I love my family so much. We get along remarkably well. We support each other in our widely-varied life pursuits which run the gamut from oil painting, to church leadership, to running a Stonewall Sports League. Even in matters of politics and religion — which can be so troublesome for so many families — we maintain a respectful dialogue and familial unity that seems rare in today’s world.
We do not get along so well, however, when we’re competing against each other.
This weekend, we pulled together an informal family reunion here in Northeast Ohio. My brother Alex flew in from Minnesota. My brother Jay and his wife Brandi drove up from Texas. And we’ve spent most of our time drinking coffee and catching up on all our widely-varied life pursuits (this is our first full-family gathering since COVID-19). But we did decide to play a game together this afternoon. A “Boys” against “Girls” game of Four on the Couch. And for whatever reason, that team-versus-team environment put us back in a very familiar place of competition and consternation.
We heaped pressure on our teammates when the time came for a critical decision in the game. Sometimes, we cheered loudly when our teams made progress. Other times, we accused each other of cheating when we suffered setbacks. And we made a point to take portraits of the “Winners” and “Losers,” as you can see above.
It’s not like we were about to start throwing punches or anything. There wasn’t even full-fledged yelling or mean-spirited name-calling at each other. But we took the game way too seriously. It took us a good while to cool down afterwards. And the experience connected emotionally with a host of other experiences when my family and I got caught up in the spirit of competition. Usually in the context of sports.
I think we should call this phenomenon “Betty’s Fire,” in honor of my grandmother.
Something clicked in my mind when Marci, Elliot, Olivia, Cor, and I visited the graves of my grandparents last month. In trying to tell my children stories of their great-grandparents, I realized that there’s a pretty direct line from my grandmother, to my father, to me and my siblings, and to our children. A line of athletes. A line of competitors. And a line of deep, internal flames that get stoked when it’s “game time.”
Grandma Asp had fiery red hair in youth. And she was a basketball player (even playing at the collegiate level). My Dad learned many of his basketball skills from her — and he took it to the next level in his high school days. He earned himself the nickname “Floorburns” for the way he dove after loose balls on the basketball court. He also played smash-mouth football, breaking his nose more than once while playing full-back and line-backer.