Teaching Tolerance for Those You Hate

On the way to school this morning, The Baby and I had a conversation about fandom, prompted by absolutely nothing she or I had said up to that point. She has been talking about baseball a lot lately, for some reason. I may have mentioned that the season was starting soon, and so she’s been asking me often exactly when it will begin. When I say “Next Friday,” she’ll let out an anguished groan, because any length of time longer than a minute is an eternity to a little kid. She also thinks, because I told her I write about the Mets, that I’m a “baseball recorder”.

So we’re walking to school. I believe the last thing I said was something along the lines of, “Ooh, look at that squirrel up on that telephone wire.” Then, this:

BABY: Do you like the Mets?

ME: Yes, I do.

BABY: Do you like the ‘Ankees?

I paused here for a while, wondering how to respond. Do I say something stupid and hateful? Or do I try to keep as much positivity in our shared lives for as long as I can? I opt for the latter.

ME: I like the Mets better. They’re my favorite team.

THE BABY: I don’t like the ‘Ankees.

I am genuinely perplexed, because honestly, I don’t think I’ve said one word about the Yankees in front of her–good, bad, or indifferent–her entire life. Her only interaction with That Team, as far as I know, has been driving past the stadium on our way upstate. I have not tried in any way to transfer any of my animus on to her. I have to assume this is a product of school. *shakes fist*

ME: Why don’t you like the Yankees?

THE BABY: They smell! They smell like ‘Ankee shirts!

At this point, I have to fight every impulse in my body to laugh. Because as much as I might say I “hate,” the Yankees, I really don’t. For one thing, I know too many Yankee fans who aren’t dicks to wish them too much ill. There’s really no one currently on the team who even bugs me–no, not even Jeter. There’s just a certain kind of Yankee fan who drives me nuts. And let’s be honest: there are douchebags a’plenty in every fanbase. If the Mets had the run of success that the Yankees have had in the last 15 years, they’d attract the same terrible types the Yankees do now, people who want to bask in reflected glory and are not fans of baseball or even sports, only winning.

More importantly, I don’t want to be one of those dads who creates a Hate Clone in his own twisted image to hurl tiny epithets at the object of his scorn. That’s even worse than trying to push kids into a sport or to skip grades, because at least a kid can gain something from those endeavors. But using your child as a vessel for all your hates and fears, that’s just monstrous. I’ve seen kids like these at stadiums, dressed head to toe in team gear, yelling horrible things they couldn’t possibly understand, like Children of the Damned in Zubaz.

If I encouraged this kind of thinking, I feared her growing up to make her own version of Buffalo ’66. Or even worse, becoming a version of one of those mutants from Filip Bondy’s Bleacher Creature columns in the Daily News of yore. I had to read tons of that column when researching my recaps of the 2000 season, and it dented my soul. The kind of hate that came out of these people’s mouths toward Mets fans was at thermonuclear, Alabama 1963 levels.

I did not want my daughter to grow up to be such a person. Sports should inspire love, not hate. So, I took the high road.

ME: That’s not nice. The Yankees don’t smell. Different people like different things. Some people like the Yankees, some people like the Mets. Some people don’t like baseball at all.

THE BABY: [with a resigned sigh] Yeah, I guess so.

And we walked on to school. I felt good for following the better angels of my nature, and I thought of the lyrics of one of my dad’s favorite parodic songs, Tom Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week”: Step up and shake the hand / Of someone you can’t stand / You can tolerate them if you try…