It took a while, but I finally get it.
Four years ago, I wrote about the epic betrayal of your leaving. A year later, I took delight in your loss in the NBA finals. Each win you earned seemed like an indictment of the team I loved and a validation of the move you made to South Beach.
I was one of the millions who had cheered you, who bought your jersey and who spent ungodly sums trying to make it to your games. As you noted many times, you were “our son,” like we all raised you or something.
If that’s true, and I believe you when you say it, then I was a shitty parent.
I was selfish and angry and sad all at the same time. I didn’t put myself in your position the way I probably should have. After all, as they say in the movies, “We are not so different, you and I.”
We are both lifers of a single state. We grew up and prospered in that state. We made our lives about family and the comfort that comes with knowing your surroundings.
When the time came to make our first big move out from under that pressure cooker known as familiarity, it wasn’t easy. When I was 24, I left the state to pursue a job at Mizzou, pretty much the “South Beach” of Journalism.
If you are anything like me, the decision to leave your comfort zone wasn’t easy. In both of our cases, we could have done the easy and simple thing: Stayed home, worked in a less-ideal environment and never once worried about what was over the hill. The questions came fast and furious from family and friends: “Why don’t you just stay here?” “Can’t you get a job at a newspaper or something?” “What’s wrong with Wisconsin?”
If your family was anything like mine, it wasn’t easy on them either. Mom cried a lot that year. Dad did his “dad-thing” which vacillated between anger and distance. Friends wondered if I’d ever see them again. At least your friends could visit and you had enough money to do what you wanted. Still, there are things that money can’t buy and home is one of those things.
Still, I felt I HAD TO GO. It was a chance to figure out who I was and what I could be. Sure, it hurt like hell some times, but what good doesn’t.
After years of improving jobs, I found myself at a crossroads, too. I could either stay where I was with a chance to keep making better money and gaining more status or I could go home.
Home was a worse job with less pay, a weaker team and more than a few personnel problems. You have a guy who writes diatribes that personally attacked you in comic sans. I have a guy who told a faculty that for the kind of money they were paying for me, “We could have gotten someone good.”
Still, I made what, on paper, was the lesser choice. Still, in my heart, it was the larger portion.
People will criticize you for this, especially if things don’t work out perfectly. You will find moments of doubt, even as you know what you did was right. People looked at me like I was crazy. I’ve had to answer the “What the hell are you doing there?” question a lot of times at national conventions. People have even asked if I got booted out of my old job and that’s why I showed up here.
My answer was simple, “I didn’t want to move home just in time to watch my parents die. I wanted to enjoy my time with them.”
That was mostly true, in that, yes, that was a big part of it. However, I missed the simple things that you can’t just “import” to another part of the world, regardless of your riches.
Knowing what side streets go through and which ones don’t.
Listening to the radio stations you grew up listening to.
The odd culture that, around here at least, is all about cheese, beer, summer festivals and the Friday fish fry. (I’m sure Akron has a similar set of oddities you miss.)
I missed out on a lot when I moved away, but I gained a lot as well. In watching you from afar, I know you probably feel the same.
It took me a long time to realize that I should have seen this a while back. That you were like a kid who never got to go to college and thus needed to get out of the house. That you never had that exploratory phase. That you needed to get out there and, for lack of a better term, play with your friends.
I reacted like an angry parent. I felt rejected and abandoned. I didn’t think about what you thought.
Realizing that makes me also realize that you’re a more mature man than you were when you left. It also makes me realize that I’m lucky as a fan to cheer for you twice in one lifetime.
I don’t know if you’ll win a championship for Cleveland. I do know that you’ll make the game more exciting to watch. And I also know that you’ll be glad you made this move when you did.
Welcome home. And thanks.
See you in the fall,