Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tennis, Anyone?

One of the annual bright spots during the typically dreary month of January is the start of the professional tennis season. While it is bitter cold and snowing outside here in New York, I get the pleasure of watching the first grand slam tennis tournament, The Australian Open, on television and listening to the announcers talk about how the on-court temperature has risen to 100 degrees and that the players need to be on the lookout for heat stroke. Is it crazy to feel a tinge of jealousy in hearing that?

Stewart and I are huge tennis fans, both as players and as avid followers of the professional game. As players, it has given us yet one more thing to be competitive with one another about – in addition to ping pong, backgammon, squash, Ms. Pac Man and who can get Max down at night the quickest (just to name a few!) Ironically, as competitive as we are when matched against each other, tennis has also literally brought Stewart and me together as a team unit. Before Max was born, we regularly played doubles together in a few tennis leagues in the city and have a few trophies to show for it. Everyone at the time worried for the state of our marriage when they heard that we played together. Would a pivotal missed shot by one mean that the other had to sleep on the couch that night? Fortunately not! We really enjoyed playing together.

We are also such fans of professional tennis that, perhaps sad to say, I can actually mark significant events within the parenthood journey to the four grand slam tournaments: Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and the French Open.

Wimbledon marks a momentous moment in our path to parenthood because the tournament was taking place while Stewart and I tried to conceive a child with Christie for the first time in July 2009. Christie and her family are not big professional tennis fans, and I remember how tentative I was in asking them to turn the television to the tournament while we were hanging out in their living room trying to escape the intense summer heat of Georgia. When we tuned in, it was to the now-epic men’s tournament final between top seed Roger Federer and American Andy Roddick. Federer squeaked out the match 16 games to 14 games in the 5th set in the longest Wimbledon final ever. Christie’s husband Bill later told me that because I had us tune into the match he was actually able to join in on the water cooler conversation his colleagues were having the next day at work about the historic final.

Our first attempt at conceiving a baby that July did not take, and nor did our second try that August. Our third try was scheduled for early September, which happens to be when the United States’ tennis grand slam, the U.S. Open, takes place right here in New York City. Since Stewart and I started dating in 2001 we have gone to the US Open each of the three days that mark Labor Day weekend to watch the pros in action during the middle rounds of the tournament. We were crossing our fingers that we would not have to be in Georgia that weekend in 2009, because we knew it would be our last chance to attend the tournament with complete freedom and abandonment before the responsibilities of parenthood set in. Fortunately our fertility doctor in Georgia did not need to see us until the following week, and we had a wonderful time as always at “the Open.” However, that U.S. Open still marks a Max milestone because he was actually conceived the next weekend, which was the date of – you guessed it – the men’s tournament final. While we had other things on our mind and on our plate that day, we later learned that Roger Federer lost that final to up and coming Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in another epic showdown that lasted over 4 hours.

By the time the Australian Open rolled around in January of last year, Max was busy growing inside Christie and Stewart and I were feeling some measure of relief that he had made it through the nerve-wracking first trimester. But that didn’t mean that my life had become smooth sailing. I had recently been laid off from my job. While the Australian Open was broadcast live on television during the wee hours of the morning, Stewart and I made the big decision that instead of looking for work, I would devote myself full-time to preparing for Max’s arrival, and become a stay-at-home dad once Max entered the world. The rest, as they say, is history. Federer beat Scotsman Andy Murray in the tournament final in straight sets.

When the French Open rolled around in late May, Max was a couple of weeks old and Stewart was just returning to work. The tournament was broadcast live in the early morning New York time, and Max acted as my failsafe alarm clock. I would groggily get up and lay a blanket down in front of the television in the living room for Max and me to lay down on side by side to watch the early rounds together. Having my favorite sport to watch helped to distract me from the reality that I had the whole day ahead of me with just me and this brand new, fragile child who I was just getting to know. My one saving grace was a duela that we had hired to visit for a few hours at a time in the early-going to help answer some of our questions about how to take care of a newborn. One morning during the tournament she arrived and looked on in surprise at my set up in front of the TV. She laughingly told me that only a man would hang out with a newborn side by side on a blanket on the floor. She was used to seeing new moms clutching their babies tight against their bodies. She didn’t seem to get it that I had my space on the blanket and Max had his!  Oh for the days that Max would just chill on his side of the blanket -- long gone now! The Spaniard Rafael Nadal beat Swede Robin Soderling in straight sets to take the men’s title.

We can't wait to raise Max as a tennis player and as a fan of professional tennis.  After all, as you can see that his tennis roots already run deep!


  1. Always meant to recommend this essay by David Foster Wallace to you:

    If you're looking to become fanatical tennis dads you'll find some good pointers in there.