Patrick Hayes remembers his father and uncle shedding their troubles and depression to indulge in some smack-down.
My earliest memories of television involve watching WWF (now WWE) wrestling on Saturdays with my dad, uncle, and cousin. My uncle was in the midst of a major remodeling of his house (a project that he never did complete despite spending about 17 years on), so Saturdays my dad would usually go over to his house to help.
Instead, Superstars of Wrestling would usually distract everyone from the job at hand. Over a beer or 15, my dad and uncle would mimic the Macho Man Randy Savage’s signature “Ooooooh Yeaaaaaah!” or Razor Ramon’s (later going by his real name, Scott Hall) “Ay Chico,” while throwing toothpicks in each other’s faces. Often (mostly on the days when the beer consumption was closer to 15 than one), it would escalate into them getting into awkward wrestling matches with each other, the worst of which came when my dad threatened to put my uncle in a flying head scissors but instead slipped and fell into a wall and re-injured the knee that he’d just had surgery on a few months prior. Needless to say, not much work got done on those Saturdays.
The obvious attraction of pro wrestling was the bluster, particularly to men like my dad and uncle. Both could be painfully introverted and had trouble expressing themselves. Both often felt marginalized and abused in the arduous factory jobs they spent their lives working. They both went through bouts of depression. The bravado of pro wrestling was an easy escape from that—for an hour or two a week, they could fantasize about giving their own bosses the stunner or imagine who they would induct into their own version of the “Kiss My Ass Club.”
Pro wrestling has been one of the biggest sources of racist, sexist and homophobic moments in recent television history. Those are all things that I can recognize and plan to explain to my son for what they are. But I also can’t wait until he’s old enough to watch Mick Foley getting thrown off the cage at Hell in a Cell and I hope he, like me, always remembers where he was and who he was with the first time he saw it.
My uncle died in 2004. My dad died five years later. Both were incredibly hard men to get to know (and both battled many of the demons their favorite wrestler, Hall, seems to be suffering through now). After college, I stopped watching wrestling. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I just kind of forgot about it. I’ve been drawn back to it over the last couple years simply because it’s comforting to watch it and be able to think about exactly how two of the important men in my life growing up would react to today’s batch of stars. (They would happily join in the “Cena sucks!” chants.)
For whatever reason, wrestling always brought my dad out of his shell and made it easier to talk to him. It was the backdrop of some of the only deep conversations I remember having with him. I certainly don’t think that’s a healthy way to communicate, but it will also serve as a way for me to talk to my son about his grandfather, who he never got the chance to meet.