The Cap . . .
or, “The Day our Daughter Became a Man”
Ok, Ok, it’s not what you’re thinking. I bought this cap in 2002 at Macalester College, the site of the 2002 Division III National Track and Field Championships. It was originally kind of a salmon color, now faded to a pale – something or other, frayed and stained, mostly with my blood where I dropped something on my head or ran into something when I wasn’t paying attention.
I’m sure that if we had had a son or two, at some point I would have gripped them by the shoulders and told them it was time they became a man, and did heroic, manly things. But – you just can’t do that with girls, and beside that, I was 300 feet away in the bleachers when the opportunity presented itself.
Let me set the stage: It is the finals of the triple jump. 16 start out, 7 to the finals. If you understand the triple jump, you are way ahead of me. Katie excelled at it. She also ran sprints and relays, but she excelled at the triple jump, and to a lesser extent, the long jump. On her first jump in the finals, she faulted. (she stepped on the line or something) On her second jump, she fell.
The whole family held our collective breath as she walked away, said something to the official, he nodded, and she gathered her warm-ups – and put them on. Was she done for the day? Being the dad, and having alot of the dad, and a little of the old ball coach in me, that was the moment, if I had been given the opportunity, I would have gone up to her, put a hand on each shoulder, looked her in the eye and told her, for lack of a better set of words, that it was time to be a man – you have one jump left. They weren’t going to let a crazy dad on the track, or the infield, and her mother wasn’t going to allow it anyway. So I sat. And squirmed. I watched her take a slow walk to the center of the football field which was in the center of the track. She had the hood up on her warm ups. She stopped, Looked at the ground, and stood there, for what seemed like an eternity. She raised her head, flipped back the hood, and trotted to the start position. She stripped off the warm ups, which if you haven’t seen a track athlete do it, is alot like the Hulk ripping his shirt off. She gave the starter a nod.
Last chance. One, two, three – or however many steps there are before she hits the board, were fast and true, one foot ahead of the other. She powered off the board and literally flew over the sand pit to an almost perfect landing. I don’t remember the distance. You could look it up. It was the best jump of her career, high school or college, and she still holds the record at Arrowhead HS, an athletic factory. It was also her last – ever. She got up and brushed the sand off of her (unnecessarily scanty, I thought) lycra suit and walked over and claimed her warm ups. I know she gave us a thumbs up somewhere along in there, but I’m not sure.
She was a little kid as a little kid. We always called her Tiny but Tough. She had the T-shirt. She wasn’t tiny any more. She had always had a competitive spirit and discipline to go with it. We had been disappointed when she walked away from basketball, because she was very good, but those choices were always up to the girls. I’m always proud of the them. They’re all moms now, and good ones at that. But they’ve all had moments where they became a man, and that has nothing to do with gender. That’s why I still wear the cap. And if somebody says it is time to retire it, they just don’t know the history.