaimer or modifier in conjunction with each good phrase, each good feeling) I’m constantly reminding myself that this is being made possible because my wife is working. My lovely, intelligent, capable wife (who is not reading over my shoulder, but who might be soon) is the one who goes to work each day while I take Nate to the park or play with him in the yard. Guilt.
People say it’s a wasted emotion, that’s a bunch of Protestant poppycock. Guilt makes the world go around. I’ll galdarn guarantee you Martin Luther felt guilty when he defaced Church property way back when. Not because he felt like he was doing the wrong thing, but because he was running against the people he loved. It’s a fair bet that just about everyone Martin Luther knew was a member of the Church he was railing (and nailing) against. So any grief he had with the big body would affect in one way or another all those little bodies that were close to him and that he loved. You see, guilt and love are inextricably mingled. They do a daily dance and they waltz together through history.
If you doubt this is true, ask yourself why you do what you do every day. Do you love doing everything you do or do you do some things because you think they are the right things to do? I’ll grant you we do do (hee hee) some things we don’t love because of the people we do love. Yet, how does that leave the people we love feeling? Giving and receiving may be different sides of the same coin, but you can be darn sure the person doing the giving feels better. Hindu mendicants might be able to convince themselves they are providing a valuable spiritual service by giving givers a chance to give. It’s a different ball of wax for the American male.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m complaining. If there’s any inequity here the scales are surely lighter on the female side of this equation. As Soo has pointed out, if I were working and she were staying at home, I’d be seeing dinner on the table a fair bit more often than she is now. The guy at home can get away with murder just because he is not supposed to be at home. There are lowered expectations and that’s not fair.
None of this is new. It’s not like I’m the only stay at home Dad, this week’s Newsweek has “She Works, He Doesn’t” on the cover for crying out loud. I’m sure there are thousands of men who have quit (yes, in a fit of pride induced ignorance I quit a job in this economy) their jobs, sold their homes, moved their families to insular islands in the Pacific Northwest and are now grappling with what it means that they are the house-husband living off the sweat of their wives’ brows.
No matter how I try to phrase all this it still comes out sounding like ordinary whining, which, I suppose, is another key component of guilt. You don’t hear of too many people silently suffering in their guilt (then again you wouldn’t hear people silently doing anything). I’ve taken to using a baseball analogy, a convenient American metaphor to address what I’m assuming (most likely inaccurately) to be a uniquely American experience. You always hear ballplayers saying, we’re all just doing our part for the team, I’m just happy to be able to contribute. If there’s a runner on first and nobody out, you need somebody to bunt him over. I’m that guy. I’m doing the little things, making lunch and going to the store. Deep down, though, I don’t feel like a leadoff hitter. First, I’m no Maury Wills. I don’t have the skills or the speed. I’m a slow white guy, a traditional power hitter in the mold of Eric Karros or Duke Snider (I don’t really have those skills either, but at least I have the build). Second, I’ve convinced myself (or I’ve been convinced) that my role is not as the supporting player. I guess like everyone, I always imagined myself as the star, maybe not the superstar, but at least capable of hitting 30 homers and driving in 100 runs a season. Instead, I’m the big letdown, the guy who signed the fat contract and is now underperforming so he’s on the bench. I’m Bobby Bonilla.
A sobering and depressing conclusion to come to so early in the morning. Then you have to wonder, how must Bobby Bonilla feel?
This from BaseballLibrary.com:
“If Bobby Bonilla put together a resume, it would surely begin, "Have bat, will travel. Position negotiable." Mixing a sunny smile and a genuine love for playing the game with a sometimes sour disposition, Bonilla's personality is part Ernie Banks and part Albert Belle. While his potent offensive numbers have always kept him in demand, defensive problems and a sometimes surly demeanor have kept him on the move. In fifteen major-league seasons, the switch-hitting Bronx native has played for seven different teams.”
I have no idea what he’s doing now and I only hope that he managed to save enough money during those 15 seasons in the bigs to not have to worry about such things for the rest of his life. I doubt he checks his bank account and thinks to himself, “Hmm, I didn’t really deserve the money I got from that last season.” The problem is ballplayers are different. This self same idolatry (there might be a better word) that I’m practicing here, this study and knowledge of a game and its players has created a world where they get paid great amounts of money and attention. This makes them different. I could expound on the reasons and dangers of this for days, start making comparisons between America and ancient Rome, far off battles being fought while the populace is entertained by gladiators at home, a society buckling under the weight of its own hubris and all that, but I won’t (not yet, at least). My imagination has been captured by the image of Bobby Bonilla pottering around the house, making lunch for the kids, mowing the lawn, and maybe, maybe contemplating the greatness that he never achieved.
One of the fantastic things about baseball is the way it inspires great writers (myself excluded). In my search for Bobby Bonilla info (I did a Google search on “Mets fat losers”) I came across the following transcript of the Jim Lehrer NewsHour from October 26, 1999. Read or scan what you will, all errors are the transciber’s:

A special look at winning and losing, in baseball and in literature. Elizabeth Farnsworth leads our discussion.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In New York tonight, it's game three of the last World Series of the century, with the Yankees leading the Atlanta Braves two games to none. The Yankees destroyed the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox to get here, and have won nine of ten games in post-season play this year-- all this from the team that has already won more pennants and World Series than any other team ever. And this record inspires strong feelings in fans, including among our NewsHour regulars, as we hear now from essayist Roger Rosenblatt of the "New York Yankees," and poet laureate Robert Pinsky, once of the Brooklyn Dodgers, now with the Boston Red Sox. Robert Pinsky, why not love and admire the Yankees for all those wins?
ROBERT PINSKY: These are excellent athletes. Anybody who doesn't love Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, El Duke. They're wonderful players. Yankee fans sometimes make the mistake of gloating about what is really a privilege. And the dignity in defeat, going back to the era of Robinson and Hodges and in the present era of Garcia Parra is something I admire. And imagination that gets us involved in things like sports teams has finer food than victory. Even the Yankees lose more World Series than they win. They don't win the World Series more often than not. As with any other form of affection or involvement, one has to realize that these-- though they're the excellent, best athletes imaginable-- they're mortal and fallible.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Roger, do you love them because of all the wins?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I don't know. Maybe I'm in danger of gloating because of my privileges. By the way the Yankees actually do win more World Series than-- it's getting into the World Series that they don't do in a majority but no team does. As for the fans, I'm trying to think of the times that I've enjoyed the civility of the Mets fans or the Red Sox' fans or the Cubs' fans or any of the fans that are associated with teams that don't win as much. And I'm sort of at a loss to do so. I just love the Yankees. The whole idea of the demonstration of excellence in anything, there seems to be only a penalty in sports. I wouldn't want to hear an opera singer hit a wrong note. I'd hate to see a ham actor come out on stage. Why should I lower my standards or anybody for that matter in the matter of baseball?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Robert Pinsky, you just happen to have a poem on this subject.
ROBERT PINSKY: I think it's said that Roger falls into the fallacy of confusing excellence, which is such a beautiful value, with the more paltry value of success. It reminds me of the public figure or politician who gloats or crows about starting a successful business and is complacent about the fact that the family had money... his father had a successful business or the family had a lot of associations. The privilege of having a rich market and of having a lot of money should be something that's not vaunted. The poem you're thinking of is Yates' wonderful poem to a friend whose work has come to nothing. And the lines I'm thinking of begin "bred to a harder scene than triumph." I think we're all as mortals bred to a harder thing than triumph. In the end the players all get fat, weak, and we all get old. You don't win in the end. Yates says, to a friend whose work has come to nothing - "Bred to a harder scene than triumph turn away and like laughing string where our mad singers play amid a place of stone, be secret and exult because of all scenes known, that is most difficult."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Roger, have you got a dueling poem or can you refute this in prose?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I don't know if reputation is what I would achieve but I would like to add the words of at poet Laureate, Tennyson who talked about Ulysses at the end saying "Although we are not now the strength that in old days that moved heaven and earth, that which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and fate but strong and will to strive to seek to find and not to yield."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Robert Pinsky, do you think success is just not as interesting as losing? I'm thinking of a line in your poem, the Night Game, that refers to Whitey Ford. You say about whitey ford, quote, never a player I liked or hated, a Yankee, a mere success. "Mere success"?
ROBERT PINSKY: Well, one needs an awful lot of successes. Success for all of us is temporary. Transitory thing. I do thing there are values in sports and in life that are more interesting than success. The most moving athletic events are the ones after which the players-- the players who have a code for the most part, certainly in baseball if not gloating-- the players say it's a shame anyone had to lose. It was a shame that anyone had to lose that one. I thought Roger read those Tennyson lines beautifully. And they're quite germane. Ulysses is well on in life. He's seen a lot of heroes. The Victor Achilles goes down the same way the loser Paris goes down. Hector goes down. Success is not as interesting as striving, as in the Tennyson lines. And success does seem to me a paltry value. When we have it, we should be humble about it.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, it's hard to be in the position of having the braves down two zip and yearn for humility. I'll try to do it on a general virtuous basis, but I often find that the people who say it's too bad somebody had to win this game are the guys who won it. As for the beauty of defeat or effort, even in tragedy, you know, Hamlet wins before he loses his life. I'm kind of stretching to make something great and noble out of the beauty of sport whose simplicity as a matter of fact is defined by whether someone does win or lose since most of the rest of life is too complicated or too nuance to show us that. The beauty of games, for those of us who play them or those of us who watch them, is that there is a winner or loser and there are clean things to make it up. If you make an error, you are likely to lose, as the Red Sox made several errors in the series against the Yankees. If you don't, you are likelier to win. So there is-- Robert may wish to make a distinction between excellence and success, but in most cases, certainly in sports, the more excellent, the more success.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Roger Rosenblatt, Robert Pinsky, thanks a lot.

Of course, Bonilla was on that 1999 Mets team that lost to the Braves who went on to lose to the Yankees. What is he doing now, I wonder? No Achilles. No Paris. Just a man. A man with a lot of money. Hopefully. Is that mere success? Having enough money to sit around and watch other people play games on TV, or enough money to be able to do whatever you want, enough money to take care of your family. It may not be success, but it’s something I want. Am I bred to a harder scene than triumph? Who thinks about such things? You just get a job and work hard and make as much money as you can because the alternative sucks.
Guilt is a wasted emotion.

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