Why We Fight Comment Count

Seth July 15th, 2014 at 11:07 AM


I'm sitting with my mother and her three sisters, and we're watching the rockets attacking Israel. One aunt is on Skype with her daughter who just picked a really bad week to move to Tel Aviv. My cousin has a tendency toward fearlessness—when living in Sendai, Japan, during that earthquake/tidal wave/nuclear plant disaster she passed up offers from the U.S. consulate to get her out of there, instead organizing the evacuation of her schoolchildren. Now she's brushing aside her mother's terror: we have an Iron Dome; can I show you the floor of the apartment?

The American TV news is showing people fleeing the beach and she jokes that all those moving at a walking pace are the Israelis. The aunts don't see the humor; these are minutes carefully constructed—including the Skype call—to properly experience the horror of warfare. And when it's interrupted by the news shifting to Wimbledon the women lament, and complain of Western Civilization's warped priorities: here's civilians being shot at with rockets; now let's go to sport.

Here's sport. The reason that TV news can seamlessly shift from Hamas lobbing rockets to Roger Federer smashing lobs is because TV news turned news coverage into sports coverage. Here's the teams, here's the scores, here's a highlight reel, here's the day's-end results. You are welcome to lament this development; my point here is there's something so innately gratifying about sports that they turned news into it.

Getting in. I can't remember my first interactions with sports. There's a photo of me as an infant between my dad and my grandpas on a couch, and given the setup and the expressions (sleeping, discussing something else, WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?)  it's a good bet a game was on. I was just four months old the first time I was on a sailboat—my dad was a serious racer back then and had use of his captain's boat because he was the only crewman who knew how to fix it. I've been told I went to an '84 Tigers playoff game but I don't remember it. I don't remember my first Michigan game either—just the familiarity of going to Michigan games in later memories.

I remember going hours early to my great aunt's house for Thanksgiving, and sitting on the floor of the living room for the Lions game. I remember at the end of a morning ski lesson at Nub's Nob my dad coming to pick us up and all afternoon us showing him what we'd learned of pizza pies and french fries. I remember wearing space pajamas while watching March Madness on my parents' bed, and my dad getting in trouble for me being up. And I remember my dad instructing me on the proper breaking-in technique of my first baseball glove, and unwrapping the greasy twine early because I meant to take the glove to tailgate, and that my dad fished his out of the chaos of his garage shelves, and that I spent the drive to Ann Arbor admiring the old leather, the Rocky Colavito signature, and the bull's head brand in the palm that matched my own glove.

I don't remember when I started liking sports. I just remember my Dad was there.

The Men

From left: WWII vet, blogger, WWII vet, draft dodger

Distraction. My favorite MGoBlog piece is "Eleven Swans," when Brian felt, in the hours leading up to Football Armageddon (The Game 2006), that he needed to justify how such a thing could have importance in a world with an Israeli-Palestinian conflict in it:

And then you try to figure out why the stakes are so high in the first place. Why this entire week you haven't been able to concentrate on anything by war by proxy. Fake war by proxy. Meaningless war by proxy. You will suffer humiliation when the team from my area defeats the team from your area. It's ridiculous. Intelligent people do not spend a goodly swath of their life pouring emotion and precious time into a contest that affects no one and changes nothing except some inky scribbles in media guides.

The analogy that Kellen Winslow Jr. badly articulated in reference to a brutal injury he inflicted that one time is, in fact, true: sports is warfare. Our regional tribe shall fight theirs, and will do so in the manner that we all wish war was conducted: hardfast rules, individual heroics, minimal casualties, clear victories, and done by somebody else on our behalf.

My father was the first in his paternal lineage not to go to war. The first Fisher, according to the family history, deserted a British ship for an American one near Sault Ste. Marie in 1813. There was a Harry Fisher who distinguished himself in the Civil War. And there was Great Grandpa Prenzlauer, who for a drunken promise named a son for his war buddy Colonel Leonard Wood, whom everyone called "Colonel." Both of my grandpas fought against real Nazis in The War, as did my dad's great uncle Colonel Leonard Wood Prenzlauer, a corporal (family members, almost certainly apocryphally, claim he was Joseph Heller's inspiration for Major-Major). The horrors of it made them old men before their thirties; Colonel died only a few years afterward.

Because you're supposed to name kids for a loved one who recently passed, my dad's name was to be Colonel, until my grandma awoke from the drugs they used back then and promptly changed it to Robert Leonard. He played football at Cass Tech and his coach—perhaps every coach in the mid-'60s—was a vet who coached like it was a war.

My dad's distaste for warfare started a rift with him and his father that wouldn't be repaired until I was born. My dad spent the bulk of his twenties avoiding Vietnam by any means. He had a low draft number and after his first two years at MSU they got rid of student deferments. He and his best friend, who'd been at Michigan, transferred to Oakland University to keep their parents mollified while really doing nothing but play handball and researching ways of getting around the draft. Eventually they came upon agricultural deferments, which is how two Jewish city boys became farmers. The New Deal system of the federal government buying up unplanted crops to keep food prices high enough to support farming was still in effect, so the years they were not-growing corn were able to offset the years they were growing corn badly.

(For many reasons I read Catch 22 at an early age)

The way the WWII generation watched sports was different from my dad's generation, and different from mine. My grandpa treated it like an intense escape. He and his brothers-in-law went to the 1950 game—the one with all the snow—and he said ever after it was his favorite because it was too cold for anybody to interrupt the game with talking. He wouldn't talk about the war much, except to bring up the fact that he fought it so that he could watch the damn game in peace.

My dad watched Michigan games in the stands, or at his best friend's house, or if neither were available from his bed; either way it was a background piece to a conversation that alternated between mutterings over the incompetence of the coaches and the other things in life.

He had little of the seriousness for sports that I developed. I'd complain to him of battles with the internet Nazis and the relativity of program goodness, and he'd shrug at these things then go back to the two great questions of our age: Why haven't they pulled this pitcher?, and Why are they running left again?. A few things were important and everything else was irrelevant, and nobody could bring irreverence to bear like my father. He was off-the-charts intelligent. He was unflinchingly ethical. He could mock anything because he had the mind and the desire to understand everything.

The things that are important. My aunts were all in town last week because on July 4th my dad suddenly passed away. He'd been a little sick with that cold everyone had that turned into mild bronchitis and pneumonia, but the antibiotics and pills had him feeling better by that Friday. He was gardening, and planning to sail in the afternoon, and when he collapsed I was on the phone with my Mom to invite them, conditional on my dad's state of health after sailing, to barbecue at our new house with all the kids and his two grandkids.

When I was 16 I got fired from a summer camp—I accidentally ran into a kid while refereeing ultimate frisbee and it just happened to be the kid who had a lawsuit going against the camp for the last time he and his parents imagined he was damaged, and rather than compound their situation they let me go. Then my car wouldn't start and I was stranded at the bus depot at Lahser and 11-mile, and I called my dad and said it was the worst day of my life, and he said "No, the worst day of your life is the day I die."

I've never a fought a war, never been in a position where I'd been expected to, or had to face the prospect of one. Lacking something so serious I developed a tendency—as I'm sure many of my generation did—to stage pitched battles over less relevant things. You've witnessed this as I've railed on this blog and in HTTV etc. about the Superbowlization of Michigan sports.

Today is my first official day "back" to blogging since July 4, and there's fireworks to mock, new plays to scribble, and an interview with former Michigan cornerbacks in re: what to expect from Peppers that are coming up. But I couldn't bring myself to put any of those together because the worst day of my life still envelopes all the thoughts.

So I want to say for the record, in lieu of all the complaints and nitpicks and devastations and hypocrisies that I typically point out, that these things are of just a relative importance to a thing of actual little importance. If it costs way more than it should to sit in a stadium that's become way too chintzy for a team that isn't nearly as good as it ought to be, that's 5% of an experience that's 95% spending some of a truly finite amount of breaths with the person you came with. I can't remember how sports became such a part of my life any more than I remember how my dad entered it. Sports were just something that my dad and I did with the 34 years of peace and good life afforded to us. And it was the most important thing in the world.



July 15th, 2014 at 11:15 AM ^

That was interesting, and I can identify with much of what is said here. In fact, I am just sitting and thinking about your piece, and it strangely kept me in a state of reflection for the past half hour. Powerful writing : )


July 15th, 2014 at 11:18 AM ^

Bonds formed with your parents once you become an adult are incredibly powerful and, at least in my case, are not fully realized until the parent is gone.

steve sharik

July 15th, 2014 at 11:24 AM ^

Condonlences, sir.  May your dad rest in peace and may you find some.  You are among a strange brotherhood here.  To take your mind off, find some video of Nuss throwing 3 verts at 'Bama the last couple years and imagine that with Funch, Darboh, Chesson, et. al.


July 15th, 2014 at 11:27 AM ^

"TV news turned news coverage into sports coverage."

So true.  I remember during the first Gulf War, 1991, going into a sports bar and seeing all the overhead TV's with different sports on them, and several of them tuned into the Gulf War coverage.  

With all of the colorful graphics and charts and cut-aways from the broadcasters in the booth to the live action, It struck me how the war TVs looked exactly like the sports TVs.  I would switch back and forth, from watching the war coverage to watching the sports coverage, depending on what looked interesting at the moment.  Baskets were being scored and people were dying in between my sips of Bud Light.  It was alll the same. 

It really was being covered like just another sporting event . . . "Tune in this weekend, when upset-minded #4 Iraq faces overwheling favorite #1 USA, live on CNN."

I felt kind of guilty watching it like that - war as entertainment while drinking in a bar. 



July 15th, 2014 at 11:29 AM ^

Seth, what a fantastic piece. 

I knew where it was going.  A third of the way in, and still now a bit after reading it, I'm full of my own emotion.  I lost my father 9 years ago.  He gave me the same passion and interest in all sport, whether as a participant or avid fan.  He taught me sportsmanship and respect through it.  Like you, my post-game emotions would be exponential factors of his..."it's only a game" he'd say.

While I'm confident I could not have written such a great piece, I read it as if it were me.  Thank you.  And my heart goes out to you.

God bless.


July 15th, 2014 at 11:33 AM ^

the writing touches my mind, and sometimes my funnybone.

This touched, grabbed, and still has hold of my heart. Well done, and I am so very sorry for you losing your Dad, Seth. God bless you and your family.



July 15th, 2014 at 11:37 AM ^

Seth great piece and how fortunate you are to have your Mother and Father for the time that you have.  

I am shocked Israel has tolerated as much as they have to date and seems only a matter of time before they have to go in on foot and stop this.


July 15th, 2014 at 11:42 AM ^

My grandfather approached sports, and life, much the same way before his passing. This brought back some good memories.

He wouldn't talk about the war much, except to bring up the fact that he fought it so that he could watch the damn game in peace.


July 15th, 2014 at 11:47 AM ^

my  brother in 1991; my father-in-law in 1992; my mother in 2003. There has not been a day pass that I have not thought of each of them in some way. I have discovered that it is the same for others as I expect it will be for you too. It is a good thing because you only think of the good times; and in this way, their spirit lives on. I wish you the best.

azul in NC

July 15th, 2014 at 11:44 AM ^

The hairs on my arms are still tingling as my emotions fade. Thank you for this gem! Family and friends lift us up so we can heal. May you find peace in whatever spiritual realm you wade.

Mabel Pines

July 15th, 2014 at 11:48 AM ^

Huge Michigan fan, sailor, died suddenly after we thought he had the flu.  That first game without Dad was the hardest one, and then Brock Mealer walked from the tunnel and I thought of what his family and Holly's family lost.  I realized I was lucky to have my Dad for as long as I did, and yet I was still mad he was gone.  It's hard to think of anything else for a long time.   I will be thinking of you that first football Saturday.  Hang in there.

Also, fabulous leisure suit you've got on there.  I'm guessing velour??? 


July 15th, 2014 at 12:03 PM ^

My dad loved babies in velour. He bought two velour sleepsuits for my daughter but he only got to hold her in one of them one time, since by the time she grew into the first it was already summer.

This velour thing was one of the things that set me off this past week. Every night I put her pajamas on and the sleepsuit is sitting in the drawer. I keep praying for a cold night to come before she grows out of it.


July 15th, 2014 at 1:08 PM ^

I disagree with the characterization of the portrayal, though I grant you that the writer not the reader is ALWAYS at fault for the readers' interpretation.

If my intent means anything, I thought I was contrasting the TV coverage of it like a warzone (zoomed out with a reporter in a box in a corner emphasizing the fear) and my mom and her sisters' interpretation of it as such, while showing my cousin was right there noting that the Israelis are laughing at the tourists running off the beach when they hear sirens, and her treatment of the Skype call as an opportunity to show off her new apartment's hardwood floors.

Then I showed which portrayal I agreed with by talking about how the war coverage was treated on the news like a sports event. The hidden message in all of that was the really important thing--the great meaning of life within this little vignette--was an adult daughter and her mother talking to each other about her new apartment.


July 15th, 2014 at 3:02 PM ^

Reading back over it, you certainly didn't "label" anything, and from your explanation, you didn't intend to insinuate anything either.

Basically, my point was that, at first I was a little worried from the opening topic that it drew too heavily on a issue that is very politically polarizing. However, it was clear from the entirety of the piece that it was just a personal anecdote that fit in perfectly with your overall story.

It was a great piece, and I appreciate the courage it took you to write this, and I wish and your family the best.


July 15th, 2014 at 12:11 PM ^

You are a good man, Seth, and will probably be an even better father. Thank you for sharing with us and hopefully his spirit will live on in your and you children's hearts and minds. I know your son is too young but I'm sure you'll teach him all the great things you learned from your dad. Keep that head held high - your dad would want it that way I'm sure.

Go Blue Rosie

July 15th, 2014 at 12:37 PM ^

After years and years of declaring we would never live in Syracuse, we moved from Chicago to Syracuse three years ago so my husband could practice law with his dad in the family law firm.  His dad's call one day to inform us he was getting sick was the impetus.  We got to spend one year with his dad before he surrendered to leukemia.  One great, much too brief year, that allowed father and son to practice law together, golf together and try to come to terms with what was about to happen.  I didn't realize until my husband was giving his dad's eulogy just how much he idolized his father.  As the youngest of four girls I had no idea what the bond was like between a father and a son.  Now I get it.  

This piece is beautifully written, Seth.   After reading it, I just called my parents to tell them I love them and I suspect it will inspire other MGoReaders to do the same.  

The FannMan

July 15th, 2014 at 12:41 PM ^

My father died suddenly on May 27, 1985.  It was Memorial Day, I was 14.  

The one thing that I can tell you is that the "firsts" are the hardest.  The first week, the first month, the first football game, the first of everyone's birthday, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas (for me at least, I'm guessing Hanukah for you), and so on.  Each first brings out different feelings, different senses of loss.  It will hit you in ways you never expect.  Your mom will serve a certain dish that your dad loved and you will all start crying.  Someone will go to blow out the candles and say “I wish dad were here to help.”  At least one person will have to leave the room to cry in peace.  It is hard. 

But it gets, if not easier, different in ways that you can handle better.  You know that you have survived that day before, and you can do it again.   The 4th of July will never be the same for you, as Memorial Day has changed for me.  However, you will eventually be able to enjoy fireworks and parades – it may just take a few years.

I counted up the number of years and days that my father had.  I did that so I would know when I passed that total.  This March I passed that number.  It was a cold, clear, snowy Saturday morning.  My wife and I took the dog for a morning walk and left our kids asleep in the house.  I told her of the milestone that I had reached.  She asked how I felt and I told her “Sad.  Sad that he didn’t get this day.”  She squeezed my hand and then we enjoyed our walk and our weekend.

The firsts will be hard.  But, you and yours will get through them.  


July 15th, 2014 at 12:41 PM ^

I lost my father 17 years ago, 30 June, 1997 at 3:30pm. I felt the very last beat of his heart before he stepped into eternity. In one moment I lost my dad, my boss, my coach, my fishing buddy, my spiritual mentor and my best friend. I wouldn't trade the last 30 minutes of his life that we shared together for anything on this planet - even if he was unconscious and slowly fading away. Fully embrace the waves of grief whenever they wash over you and let them run their course. The next "set of firsts" without him will be the most surreal days of your life. Praying for true peace for you and your family. Thanks for sharing your heart with us.  


July 15th, 2014 at 12:41 PM ^

The worst day of my life is yet to come and I hate thinking about it. I'm genuinely sorry for your loss. The thought of not sharing sports with my dad is excrutiating. I can't fathom what it's like once it becomes reality.


July 15th, 2014 at 12:57 PM ^

My Dad is 78 and just lost his best friend from age 14 until a few weeks ago to a prolonged illness. He deals with my Moms degrading dementia daily under a late day torrent of uncalled for blame as she tries to hang onto threads of what was and lashes out. 

He, like most men, is a problem solver.  Unlike most he is first rate at it and complains almost never about any of this. I spent my birthday in TC with him and although I am not much for gifts these days i had the very best by sitting next to him with West Bay glistening and an Oberon in my hand while we talked for 40 minutes while ostensibly grilling dinner. We just talked about stuff and nothing but it gave him an adult interlude with a sharer of memories. He isn't so hail and hearty and the shoulders now droop and I know he is slowly passing the torch but it was the best thing in my life in recent memory to have that talk.

If it gives any of you any comfort as I think it did him I'll mention my main point in our talk. Through our children we are immortal. I told him I said this to a co-worker 10 years ago from Germany that was about to have his first child. Being German, as is my lineage, he scoffed at such unprovables and I then said to him wait until you see your Moms eyes or cheekbones in your young daughter. Wait until you see that your forearms and hands are exactly as you remembered your Dad's along the car window ledge as we made one of thousands of treks UpNorth to build a cottage and way of life. Ponce De Leone did not find the fountain of youth because he likely left her back in Spain or whereever he embarked from. Actors live on in film and we live on as cellular input through to our children. 

Seth made me look at my hands. Thanks Seth.




July 15th, 2014 at 1:21 PM ^

Thanks for sharing yourself with us. My day, the title and the first paragraph led me away from the blog three different times. I'm glad I stayed and read it. I'm better for it.


July 15th, 2014 at 1:21 PM ^

God bless you and your family in this tough time. I'm not sure how you were able to write what you did, but it was incredible.

So is the support from the MGoFamily. Its incredible how so many random people from around the world can come together and offer such heartfelt and personal condolences, with in some cases, only Michigan sports in common.

Two more reasons to love this blog


July 15th, 2014 at 1:29 PM ^

and RIP Seth's Dad. Such an insightful column. Thank you for sharing your insights and perspective. It is a gift to us and my heart is with you for peace and comfort in your memories. He lives in you.


July 15th, 2014 at 1:31 PM ^

That was one of the most powerful reads I've had on this blog. I found myself constantly reflecting on my own relationship with my father and those who taught me to love sports as much as they do. I pray that God brings you peace and comfort in this difficult time. My condolences. 


July 15th, 2014 at 1:35 PM ^

so clearly an effective piece of writing.  Gets the wheels turning.

Makes me think about:

My dad loved Woody Hayes.  He didn't go to OSU, but you'd never know it.  He was a buckeye and he loved to scream at the TV while watching football games, especially at the Michigan-OSU game.

I scream at the TV while watching football games, especially at the Michigan-OSU game.  However, because I actually went to Michigan (which my dad begrudgingly agreed was a good school to get an engineering degree), I got to fully endoctrinate my daughter into Michigan football.  My daughter, who just graduated in May from Michigan, screams at the TV while watching football games.

Sports has a way of weaving the generations together into a common fabric.


July 15th, 2014 at 1:45 PM ^

This past Saturday, my extended family, friends and I celebrated my father's 80th birthday and my uncle's (my father's brother) 92nd. Somewhere along the way a couple of years ago, my father ceased to be the invincible man I had grown up knowing.

My uncle, who had bailed out of a B-24 over Austria in World War II, got his customary "welcome-to-Germany" beating at the hands of the Gestapo, and spent a year in a POW camp before being liberated, was still spry, but also quite frail. If my father were anyone else, I could not have done better than my uncle.

There is a creeping awareness that it won't be long before I join you in grief; certainly less than another ten years. More than ever, I cherish each moment with them knowing it may be the last one. Whether it is sudden or a protracted decline won't make much difference to me. The loss will be overwhelming.

One day soon, you'll gaze in the mirror and see in your reflection the image of your father looking back at you. Rather than be startled, be thankful for the gift it is: your father never really left; he's is and has always been a part of you.