I took Isaac to Twickenham for his first live NFL match at the weekend. And while the game itself wasn’t overly thrilling, sharing the experience together made it a day to remember.
Having given the kids their first festival experience at Camp Bestival last year, over the past 12 months we have introduced Isaac to live sporting events. He went to his first football match. We had a day watching motor racing at Silverstone. Then over the summer there was Twenty20 cricket at Lord’s and the Oval.
This has exposed him to some of the elements of live events that you cannot replicate by watching them on TV. Being inside a stadium with 80,000 people and hearing the roar when a team scores. The smell of petrol fumes and the screaming of brakes as racing cars fly past. The thwack of willow on leather as the ball is propelled into the waiting crowd. There’s no substitute for the real thing.
And so it was with our little father-and-son Sunday expedition to west London. Even before the game, the shared experience started with the two of us driving there in the car, an hour or so of that most precious of commodities: one-to-one time to do with as we pleased. We talked about all manner of random boy stuff and when he asked if he could choose some music to put on, I agreed, curious to see what he would select. As it happens, he plumped for the soundtrack from the musical Hamilton. Our eldest is nothing if not geeky, although I suspect he was as much exploiting the opportunity to listen to some music with swear words in as anything.
When we arrived we whiled away a couple of hours taking in all the sights and sounds of the tailgate areas, watched some of the activities, bought a keyring (both our boys’ souvenir of choice), wolfed down some food and then finally took our seats with a fantastic view practically on the halfway line.
The one thing the NFL does better than any other sport is provide spectacle. It’s there in the staccato rhythm of the game with its short bursts of high intensity action: big plays, incredible athleticism and the occasional tackle so violent that it was clearly audible in the furthest reaches of the stadium. The giant flags that were extended across the field during the national anthems. The cheerleaders. The music. The PA announcer constantly whipping up the crowd to make even more noise.
Isaac lapped it all up wide-eyed. During the game I explained to him what was going on and what to watch out for. Afterwards, as we were driving home, he talked about what he had learned and enjoyed the most. When we got home, even though he was three-quarters asleep he gave me a little hug and thanked me for our day out.
It’s an experience I don’t think he will forget quickly and it’s all the more special because it was shared between just the two of us.
And that’s what I’ve come to understand life is really about: experiences. I’m old enough and well off enough now that I don’t need lots more material possessions. (We’re not wealthy by any means but equally it’s been a long time since I’ve worried about how we’re going to pay the credit card bill.) So my life now is less about acquiring things and more about collecting experiences and memories.
I’ve seen my parents make that same transition. There came a time when they stopped worrying about providing for me and my brother’s futures and started to enjoy travel, live shows and meals out. It’s trite but it’s true: they stopped worrying about the future and started enjoying the present.
Before she passed away earlier this year, my mother-in-law’s deteriorating physical condition meant she was deprived of enjoying new experiences for the last few years of her life, despite her mental capacity remaining largely unimpaired. But she had at least racked up some major life experiences in her younger years and lived long enough to appreciate her grandchildren.
I’m working on my own ledger now. We had some amazing travel experiences in particular before the kids were born. Now that all three are old enough to travel and to appreciate it we are trying to create those experiences for all five of us. They all talk with such enthusiasm and detail about places we went to on holiday two, three, even four years ago that you know it has left a lasting impression. And that’s wonderful. I hope they realise in later life how lucky they are to have had the opportunity to experience so much so young.
But mixed in with all the big family experiences are smaller (and not so small) one-to-one memories. So long after Isaac forgets the result of his first NFL game, I hope he will continue to look back fondly on an afternoon and evening spent with his dad, just having an experience together.
Chalk up one more for the memory banks. What’s next?
Thanks to Subway, who provided us with two tickets for the LA Rams vs Arizona Cardinals game at Twickenham.