My soccer Dad

“Goooaaal!!!” I yelled from the bleaches. A few moments later a loud whistle blow signaled the end of an indoor soccer match. The players high-fived the tall, ginger-haired guy who just scored. All I could see was broad smiles shining even through the nebulas of dust lit by the sunset’s reflection in the gym’s large windows. My Dad, who was the goalkeeper of the team that snatched the victory in the last moment, was also smiling. In his early 70s, he still played indoor soccer twice a week. He mostly held the fort as a goalkeeper and yelled at his teammates to keep the ball far away from his gate. His stocky body was still strong but it didn’t take kindly the falls down to catch those hard-hit balls. The bruises on his torso, hips, and hands kept their dark shades of blue for weeks.

But right now, he was happy. Where were the paparazzi with their wide-zoom cameras to snap a winner’s beaming face? Nowhere in sight. Neither were there large or even small crowds of die-hard supporters. I was the only fan of today’s game, “imported for the occasion all the way from America,” as my Dad announced before the match. The game took place indoors in the court with cracked wood floor, pigeons’ poop swept to the corners, and an occasional whiff of cat piss. I wondered if the wives, girlfriends, or daughters have ever set the foot here, or I was the first and perhaps the last female in attendance. I couldn’t blame the women for choosing alternative activities for their Friday evenings. I already used two packs of Kleenex—not to wipe the tears from the high-stake game’s emotions—but to keep my allergies to dust from complete meltdown.

None of these environmental hazards mattered to the ten men on the court. They were happy to play regardless of the outcome. Happy to get together. Happy to celebrate the game and other occasions in a bar across from the gym with copious amounts of laughter, high-cholesterol food, cigarette smoke, and alcohol. It didn’t matter to them that the bar ambiance was only a hair better than the gym’s conditions because the guys carried joy and celebration with them no matter where they were.

Steeped in the equal portions of post-game fervor and vodka, their bromance has been flourishing for the past 15 years. And my Dad has been at the center. Many of his fellow players—nearly half his age—saw him as a father figure. “Nikolaich,” they called him lovingly. (Nikolai is his paternal name). In a country where male life expectancy is barely 66 years, many Moldovans are fatherless by their 30s. As a war orphan, my Dad knew how it was to be without a father. So he opened his heart to these men, as he has done many things in life—with gusto.

He was their coach in soccer and beyond. He called each of them on the day of the game to confirm and motivate, if needed, to come to play. He did this twice a week for more than ten years, rain or sunshine. He collected pool money to arrange for someone’s birthday. He gave advice, and often he was simply there to listen to their woes. A man of few words, he offered his quiet, calming presence.

It’s been already two weeks since he passed away. Time both flies and stands still for me. And while the void in my heart created by his untimely death will be there for a long time, the memories of him are as alive and happy as before. As your most loyal fan, I will always yell “Goooaaal” in your honor, Daddy, because you’ve been the best life teammate to me and others. Thank you.


Thoughts on love and relationships

Since primordial times we are eager to hear a good story, especially if it’s about love. Stories have the power to transform and inspire and, for sure, they teach us lessons. One such story – “The Gift: A Different Love Story” – is a Chilean short animation that portrays an ordinary couple that falls in love. Here’s the plot:

To prove his feelings, the man gives his love interest the gift of his heart. The woman cherishes it, and she is the center of the man’s attention. Their days pass in dancing, serenading, and eye-gazing. But as the magic of “falling in love” fades away, the couple goes back to business as usual: he chases skirts and she obsesses over him not paying attention to her. Both are getting frustrated and they toy with each other’s feelings. Eventually, the woman walks away taking the man’s heart with her. The man is now heart-broken, or more precise, with no heart in his empty chest. He’s sends electromagnetic waves of misery out to the world. Until one day, another woman comes along and saves him by splitting her own heart in two. They are now happy again, each having a piece of her heart.

[A collective Aww.. may or may not follow here]

The animation, screened at 101 festivals and with awards or nominations from 20 of them, has been described as a “beautiful film teaching us about relationships and love.” But what exactly does it teach us? Here’s my (unconventional) take:

  1. To love someone, you have to give up your own heart/soul/self as a proof.
  2. Falling in love is a passing stage, followed by the business as usual.
  3. Men are just destined to look at other women; plus, they need no attention from their partners to feel good about themselves.
  4. Women only care about their appearance and rely on men for their worth.
  5. Someone has to save you from your broken heart, while you have no role in your healing.


If this is indeed the case, guess what would “The Gift 2” be about? Exactly! And why wouldn’t it? As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” [Meanwhile, I transform into a tomato ninja deflecting rotten tomatoes thrown at me by the fans. Phew, dodged that stinky, fat one!]

I wish that the film with the subtitle “A Different Love Story” picked cues from ancient philosophers to modern philosophers and from fiction to positive psychology to portray a truly different way of loving and connecting:

I trust – and maybe even challenge – the director Julio Pot and his creative team to unleash their creativity, which is clearly abundant, to empower us to be different from the oh-so typical romance story.



Photo credit: Natalie Lucier.