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I don’t really remember being poor enough to only have one TV
I don’t really remember being poor enough to only have one TV—we got two eventually. In the summer of 2001, Dad and I watched the NBA Finals on separate ones. I watched the game through tear-filled eyes.
Though I don’t really remember my very young childhood very well either, so I guess it’s not a surprise that I don’t remember much about TVs. I have memories of Dad managing a McDonalds’ restaurant in the Lehigh Valley. I didn’t know that it was a less-than-desirable job for a Doctor of Medicine. I guess our poverty just seemed normal, and two TVs seemed excessive to me. Just like wearing a T-shirts indoors during winter—it seemed like the wrong thing to do, never mind a wasteful thing to do. I remember being surprised my friend answered the door in just his T-shirt on January. I remember wearing the same outfit to school for the second day in a row and wondering about those popular and cool kids that had the audacity to wear a different one everyday.
We finally moved into a bigger house one winter—I switch schools in the middle of the year, because Dad finally finished his local residency and started private practice. Switching schools doesn’t matter much in second grade in my recollection. But of course, I only had one friend at the other school, so I don’t really know if I am the one who should be declaring how easy it is to switch schools.
I didn’t know how much money he made that first year, but it was probably more money than he ever had before. Our house wasn’t the biggest one ever and our cars weren’t the coolest, but a few years into it, we had more than one TV and a Super Nintendo. Dad and I used to play Super Soccer together. At first I was way better than him, and eventually he started crushing me, and I’d cry every time I lost. He didn’t let me win, really, even when he allowed me to use the automated goal tender. I cried when he said I could use it, and I cried even more when I lost while using it. I didn’t even have to block goals, and I’d still lose.
Losing was hard for me. I remember that year, Michael Jordan and the Bulls, who me and every other child in the world loved, only lost ten times. That means they won more than any other team ever. And each of those ten times, I desperately cried. Those tears stayed with me for a long time, even as I developed an understanding of what local sports were and grew attached to the 76ers.
We’re in 2000 at this point and the world didn’t end because of Y2K, but it might as well have as the Sixers lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Pacers. And I started to develop an even deeper love for the team. This was before drug representation was reformed and the reps could try and spoil the doctors into prescribing their medication (what kind of crooked doctor would do that anyway?). But Dad and I would take late night trips to Philly for overpriced cheesesteaks at the arena and would watch Allen Iverson play a half dozen times a month. Sometimes even without the rep.
I fell in love with Allen Iverson that summer, probably more than I did Michael Jordan since AI never really won very much and wasn’t nearly as good. So imagine my thrill when the Sixers actually made the Finals that year with a team left by Allen Iverson and people like Eric Snow and Aaron McKie and Matt Geiger. They were playing Dad’s favorite team.
Dad liked the Lakers, not because of Shaq and Kobe, although that didn’t hurt anything, but because when he emigrated from Egypt (like many Christian Egyptians are hoping to do now, now that the Muslim Brotherhood got precisely the Constitution they wanted), it was the Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar show and you kind of had to be a Lakers fan and so he stayed in love with them throughout their terrible 1990s, but of course, it was easier to be a fan with Shaq and Kobe at the helm. And so the Lakers did battle with the Sixers that year, and I’ll tell you what, aside from the 2008 World Series where the Phils trounced those dirty Rays, game one of that NBA Finals series where Allen Iverson triumphantly stepped over Tyronn Lue is the greatest memory of my sports life. I watched that game with my friend Nick, and called Dad late at night to rub it in.
I remember I watched Leno that night, which is recorded earlier in the day, and his one-liner was it wasn’t going to be a surprise who won that game. ESPN’s Stuart Scott interviewed a thrilled Allen Iverson who declared that many people had lost bets that evening. I loved their fist bump. It felt like I finally beat Dad.
The Sixers lost the next game and the following game. Dad and I decided that we couldn’t watch game four together, and so I watched upstairs and he watched in the basement. That was the time when the two TVs finally felt like a necessity and not a luxury.
The Sixers lost that game and I cried during halftime because I knew that losing game four and being down three games to one in a playoff series was nearly insurmountable. We still went to Philly to watch game five with a great crowd that would declare that Kobe sucked repeatedly. I think we still do that.
I may have beaten Dad, but he crushed me this time. Dad and I kind of stayed watching TVs in separate rooms for several of the next years. Emotional distance was masked by our political and religious differences.
And maybe that’s when my love for Philadelphia really started—and my hatred for L.A. did. My disdain for my father and the ways that he repeatedly hurt me got pretty attached to Kobe Bryant and the city of Los Angeles. Philadelphia was the opposite of that, mainly because it was mine. I never struggled to see God here; how could someone, really? Once I saw God in myself, once I became a Christian, I could really see God around me.
I used to have all of this justification that explained why Philadelphia was better, why it was greater than all of the other towns in the world, but at some point, when we starte reflecting more on ourselves, we realize that our elaborate justificatons are as thin as the air through which they are spoken.
It is amazing how much I hated L.A. despite never being there; or how much I hated Dad despite never really knowing him. What did I really hate? My friends who moved there, the supposed laid back culture, the beautiful weather and landscape. Why did I care that the craft beer scene sucked there? And why would I harp about it?
Dad was as much of a sub-human (or super-human) person as Kobe and the Lakers were to me. And you don’t really started seeing God in someone until you offer them some humanity. And lately, I’ve been seeing some humanity in that father that caused me so much pain and turmoil.
I guess this is the year that it all happened. I went to L.A. twice this year and I saw God both times. For some reason, in my visits to Southern California this year, I decided to merely enjoy all of the wonderful things about its culture, its weather, its landscape and try and see God in it. I even saw God in a holy burrito. It is much better to love.
It is much better to love and to see God. Even to love and see God in that that curmudgeon of a man who so rarely emoted, or apologized, or said he loved me. Even he is worth exonerating. Even he is worth being loved. Just like me. So, I’ve forgiven him. And I think he’s forgiven me too.