Nature vs Nurture: A father's attempts at adding to the next generation of Steeler fans

The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

Having been steeped during his childhood in the nurturing influence of Western Pa, the epicenter of Steeler Nation, a father attempts to replicate his becoming a Steelers fan with his kids.

I used to be fully committed to the side of Nurture in the debate as to what has the greatest impact on who we become as an individual, but I'm not dogmatic about it. I acknowledge and agree that there are specific exceptions to such a "rule"; certain aspects of life that Nature prevails over any influence of Nurture.

I believe that if you raise a dog or a child, no matter how mild or sweet a disposition either may have, in a hostile and abusive environment, you are going to create an individual that eventually will have to be put down, figuratively or literally.

I also believe that certain predilections are inherent in the genetic makeup of the individual that trump any Nurturing whatsoever, whether it is sexual orientation, susceptibility to addiction or diseases, or genius level aptitude for music, art or mathematics.

I have always felt however, that Nurture was the largest single influence when it comes to an individual's affinity for a sports team. My father was ambivalent towards sports; he never played them growing up, and he never had time as a young adult to participate, let alone follow them. My mother was a female jock in high school, and her single year of college; she apparently was quite the "enforcer" on any women's field hockey team she played on (I still have her University of Michigan Field Hockey stick, somewhere in my basement). My brother was unable to participate in sports, and his physical limitations prevented him from being able to follow the action on TV or in person.

My mother's affinity, and the early influence on my tastes, was for baseball. She grew up in central New Jersey and was a life-long, die hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan. She lived and breathed Dodgers baseball as a child, spending hours with her father either at his pharmacy, sitting at the soda counter listening to a day game at Ebbets Field while waiting for him to walk her home, or in the evenings in their living room, sitting at his feet. Her mother had neither the time nor inclination to approve of such foolishness as "...grown men playing a child's game" and barely tolerated my mother's expenditure of time better suited for chores; of all the areas of his life that my grandfather allowed my grandmother to rule, the time he spent with my mother listening to the Dodgers on the radio was sacrosanct and he allowed no interference from any quarter.

While I had a typical childhood playing Little League baseball, and later a myriad of other sports (cross country, rugby, fencing, martial arts), it wasn't as if I grew up surrounded by a family of sports fanatics. Yet both my mother and I found ourselves swept up by the growing awareness and slowly rising, cautiously optimistic fervor of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area for Steelers football at the end of the 1960's and the beginning years of the ‘70's. She had no background with football, never having followed it as a child, and it was the one sport that my parents refused to nurture a desire in me to play; their prescience regarding the health hazards of the sport over-rode their refusal to allow their own personal tragedies involving the two boys they had before me negatively impact my childhood.

So, even though my household didn't contain Steeler mania, our neighborhood and the greater Pittsburgh area certainly did, and thus I was Nurtured at the bosom of Steeler Nation; infused with the admiration and appreciation of the Rooney family and the character of the team they themselves nurtured to reflect the many admirable qualities of the fan base and city supporting their team. You cannot escape from your past, but in this case I have no reason to want to; I embrace what the Steelers represent as a monument to where I grew up and a testament to the qualities of the millions of people who lived, worked and died in Western Pennsylvania.

Fast forwarding to my adult life; I have four kids from two marriages; a son and daughter whose presence in my life has enriched it beyond anything I could have imagined, and two sons from my second marriage who have only increased my good fortune.

And not a single one of them is a true-blue Steeler fan.

Certainly, Son 1A (my own) watches Steelers games with me, and has attended a couple, and if asked will say the Steelers are his favorite team; this reinforces my belief in Nurture because he roots for the Steelers because I do, and it's a way for us to spend time together and bond. But football just isn't all that important to him.

My daughter, as special and dear to me as she is, picked the Green Bay Packers as a young child because she liked their colors better. She doesn't really enjoy football all that much. In fact, succumbing to the influences of her boyfriend (if ever there was a word that acts as a dagger to a father's heart, that is it), she is actively an NHL fan, rooting for the Washington Capitals.

Sons 1B, the Virginia Tech sophomore, and Son #3 the high-schooler are an interesting study in contrast. They both claim to be die-hard New York Yankees fans, even though they were born and have lived their entire lives in Northern Virginia. I blame their allegiance to the fact that both their parents are New York natives who emigrated to the Washington DC area several years before the boys were born.

Son 1B doesn't really care for football; he is much more into swimming and now triathlons. But Son#3 has suddenly become a total football nut. He makes sure to remind me, every single day, how many days are left before the opening of the 2013 season. He has a friend who is a Philadelphia Eagles fan who has been teaching him all about the finer points of the draft; I sat in the basement with the two of them the night the Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones. Before he left, the Eagles fan wrote down Le'Veon Bell's name and told me: "...you watch, this is the guy the Steelers should pick". So, Son #3 is getting some good mentoring and nurturing of his football interest from that source.

Neither of Sons 1B and #3 parents really care for football, so it has been with some glowing pride that I watch his rapidly increasing interest and enthusiasm for football; I believe he's seen the passion I've exhibited these many years we've lived under the same roof and it has rubbed off on him. He witnessed my mood swings during Super Bowl XLIII, and even managed not to be scarred for life after witnessing my reaction to James Harrison's interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half. He saw the dark side of my fandom that fateful day as we sat down to eat dinner just as the overtime period began in the Steelers playoff game against the Denver Broncos in 2011.

He asks politely and respectfully (his mother and father have taught their children very well in the manners department) if he can hold and twirl my backup vintage 1976 Terrible Towel while we watch games together. He and his brother even joined me and Son 1A at M & T Stadium the day the Steelers were thrashed by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2011 opener.

So I have direct personal experience in the Nature vs Nurture debate when it comes to influencing young impressionable individuals; I've nurtured the development of another serious football fanatic.

But he only cares for the New York Giants. Go figure.

Out of respect for his mother, and a nod to the class and character of the Rooney family however, I have forgiven him his misguided allegiance, and have even allowed him a small corner of my football wall in the basement to hang his Giants Fathead helmet and cut-out of his favorite player Victor Cruz (smallest sizes I could find as a Christmas present). However, I am not a perfect man, so I do not pass up any opportunity to describe to him how much of a punk Cruz was for flopping in the endzone in the Giants game last year.

Out of four kids, I have one who is a NHL fan, one who participates in a sport that exhausts me just to think about, one who enjoys my company watching games but otherwise is ambivalent, and one who has infused me with a growing sense of finally having gotten it right, only to crush my hopes and dreams by picking another team. At least his choice of team to follow is a classy organization; one that has many similar characteristics, rich traditions and history like the Steelers. Heck, even the Rooney and Mara families are related by marriage, so there's a confluence of similarity to take comfort in.

And so, while my commitment to the Nurture side of the debate has suffered a material setback, I can at least say I'm 25% successful at ensuring the NFL another source of revenue for the next several decades.

And at least he didn't pick the Cleveland Browns.

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