My 2 1/2-year-old son Jackson may wind up being an Alabama fan. I pray every single night that it won't happen, and I'm doing everything in my power so it won't. But his in-laws who he loves and his Mommy who he loves are all dyed-in-the-wool Tide fans.
During the day, he stays with my in-laws, who swear they don't influence him. I know my wife -- God bless her -- doesn't, either. She'll dress him in orange and white, encourages the Tennessee stuff and wants [for me] him to be a Tennessee fan ... or at least she says she does. I know she loves me, and she knows how important all that is to me. And when I say it's important, I mean it's ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS ON THE PLANET TO ME!
But a 2 year old's a 2 year old. You can manipulate them, get them to say ANYTHING [which is not always a good thing] and absolutely nothing that you say or do now with them when it comes to team allegiances will necessarily stick. Case in point: My high school football coach played for Bear Bryant and won a couple of national championships alongside Joe Namath. He's the biggest Alabama fan I've ever met. His daughter married a Tennessee fan. Now, his grandson is 17 and one of the biggest Vols fans around.
My buddy Drew is a big-time Tennessee fan who married into an Alabama family like I did. Two of his three kids turned out great, but Wyatt ... well, Wyatt is 4 years old and already a massive Crimson Tide fan, wearing jerseys and singing fight songs right alongside Harvey Updike and the rest of the Bammers.
It's a crap shoot when you live down here on the state line. There's no two ways around it. It's a scary thought. And it's something I worry about DAILY. Honestly, daily.
There are great signs for Jackson, though, I'll say that much. One of his favorite songs is Rocky Top. There have been more than a handful of nights when he wants me to lay down beside him, hold his hand and serenade him with the tale of moonshine and wild women that is our beloved fight song. He'll sing along with me. I've even got a couple videos on my cell phone -- videos I've watched hundreds of times -- of him singing "Wocky Top, you'll always beeee, ho-see-ho to me. Dood ol' Wocky Top, Wocky Top Tenn-a-teeeee! Wocky Top Tenn-a-teeeee!"
Thinking about it and especially listening to it brings tears to my eyes. I want so badly to share football games with him, for us to be able to hop in the car, drive to Knoxville, experience the gameday festivities and watch the Vols run through the "T" and beat teams the way we used to. If he decides to go the dark side, I'll love him all the same, but I do think I had a stronger relationship with my dad because we went to games together and were able to talk about it and experience it together.
There have been a few times when he's seen the script A and said, "Wook, Da-Da. Dat's Woah Tide." I'll just kind of bite my tongue and say, "Yeah, that's who Papa likes, but that's not who Da-Da and Jackson likes." It makes me angry at my in-laws for no good reason. It makes me angry at my wife for no good reason. They'll wear their Alabama stuff in public just like I'll wear my Tennessee stuff in public, and we definitely get twice as many Roll Tides! as Go Vols! these days, that's for sure.
But the best times are when Jackson sees the 8 million Power T's around the house or out in public, when Jackson looks at me and says, "DA-DA, WOOK!!! DAT'S DOUGH BAWLS!!!!!" which is his way of saying "Go Vols." They've become two of my favorite words. No longer do I think of my mama making biscuits when I hear dough balls. I think of my little boy saying it and knowing that I'll love it. He'll shine those bright eyes toward me, smile real big and say:
"Da-Da and Jat-son wikes Dough Bawls, ain't dat right, Da-Da."
That's right, son. Hopefully, it'll always be like that.