In two days Rafael turns 16.
It all happened in a flash. We were watching the opening game of “The Battle of the Bay” series between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants – me, my wife Linda, my 12 year old son Gabriel, and Rafael – when the A’s jumped out to an early 3-1 lead in the first inning and held it through the top of the ninth. So far, so good: we’re A’s fans.
The A’s brought in closer Ryan Cook, who’s been terrific, with a 0.57 ERA coming into the game.
Rafael was thrilled:“If the A’s are still ahead and they bring in Cook, it’s lights out,” he said.
That’s when it all went south.
Cook gave up two walks with no outs.
“Are you kidding me?!!” said Rafael, leaning forward, his voice dripping with shock and outrage.
And then the unthinkable happened. Giant Brandon Belt (with a name like that, can we be surprised?) smashed a fly ball toward the left field line and Oakland left fielder Collin Cowgill made a valiant, diving attempt to get the ball, but it rolled past him and the two Giants on base strode in for the tying runs.
“What the…...hell!” shouted Rafi, barely tempering his words, knowing how we feel about him dropping F-bombs in front of his twelve year old brother.
Instead, he just took one massive swing at the wall.
I glanced over in disbelief. Damn. He had taken a gouge out of the wall, a serious gouge.
“What is wrong with you?!” were the first words out of my wife’s mouth. I was still too stunned (and, admittedly, just a little bemused) to say anything.
“Is your hand okay?” she asked.
“It’s fine,” said Rafael. The anger immediately returned to Linda’s voice.
“What were you thinking?”
“I’m sorry,” he said, genuinely worried now that he was in real trouble. I just stared – at him, at the hole.
“You have a serious problem with your temper,” said Linda.
“Ohmigod, mom, you don’t understand. Adam kicked a hole in his wall after the Detroit Lions lost a game.” Adam is one of Rafi’s friends.
“Not every kid breaks something when their team loses. It’s just a game. Tomorrow it won’t even matter.”
“I can’t help it, I take it personally.”
“I worry about what this bodes for the future,” his mom continued. “You think a girlfriend is gonna be ‘okay’ when you punch a hole in the wall?”
“I won’t watch sports with girls,” replied Rafi.
(a brilliant solution, I thought)
“What – am I supposed to be all happy sunshine and daisies all the time?” he went on. ”Am I not allowed to get angry?”
Linda looked at me, waiting for me to get off the fence and say something.
“Damn, Rafi, you’re really in the hole. First the laptop…” (he had carelessly knocked a laptop off a couch arm a few months ago, and was on the hook for half of the repair. We reasoned half was fair: it was a genuine accident, not a rage moment, but the reason the laptop was perched precariously on the couch arm in the first place was that he and his friends hadn’t cleared all their junk – plates, bags of chips, Gatorade bottles – off the coffee table, where the laptop normally lives).
“…and now you gotta pay for the wall.”
I said it calmly, evenly. This really irritated my wife.
She thought I was countenancing his behavior by not acting outraged. I guess I wasn’t as freaked out by it all as her, even though I never broke anything as a kid when my teams lost, because, well, I didn’t “have teams.”
In high school I was in plays – no, worse, musicals – so sports were just not on my radar.
I’ve only become a sports guy because both of my kids are jocks (hello genetic lottery!). So I get it now. I was devastated by the NBA Finals. Sweet, mom hugging Kevin Durant didn’t get his ring, and instead “King James” gets crowned?!
Ugh, the unfairness of life! Never mind that KD didn’t bring his A game, and LeBron did.
“Why are you so angry?” asked Linda, her voice softening, the question meant more generally.
“I am a totally different person around you guys than with my friends,” Rafi answered.
“So we make you angry?” she asked incredulously.
“Well, no, really, it’s sports.”
At age 15 and 363/365ths, no explanation is needed for being a little hostile toward your parents, no matter how decent and un-Sandusky like they are.
I chimed in again. “Maybe we should get you a designated pillow to pound, and if that’s not satisfying enough, maybe an old textbook or something.”
Rafael didn’t dignify my all-too-reasonable and astonishingly lame suggestion with a response. And I know Linda felt I was just skirting the underlying issue.
I got up and inspected the hole more closely. It was a doozy. The sheetrock had been completely broken and I could touch the stud beneath it.
“Rafi, go on Youtube and look up ‘how to patch holes in sheetrock.’”
He did, and we found a video in which a Canadian woman fixed a hole that looked pretty comparable to ours.
“Guess I know what you’re doing tomorrow,” I said. “I think we still have some of the orange paint left.”
Part of the reason I wasn’t that shocked was that I saw something like this coming.
When the Thunder lost game three of the series, he threw a shoe and a remote control across the room.
Miraculously, the remote survived intact.
I was out of town for game four, watching it in L.A., but as the Thunder lost their lead in the last few minutes, I knew Rafael would be throwing something, I just didn’t know what.
I called my wife the next day. “He tipped over the coffee table.”
I was back home for the final, bleak game of the series, and Rafael chose not to watch it with me. He knew he would freak out if the Thunder lost – a comforting sign to me that his frontal cortex was maturing – and so nothing was thrown when LeBron finally got his ring.
Instead, Rafi came downstairs and simply said “Dad, you know who the real MVP’s of the series are, right?”
“Who?” I asked, knowing full well what his answer would be. “The refs,” he said. Ever since Rondo got smacked in the head by Wade in overtime in the playoffs and it wasn’t called, he’s been convinced that all refs everywhere are in cahoots against whatever team he happens to be rooting for.
I spent Sunday afternoon trying to supervise my son on the repair. I am absolutely not handy, and wasn’t much help – and didn’t want to be – this is his mess. Rafi isn’t handy, either, but I figure no matter how good or poor the repair is, hopefully a tedious, wasted Sunday will get that frontal cortex of his thinking twice before he puts holes in anything else.
On the drive to the hardware store to buy the patching materials, I asked Rafi what he meant went he said “I am a totally different person around you guys than with my friends.” This was what bothered me the most about the whole episode. I took it to mean our mere presence brought out a simmering anger in him, that he was only relaxed and comfortable and himself when he wasn’t around us.
“I just think my friends’d probably be more judgmental,” said Rafi.
It took me a second to process his words.
“Wait, so you’re saying you’re more comfortable going ballistic in front of me and mom than your friends?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
I didn’t say, “Ah, honey, that’s one of the sweetest things anyone’s ever said to me!” but believe me, I was thinking it.
Even at 16, and even if it’s only in this one area – sports rage – he’s still more himself around us than his own peers. Wow. Doubt that’ll last long, but I will savor it while it’s here.
P.S. At the hardware store I showed the floor clerk my cell phone picture of the hole. She looked at me, then at Rafael, and had only one question for us:
“Door knob or fist?”