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All-American insincerity

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-10-21


When the 2014 World Series wraps up in a few weeks, and the new champions are crowned, there will come a moment in the post-game interviews where — I guarantee — the winning manager or MVP will tell one of the most obvious, blatant, and bald-faced lies of his life. It will come upon him involuntarily, this lie, like a muscle-spasm, and he will be almost powerless in its grip. You might see a barely perceptible wince on the guy's face as he's speaking, as if he's dimly aware of the insincerity of what he's putting into words, but that won't stop him from saying it. In that moment, after all, the lie is expected of him by both the interviewer on the field and the millions of casual viewers at home as well.

It goes like this — the interviewer will ask the MVP or the coach what winning the championship "means" to him, and he will say, "This is the greatest day of my life. . . " and then the inevitable pause, and then quickly: "Outside the birth of my children, of course." And there it is: "The Birth of My Children" card. Played effortless and with only a bit of hesitation. Because no one wants to admit that they're so shallow that they would place winning a sporting event above the important day of their child's entry into the world.

The problem, though, is that I never believe them. I really do believe, that for most professional athletes, winning the championship on that day truly does make it the greatest moment of their lives. They drop the "Birth of My Children" line merely because it sounds good and because they know it's what they're supposed to say. Every time I hear the "Birth of My Children" line, I just want to say, Come on, Guy, go ahead and forget the kids for a moment. Enjoy your day. You don't have to resort to a knee-jerk insincerity just to please the masses. It's almost painful to have to watch those exhausted and exhilarated athletes self-edit themselves on such a large stage.

Of course I remember the days when my children were born and of course they were hugely important, epoch-starting moments, but I'd be hard-pressed to label them as the "greatest" days of my life. What I remember most of those days are exhaustion, nervousness, giddiness, and feeling like someone had just placed a two-ton, concrete block of fear directly on my chest. I was too tired, too scared, too overwhelmed by the days to make any grand statements about where they fit in the grand scheme of my life. And besides, the birth of your children is just the first of thousands and thousands of days of wonder and joy and terror, and it becomes harder, in hindsight, to remember the singularity of those first moments.

But if you're in the "summing up" business — and I'm not, I've always thought that life is too variable and wide-open and confusing and wonderful to necessitate any pre-fabricated hyperbole or "Top Ten" lists — but if you're in the "summing up" business, I guess the "Birth of My Children" card is as reliable as any. And I guess I should allow for the possibility that I don't speak for the masses here, that I'm merely a hysterical anti-sentimentalist who has a particularly jaundiced view of Mankind. Fair enough. But it still is galling to hear people say things that they don't necessarily believe just because it has become the "thing" to say. And I know it's a trite thing, but honesty and truthfulness still trump what sounds good.

You'll see this phenomenon again this November, around Veteran's Day, when virtually every citizen in the nation will mouth the following phrase at some point, whether they believe it or not: "We thank you for your service." Spoken to any former or current member of the military that they come in contact with. It has become that "thing" that everybody has to say, regardless of the appropriateness or sincerity of the comment. I have absolutely nothing against the military but I've learned to despise the "thank you for your service" line because it's thoughtless and by-rote and knee-jerk, and I hate thoughtless, by-rote, knee-jerk anything. It's gotten so bad that I've found I have to boycott Facebook on the days surrounding Veteran's Day, just to avoid the hammy and patently insincere tributes to the service men and women who are probably a tad uncomfortable at hearing those canned, scripted words anyway.

A few years ago I had to deal with the "thank you for your service" line when I casually mentioned, in a social setting, that my father had served in the Korean War; one of my conversationalists, then, "thanked" me for my father's service. I almost laughed out loud. My father was just about the worst soldier imaginable, a prickly iconoclast who routinely got busted for disobedience, insubordination, and other outrageous acts — never court-martialed but close, especially for the time in Okinawa when he got drunk and passed out and missed his boat's departure time. As a kid, my father's war stories were just about the funniest things I had ever heard, and we loved it when he would regale us with the tales of his misadventures. And now, fifty years later, here's some guy, mechanically thanking me for his "service." I wanted to tell the guy that my father had about as much reverence for his "service" as he had for his high school Latin class, or the stick ball games he played as a kid. It was just something he did and then moved on. If my dad had been alive to hear the "thoughtful" tribute from the well-intentioned gentlemen, I know exactly how he would have responded: he would have rolled his eyes.

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