I grew up in North Carolina. Therefore, as you might expect, I love college basketball. Carolina basketball in particular. Yep, I'm a Tar Heel--a 1991 grad of Chapel Hill. This past basketball season was rough. Being a Carolina fan in 2009-2010 was kind of like living through the real estate crisis all over again. After experiencing the seemingly endless prosperity and euphoria of a national championship last April, the basketball market suddenly collapsed around us this year. Our value dropped drastically. We lost eleven conference games! ELEVEN! What's next? Locusts? Famines? Cats and dogs living together in an Animal Planet version of Sodom and Gomorrah? Will the Chattahoochee suddenly turn to blood? Will a meteor strike the earth causing global death and destruction? Will Wham reunite? God, Himself, only knows. All I can say for sure is, my Carolina-blue beating heart can't take another year like this one.
Still, despite my beloved Heels' failure to make the tournament, I'm a March Madness nut. I fill out the brackets. I pull in vain for Arkansas Pine Bluff to somehow defeat the evil that is Duke University. I scream in agony at the television as some school I've never heard of hits a prayer at the buzzer to defeat the team I picked to go to the Final Four. And I do most of it while sitting with other middle-aged guys, drinking beer, downing hot wings, and critiquing players and coaches who, if only they possessed our wisdom and basketball insight, would have avoided defeat and advanced to play another round.
As a married man with kids, my love for March Madness has not faded. It has, however, morphed. Daddy bracketology is very different from man with no kids bracketology. Watching the tournament is no longer as simple as sitting on the couch or heading to a sports bar whenever I feel like it. No, these days, NCAA basketball mania is mixed with a healthy dose of pint-sized Saturday soccer games, munchkin swim lessons, and multiple requests to play in the backyard. And those are just the kid-induced distractions. That doesn't include the times my wife has something we "need" to talk about just as a tie game is entering the final two minutes. Some kid with a Polish last name is bringing the ball up court for Purdue or Wisconsin, trying to orchestrate a final shot to win, and Meredith picks that moment to tell me that she needs to talk to me about the kids, our plans for the week, a financial decision, or (and this is when I know I'm going to miss the next game too) her feelings. Oh, I could tell her that I'm watching the game and that I'd like to talk about it later, but then I'd hear about how I never have time to talk and find myself sleeping in the living room and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. So, reasoning that the Polish kid at Wisconsin (or Purdue) probably can't help my marriage, I try to give my wife my attention.
Of course, in reality, I only give her half my attention. The other half is still on the game. My brain dances back and forth between the game clock and my wife telling me how she sometimes doesn't feel listened to (or something like that--I'm not totally sure--again, I'm watching the game). Don't get me wrong. I want to be a good husband and listen. My desire is to be a pillar of support for my wife--even in March. But this is the tournament for cryin' out loud! It's one and done! My wife is likely to forgive me if I appear a bit insensitive for one more minute. But there's no forgiveness for the team that misses the last second shot. And so, like a house divided, my mind bounces back and forth. I'm aware that my wife is talking, I just don't catch all the words. She could pick that moment in time to confess that she's having an affair, and my only response would likely be "Holy crap! Northern Iowa just beat Kansas!"
And so, I'll settle in as best I can and watch my March Madness. No, I don't have my Tar Heels to cheer for this year. But I can cheer for whoever plays Duke. And I'll do it all with kids crawling on me and a wife shooting me frustrated glances over her inability to steal my attention away from the tube. The good news is, come April, I'll be a better husband. I just hope Meredith doesn't leave me for the Polish kid at Wisconsin (or Purdue) before that.