Here's how I spent my Friday night: I laid on the couch from 6-7pm, falling in and out of sleep while watching a documentary about rocks. Between the stomping and yelling, the four-year-old made sure I didn't nap for more than 30 seconds at a time.
(I've made a mental note and will be repaying the favor in 10 years or so, when he discovers that sleeping is one of life's great pleasures. I will not forget.)
We then had dinner and I spent the next 90 minutes getting mentally prepared for the eight-year-old's basketball game that some sadist scheduled for 9pm. That preparation usually involves giving myself a "let's try to focus on the positives" pep talk, then reminding my eight-year-old about things like the importance of playing defense only when the other team has the ball.
We also reviewed the three plays his coach installed at practice that week, the proper defensive stance and how to set a pick without actually tackling your opponent.
These sessions are usually met with emotions ranging from indifference to frustration, though the eight-year-old seemed to be in relatively good spirits, probably because no matter what happened he'd be staying up past his bedtime.
He began the game on the bench, which doesn't mean much because these things are six periods long and everybody plays the same number of minutes. But his team quickly trailed 10-0 though, to the eight-year-old's credit, he seemed unconcerned; I look across the gym and he's sitting, legs crossed, like he's six hours into a weekend-long insurance seminar, deep in thought about something -- anything -- a million miles away.
But once he gets in something clicks; he's not wandering around the court wondering what he's supposed to do. On defense, he finds his man and he Ds him up like a G-rated Dennis Rodman. I actually kept count: the players he covered scored just once in 10 shots. Those are hall of fame numbers.
Of course, the game was as lopsided as it gets. When it was over the scoreboard read 42-16, and as I waited outside the locker room, I heard one of the eight-year-old's teammates say, "That might be the most uneven score in the history of basketball."
To be fair, we might have the shortest team in the league, which is a huge disadvantage at any level. And since this ain't Hoosiers, one-sided outcomes are going to happen with some frequency. None of that mattered to me because the eight-year-old played one of the best games in his short career. You wouldn't know it to look at the box score; no points, no assists, no rebounds or blocks. Just solid defense, a few good picks on offense, and a general awareness of where he was supposed to be on the court.
I was proud of him because I know he doesn't care about basketball or soccer. He'd much rather be reading, or LEGO-ing or doing anything other than playing sports. But there are life lessons in organized team activities -- especially when they involve 26-point beatdowns -- so even if "professional athlete" is off the table as a future occupation he will at least have had the character-building experiences that come with humbling defeats.
After the game, I told him how well he played. He smiled, clearly with something else on his mind, and a beat later he changed the subject.
"Thanks. So did I do well enough to get something at the snack bar?"
There's a snack bar at the gym where the games are played, and that place must make a killing every Saturday morning when games are normally scheduled. But at 10pm on Friday night, it was a ghost town because, well, it was 10pm on a Friday night.
With no french-fry payday in his immediate future, the eight-year-old probably felt like he just wasted an hour of his life pretending to care about basketball. But he didn't say anything and we got in the car to drive home.
Except we didn't go home. I went right instead of left and a few minutes later I pulled into the Chili's parking lot.
"What are we doing?" he asked.
"Thought I'd bring you to Chili's since you had such a good game."
"Nah, just kidding," I said. "Just drove five miles out of our way so I could turn the car around."
"I know that's not true," he said. "This is going to be AWESOME."
So at 10:30 on a Friday night, we roll into Chili's. It's about half-full though he seems shocked at how many people are still up at this hour.
"Yeah, people like to blow off steam after a long week of work and a lot time that involves going to Chili's," I explained. "You and the rest of these folks are some of the last people still up at this hour. That's pretty special."
The waitress comes and the eight-year-old orders an orange juice and a small pepperoni pizza with a side of corn on the cob. I get a Bud Light because I figure that's what a Dad of the Year candidate would probably order.
"You didn't have to bring me to Chili's just because the snack bar was closed," was one of the first things he said to me, partially because he's generally a sweet kid but also because these things -- staying up late, doing stuff big kids do -- are a much bigger deal when you're eight.
Either way, I told him he had earned the right to celebrate. And for the next half-hour, that's exactly what he did, telling silly jokes, wondering what kind of fart noises his sleeping brother was making, scarfing down reheated pizza, and sporting an ear-to-ear smile the entire time.
Later that night, after we got home, the wife told me the eight-year-old "was shaking he was so excited" as he recounted to her the events of the Great Chili's Miracle of 2016.
As an adult, it's one of those things you don't think much about at the time -- it's Chili's, not Disney World -- but it's something he'll remember forever. Which is weird, because, as parents, we invest so much time into doing things we think our children will love, things that will enrich their lives and make them better people. Things that we never got the chance to do when we were young. Turns out, all we need to do is take them to Chili's.