97. The Lie, Redemption and Notre Dame

97. The Lie, Redemption and Notre Dame

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

The Lie, Redemption and Notre Dame

There are two kinds of people in the world, Notre Dame lovers and Notre Dame haters. And, quite frankly, they’re both a pain in the ass.

~Dan Devine, former Notre Dame football coach

Everyone has a dad story. Mine ends like this: outlined against the blue-gray November sky, a forty-year lie was laid to rest. In dramatic lore, it is known as deceit. But, in this reality, the lie was retired on November 14, 2009, when I finally attended the Pitt-Notre Dame football game. Honest.

The story begins with a lie that I hatched at age eleven by telling my friends I was going to the Pitt-Notre Dame game. It was a desperate reach. I was the kid who felt he had nothing and needed to boost his stature. I surmised that game attendance was the answer. So, while others would live their pedestrian lives, I would watch the most nationally recognized team in college football play against the beloved, local university with a woeful team. I was convinced that because everyone had something that I didn’t, I needed this. It was supposed to happen; too bad it didn’t.

I was somewhat of a rarity in my small, western Pennsylvania community because my parents were separated. Beyond the pain and confusion of a broken family, I felt marked. There was a sense in the attitudes of others that ranged from pity to irrational loathing. I didn’t ask for either. All I wanted was to go to a football game.

I dealt with my situation in the way that any child of that era may have—by lying. I lied to myself that someday things would go back to the way they were. I lied to my friends that my father was working out of town until further notice. I lied about a great father-son day we had. My relatively small world became even more condensed by my self-imposed restrictions. I had to build and live in an alternate reality in which this had happened. The lie was as intricate as Knute Rockne’s famous backfield shift.

The lie subtly began when a neighbor and his father would play catch on a nightly basis. It festered when another friend’s dad was also his coach, troop leader and even confidant. It caught full momentum when my dad did what many suddenly single parents do—he made a promise to impress and win the favor of his son. He said he could get tickets to any game, anytime, anywhere. Being a young football fan and having read of the many exploits of the most storied program in football, I thought it would be cool to tell everyone I knew that I went to see Notre Dame when they came to play at Pitt Stadium.

I asked if we could go and received a long pause. It was followed by a definitive, reassuring affirmative: “We’ll see.”

Having been a father for more than eighteen years, I now know what “we’ll see” means. From this perspective, it means “No way in hell,” or “You have a better chance of being on the next space shuttle” or, more appropriately, “You want to see a Pitt game? Become a better receiver.” But back then, my perspective interpreted it to mean, “See you at 9:00 a.m. We’ll get breakfast! And I hope you like stadium hot dogs, hot chocolate, a game program and a new Pitt tossle cap.”

What I didn’t realize was that he was lying, too. He had no connection to tickets of this magnitude, and I doubt he had an interest in seeing a game with me. He hadn’t until then, so why would he now?

Game day came, and I waited on my front porch wearing a coat and gloves. No need for a tossle cap—I’d be getting a new one that day. I looked up and down the street. Minutes became an hour. Then two hours. It was an hour before kickoff when I went back inside and hoped that no one had seen me not getting into his car.

I spent the day hiding out. The radio in my room was my ticket to the game. I studied the Notre Dame football highlight show the next morning. I knew each play and became an expert on what it would have been like to see a Joe Theismann touchdown pass as it happened live and not on a thirteen-inch black-and-white TV about twenty hours later.

The weight of the lie increased. In the week that followed my alleged attendance, skeptics questioned the existence of my tickets or sought proof in the form of a game program. “I must’ve left them in my dad’s car, of course. I just hope he didn’t throw them away by accident.” The doubters were brushed aside by a significant backer—a twelve-year-old acquaintance with clout. He was older and viewed in our circle as a man of the world because, well, he was older. He said he believed me, and so should they. And they did. Perhaps he didn’t believe me either, but felt uncomfortable for me and backed me up. Or he was setting me up for a future return favor.

Eventually, I emerged from the state of lying to that of regular being. And, eventually, I got over why I lied in the first place, although I regret having fooled my friends for so long.

I realize that, in the long history of fatherhood, there have been worse dads. I also realize that my dad was just a guy who had problems and occasionally talked himself into a corner. I understand that his big talk got away from him, and he undoubtedly was embarrassed by not getting the tickets. I’m sure he wanted to come through like a Joe Montana Cotton Bowl comeback, but he didn’t. Instead, it set up an even greater triumph.

On occasion, I’d come close to breaking the lie. I was once a sportswriter, but never had the opportunity to cover a Pitt-Notre Dame game. After a while, I just tucked it away as a lesson learned in how not to parent and definitely how not to react to a perceived wrong. Then I became luckier than anyone deserves to be as a husband and father. Last year, I noticed the Pitt football schedule and mentioned a condensed version of this story to my wife. This story’s heroine listened and, upon hearing the story of the lie, surprised me with Pitt season tickets for the express purpose of being able to see the Panthers play against Notre Dame. And, like a Rocket Ismail punt return, boom—the lie was over.

In the week leading up to the game, I exhibited the zeal of a kid awaiting his first game. I read every pre-game story I could find and bored coworkers with pre-game analyses. On game day, we parked and began our trek toward Heinz Field. I had a skip in my walk and felt young again. When I caught sight of the stadium, which I’d seen numerous times, I stopped to savor the moment.

I didn’t tap a “lie like a champion today” sign as we entered Heinz Field. I finally got my game program, but didn’t need a tossle cap on that warm November evening. I scanned the seats and saw fathers and sons in attendance. I hoped they’d remember this great day. A few priests walked by, and I said a silent prayer that those who missed an important event would get their chance to recapture the day someday.

Late on the night of November 14, 2009, I could honestly say I went to the Pitt-Notre Dame game. But in the forty years between pseudo and actual attendance, a lot of growing up has taken place, including the acknowledgement and regret of a falsehood; the pardon of its contributing factor; and the realization that absolution can make one stand taller. No lie.

~Mike Morlacci

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