When I found out your mother was pregnant with you I did what I assume all men who learn they're going to be fathers do: I panicked.
You were planned, don't get me wrong, but it's still a terrifyingly excited feeling.
I'm bringing a human life into this world. A piece of me. We're having a baby. I'm still a baby in a lot of ways. It's a surreal experience.
I'll assume my immediate protective instincts aren't anything new or special. I worried (and worry) about things all the time now. When do I start a college fund for you? When do we decorate the baby room? Do we buy things now or wait? What vitamins should your mother be taking? Throw that cheese out, you can't eat that anymore. What should you be eating? (For what it's worth, while I am wholly unprepared for this adventure your mother is a godsend who has been ready for you since she was like five. You're in fantastic hands with her, I promise. I also think I'm a quick learner and you'll be too young to remember how badly I screw up in the beginning anyway.)
Shortly after the news, as if on cue, the Rangers lost a playoff game, and another thought popped into my head: Oh my God you're going to be a Rangers fan. I'm literally putting you into a situation where you will be upset and hurt 95 percent of the time.
That's not a knock on the Rangers, either. It's all of sports. 99 percent of fans don't see their team win a championship every year. Far more often than not you're going to be upset at the end of the season. Some people get lucky and see a string of success they can look back on, but for most of us it comes in bits and pieces ... if it ever comes at all.
And yet, I will not take this fandom away from you. You will be a Rangers fan (if you want to sleep indoors, that is). Yet I would be a terrible father if I didn't warn you about them.
You need to know they are going to break your heart. They won't be the most important thing in your life, but they'll be damn close. The Rangers will touch a part of you that nothing else will be able to, and when they hurt you it will hurt in a way I can't even explain. They will make you tear your hair out. They will add unneeded stress to you life. They might make you cry, or stay up all night staring at the ceiling. You'll yell and scream because of them. Want to break things because of them. They'll ruin your day ... or week ... or month ... or summer. You'll feel empty and hollow at times and others you're bound to be filled with an unquenchable rage.
They will make you hate yourself for throwing your whole heart behind something you can't control, and people you'll never meet who don't know you from Adam. You will be miserable. I promise you they will hurt you in new and memorable ways.
But there's something else, too. Something important. Actually, it's the most important thing about all this.
They are worth it.
I promise your tiny, rapidly-beating heart that being a Rangers fan is worth it.
There will be days when everything goes right, the stars align, and something amazing will happen. In those glorious few seconds when your feet are rooted to the ground and your mouth is very, very dry you'll look at the person next to you and say "are you serious? Did. That. Just. Happen?"
They'll make you feel a sense of joy, pride, relief, and ecstasy that's nearly impossible to replicate. You’ll become addicted to that feeling.
They'll have you jumping out of your seat like a child. Which will be appropriate for you when you’re first reading this - so keep on hopping. You'll scream yourself hoarse at games. You'll make friends, meet people, laugh, and joke around. You'll hug strangers in a fit of glee.
They'll make your night. They'll make you feel alive. You'll walk out of the Garden and realize how special it all is. Everything will have a rosy glow. You'll think they're the greatest thing in the world. The best decision you ever made. Tomorrow’s problems are for another day because in this moment, right here, everything is as it should be. If just for a small amount of time.
They will make you believe in magic.
There's something else, too. Something deeper.
You don't know Uncle Tino. He died six years before you were born. He and my dad went to games together before I was born. When I was a kid Uncle Tino used to pick me up in his black 2002 Grand Prix and take me to the Garden to meet my dad and go to Rangers games. My uncle had season tickets going back as far as 1968 and now they're in our name.
Back then we had four tickets (we only have two now) and Uncle Tino would drive me in after school for 20 or so games a year. He'd pick me up, and I'd sit in the back and talk the entire way into the city. He'd nod and laugh as I asked a million questions. Years later I learned he'd turn his hearing aid off when I was talking so he could drive in peace. I never knew until later. Finding out was hilarious (I’m a talker, you’ll figure that out, too).
When he died I cried because he was a damn good man and the grandfather I never had, but it wasn't just the pain of losing him that hurt: it was knowing we'd never got the chance to see the Rangers win a Stanley Cup together (well, we kinda did but I was six and remember precious little of that run). The last conversation we had before he died was him lamenting the fact that we hadn't gone to a game together in a long time. I had just moved to Connecticut to start a sportswriting job out of college and apologized but said we'd make it up the next year.
We never got the chance. Don't take time for granted, honey. I promise you it's a lesson you don't want to learn the hard way. You don't want to spend lonely nights on the highway in his old car thinking that was all you had left of him. Make time count. It's irreversible.
I don't tell you that to make you feel bad. My memories with Uncle Tino are sacred. I'd not trade one of them for anything. From the binoculars he'd bring to every game, to the time he stood up to go at an Islanders fan who was starting a fight with some guy (I thought he was trying to shield me from the fight, turns out he was using my body as leverage to go get involved), to all the times I'd be talking to him for minutes on end about the Rangers before he'd blink at me and go "huh?" and then turn on his hearing aid.
We'd have had a great relationship even without the Rangers. But they made it more special.
Maybe in time you'll see Brad Richards' game tying goal with 6.6 seconds left against Washington in the Second Round back in 2012 on YouTube (or whatever it is you’ll have when you get older). That was a very spiritual moment for me. It was right after Uncle Tino died and for the first time I felt him in the Garden with me. How could I ever think we'd never see them win a Cup together? He's with me at every game.
The Rangers will make you feel like that, too.
Oh, and those seats we're going to sit in for games? Your grandfather and I have been sitting in them my entire life. We've gone to more Rangers games than I can count. Even today he calls me during intermission (he knows I won't answer while play is going on, and yet he still does it. You think I’m a talker? Wait until you meet your grandfather) to yell or talk about what just happened. These days we catch up over the Rangers, talk about life with a hot dog, share a soda, and enjoy our time together. It’s special. And it’s made more special because of the Rangers. (Your grandmother gets jealous she's not mentioned in these articles, but if it's possible she's as excited for you as your mother is. There's a lot of love in this house, sweetie.)
The point is there's more to being a Rangers fan than being a Rangers fan. It's a family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation. It’s tradition. It’s almost like a faith or sorts. It's damn special. You'll be proud of it one day. You'll pass it along one day.
Your grandfather watched me grow up in those seats the same way I'm going to watch you grow up in them.
I assume it's going to be a special feeling.
I'm excited to find out.
Just a note: My wife and I are expecting a baby girl in early December. Yes she already has Rangers gear.