I've already got my passport and have an abundance of vacation time available (opportunity); and what more motivation would any of us need than to be part of the world-wide Steeler Nation movement and witness our team play in London? All that is in doubt is the means by which I can afford such a trip.
I've got three kids in college; my eldest who will be a junior just made the transfer from a junior college up to a full blown university. While I'm so very proud of her for overcoming her self-inflicted obstacles, I have to admit I was enjoying the cut-rate costs of community college. Son 1-A is having to put every penny of his summer work towards the student loans he's already taken out and so I'm having to bear the burden of the balance of his college tuition, room and board. Son 1-B (my wife's oldest) is still diligently looking for a summer job, but his declared major is requiring him to take summer classes, four hours away from home. (Number 3 is fortunately still in high school, so the monetary stake has yet to be driven completely through my wallet).
I've been wrestling with this conundrum ever since the NFL announced the Steelers would be playing in London this year. I've talked to my wife, with whom I would be travelling; I've talked to my friends; I've talked to the dog. I get different advice from all of them. From all my friends, of which only some are Steelers fans, I get a resounding "GO!!!" My wife set two conditions: one being "can you really afford it?" and, "...you know, if you go, you're not going without me!"
The dog is taciturn; you get few words out of him, but he speaks volumes with the way he lives his life. To him, life is all about living in the moment; doing what comes naturally to him, self gratification and not worrying about the future. So, he too counsels "GO!!!" Of course, he also licks his own crotch, pees on my foot whenever there's a thunderstorm, and constantly whines for snacks so I'm not 100 percent sold on the validity of his opinion.
So, I have two votes for going (hey, I accept gross personality quirks in my friends, why should that invalidate my dog's opinion?) but I'm still struggling for clarity on my wife's position. On the one hand, I'd love to be able to take her to London; on the other she, like most great spouses, won't tell me what to think or do, but I have a feeling that if I choose wrong, I might be sharing bed space in the aforementioned canine's abode.
Since this issue I've been struggling with centers around my single sports passion, the Pittsburgh Steelers, I thought to myself: "PaVaSteeler, why not turn to the Bard of the Burgh, Mike Tomlin and see if there's any insight to be garnered from his many uttered pearls of wisdom?"
So, I imagined myself in a conversation with Coach Tomlin, explaining my dilemma and looking to him for direction:
PaVaSteeler: Coach, I'm torn on what to do. On one hand, I have this rare opportunity to travel abroad and cheer for you and the team in one of the world's great cities; yet on the other, I have three kids I have to get through college, and who knows what other expenses may crop up. Should I worry about what might be, or go for it?
Coach Tomlin: "We're living in the here and now."
PaVaSteeler: So, you're saying you don't plan for the future, to prepare for possible expenses that might impact your quality of life?
Coach Tomlin: "I'm not looking for comfort."
PaVaSteeler: But, that seems to contradict one of the elements of the Steelers' long standing success, that they always think long term. Don't you worry that Steeler Nation is watching how you lead this team beyond just this season?
Coach Tomlin: "I'm a people watcher, I'm not used to people watching me. Fortunately for us we have what you can't buy, which is Legacy, which is an unbelievable standard and expectation, and all of those great things."
PaVaSteeler: Okay, so if I understand you right, you're saying I shouldn't worry about future problems, but to focus on what it means to be a die-hard Steeler fan and a Father, right now. But there are things I haven't been able to do for my kids; I haven't been able to get them new cars like their friends get, or take them on exotic vacations. I feel like I've let them down on some things in the past.
Coach Tomlin: "I'm not concerned about avoiding anything that happened three years ago or worried about letdowns or things of that nature. When you use the term 'letdown' you proceed with the assumption that this is a continuation of something that happened in the past.
PaVaSteeler: Got it. Don't worry about the past, live in the here and now. Okay, well, I've got money, a good paying job, why shouldn't I splurge and live it up a little; why shouldn't I, for a brief moment, live the life of the jet-set and reach for what might be above my actual means? Isn't that what you and Kevin Colbert were doing when you kept all those highly paid veterans? Weren't you paying them more than the team's future could afford for the sake of championships past, until the salary cap caught up to you?
Coach Tomlin: "We're going to guard against feelings of entitlement. We're simply going to be blue collar humble and start a process of building our football team."
PaVaSteeler: (after a long contemplative pause) I see. Yea, I can see where you and Colbert have made changes. I guess the James Harrison release was really the point where you gave up that entitlement feeling and started back with the basics. Okay, so you're saying I should look to the here and now, return to my roots, and start building for the future. Man, no one ever tells you how hard and how long the role of being a father can be; I only hope my kids understand everything I've sacrificed for them and can overlook the mistakes I've made in the past.
Coach Tomlin: "I'll wear that like a badge of honor. That comes with the job. I don't live in my fear. I just play to win. I don't worry about being judged."
My heart begins to tell me which way I need to go in this decision, but I'm still bedeviled by the warring passions between my own interests and those of others.
It's easy in retrospect to declare which choice another person should have made; we do it all the time. A recent example has been the debate within Steeler Nation on whether Mike Adams was a hero or a fool after confronting three armed assailants outside a restaurant at three in the morning on Pittsburgh's South Side. Some have questioned his decision making process after being stabbed twice and having a gun in his face; others question his judgment in even being out so late and placing himself in such a potentially fatal position; still others have applauded his act of self defense.
But none of us were in his shoes when he faced imminent danger. None of us were able to see the malicious intent in the eyes of his assailants, nor heard the threat of violence in their voices, nor felt the burning touch of cold steel parting our flesh; few of us have ever been faced with such a situation that makes time stand still and a man suddenly confront the very real truth of his own mortality, so we don't really know what we ourselves may have done in that exact situation.
I know many die-hard Steelers fans who are fathers, who make great sacrifices to fulfill their passion of traveling with their team; who forego many other luxuries and scrimp on many necessities in order to wave the Terrible Towel in far away locales. And I know many fathers who deny themselves the things that bring them enjoyment in their life for the sake of their children. So I was still torn.
People of faith read their chosen religion's main text time after time and know it by heart, but they still turn to it in time of indecision, of inner turmoil or self doubt seeking direction because the timeless words contained therein, while never changing, provide in their constancy different insights depending on differing contexts or circumstances. While I was still sorely torn over what to do, the decision at hand was not faith based, but grounded more in the mundane human condition.
And thus I found myself turning to the one man who most eloquently has considered such internal struggles. There is not a condition of the human spirit that the "other Bard" I hold in high esteem, the immortal William Shakespeare, has not addressed; I could have spent hours poring over his 37 plays and 154 sonnets, but really, there's only one place to go in Shakespeare's world when there is a dilemma to be faced: Hamlet, in his famous "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy in Act 3, scene 1. And, as I am often wont to do, I took his words and personalized them for my own situation.
In closing, I leave you with my own soliloquy, from the writing of which my heart rests easily on the decision I have made:
To go, or not to go: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of increased debt
Or to take arms against a sea of tuitions,
And by paying, end them? To stay: to provide;
No more; and by a debt to say I be engulfed in
The heart-ache and the thousand other expenses
That fathers are heir to, ‘tis an obligation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To go: to shirk;
To go: perchance to enjoy: ay, there's the rub;
For in that once a lifetime game what joys may come
When I have crossed the sea,
Must give me pause: there's the implied respect
That makes calamity of so long life's joys denied;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of parenthood,
The ex-spouse's wrong, the struggling daughter's contumely,
The pangs of conscience, the bill collector's delay,
The insolence of offspring and their spurns
That providing fathers merit of the unworthy charges,
When he himself might his enjoyment make
With game day ticket? Who would foreign crowds bear,
To cheer my team after a weary trip
But dread of loss after so high a cost,
The undiscover'd country from where bourn
Few Steelers fans return, puzzles the will
And makes me rather bear those debts I have
Than fly to London with those I know not?
Thus conscience does make coward of us all;
And thus the Black n Gold hue of fandom
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of my TV,
And graduations, of great pith and moment
With this regard my fandom's turn awry,
So lose my name from the list. - Soft you now!
My own Steeler Nation! Fans, in thy orisons
Be my choice to stay remember'd.