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Hi. My name is Don. And I tailgate. I tailgate at Michigan State. I fell in love with tailgating, oh, around 1992. I got outta college, got married, got a job, and from 1997 until 2004 I was obsessed. I had season tickets. I never missed. Tailgating wasn’t a problem. I wasn’t addicted. I coulda quit any time. I finally did quit …sniff sniff …around 2005. I don’t remember exactly, but I know my wife and I had our third child in 2006. I think that made it three children under the age of 4 and I . . . I . . . I just couldn’t do it anymore. Eventually these cursed kids got into soccer and dance and school and my Saturdays were spent far away from campus. No sounds of marching bands warming up. No loud speakers at tailgate playing Steve Miller or Pearl Jam. And I no longer drank a 12-pack of Miller Lite before Noon.
For nearly 20 years, it’s been a dark, dark time in my life.
But I never gave up hope. I hoped, well, maybe someday I’d have a reason to renew my season tickets. A reason to get the tailgate grill down from the rafters of my garage. To plan a menu. To coordinate who’s-bringing-what with my college buddies, once again, and eat gas station donuts that the single-guy picked up only a few minutes before arriving at my tailgate. Donuts nobody ate while he, the donut king, enjoyed three kinds of sliders, homemade chili and cornbread muffins, four kinds of chip dips, and a dessert too fancy for a tailgate. Oh, I missed you single-free-loading guy.
Well, this is a story about never giving up. It’s about not letting kids get in the way of your dreams and, in fact, living your dreams through your kids. If you have children, you know …the goal is to trick them into thinking like you do and liking all the same things you do so you never have to change or break out of your comfort zone. I know how this parenting thing works.
My daughter is a freshman at Michigan State and it’s one of the proudest and happiest moments of my life. I’m tailgating again. Plus, two of my college buddies have kids at State, and many new friends I’ve made over the last 20 years …their kids are their, too. Not to mention my nephew is at State, and some other nieces and nephews are alum or live in the area, and I get to see them, too. Tailgating, now, is almost better because I don’t have to work so hard to convince my wife that half of my weekly paycheck should go towards food and fun at tailgate. Why? She misses our oldest so much, my wife is actually leading the charge and making dips, helping make the packing list, and she sings along to the fight song as I play it while packing and then while driving.
She sings along once or twice, I mean. She still can’t stomach the MSU Fight Song 30 or 40 times in a row.
Oh, what glorious Saturdays I’ve enjoyed this fall, back on campus and soaking it all in. All it took to get back was 18 years of total conscious and subconscious programming to get my daughter to MSU and not some other college that I could never love. To think …I have a impenetrable excuse to do this for every home game, and maybe a road game, for at least the next four years (and I’m already Clockwork Oranging my other two kids in order to make this 8 or 9 years of tailgate obligation).
Kidding aside. I am happy. Very happy. This is what life’s about. Don’t we always try and put our finger on what makes us “happy?” We try to tell our kids it ain’t about the money, the fame, the size of your house or what car you drive (even though I’ve had two cars in my life that actually did make me happy …maybe because I just like cars and driving and it’s in my Detroit-born D.N.A. to derive happiness from a car …but that’s another Blog entry). Where was I? Oh, yes, it’s not about the money, fame, or your house …but happiness comes from time with people you love and the smiles, laughter, and memories you take away from those times together.
Maybe I didn’t believe that when I was younger. In fact, I know I didn’t. I remember when I was in college and the first decade out of college and I would walk by two guys at tailgate, splitting a twelve pack, each guy with only a Subway sub and thinking, “what loser dorks …they’re not even trying …that’s just sad.” But now, all these years later, I’m destined to be huddled around the tailgate of my car, with my brother or some really dear friend, while the rain pours down and it’s cold and dreary and that’ll be me with a Subway sub and 12-pack of beer and if my college aged daughter stops by my two-man-tailgate for even 5-minutes, I’ll get by on that joy for weeks and weeks …and I’ll slip her $40 bucks and say, “don’t tell Mom.” And she’ll hug me. And the modern 2021-2025 tailgates will be better than any I’ve ever known.
Keep an eye on my social media, because I’ll let you know when I’ll be up there and I hope you’ll find me, stop by, and have a beer.
Oh, and because I love sharing this, listen to my Moth GrandSlam story about my friend Matt:
I miss it so much…