Jordan leaped to grab that ball as if nothing else in the world mattered, the way good goalkeepers do, oblivious to the sea of enemy legs that crowded the penalty box like hungry sharks with menacing cleats for teeth. My brave eight-year-old shark-slayer got to the ball first, preserving a hard-fought 1-0 lead against a superior team our novice squad had no business defeating or even tying, on one of those glorious fall afternoons I have grown so accustomed to love in Ohio.
But in the middle of the grass- and mud-splashing excitement of the play, we failed to notice that one of those cleat-armed mouths had landed on Jordan’s left hand full-force, making my goalie roll into a fetus position, still grasping the ball, tears of pain (those are OK, but never tears of fear) gushing out along with the subtlest of whimpers. As the father and coach of the injured player, I rushed onto the field and carried Jordan out of bounds in my arms, while the rest of the kids and their parents and grandparents stood and clapped — the closest you ever get to a standing ovation as a soccer player.
When you were born and raised in a soccer-deranged Latin American country like Costa Rica, and you are a male, and you become a father, this is one of the things you always dream of: to have a son who loves the game as much as you do, who plays the same position you play, and who one day becomes the hero, sprained hand and muddy face and tears of pain and all…except Jordan is my daughter.
Most people assume Jordan is a boy when they hear the name or read it on the sign-up sheet at the hospital, for example, after the injured hand incident. No, she wasn’t dedicated tothe glory of His Airness like all those boys named Jordan in the ‘90s were. Her name was inspired by Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby, which my wife Randi and I read together during an American literature class at Ashland University. Let it be clarified that Randi didn’t care much for Jordan Baker as a character, her reputation as a cheat having been well-documented, but she liked the name just the same. I did too. Beats being named Daisy any time of the year. When Jordan was almost five, we had another daughter. We named her Kathryn so there wouldn’t be any doubt as to her gender. Kathryn is eight now. And she doesn’t care much for soccer.
Many academic articles and books (Roger Magazine's Golden and Blue Like My Heart comes to mind) have been written about soccer and masculinity in Latin America. I'm certain many more have been written about the other football and male culture in the United States. All of that matters very little -- even for someone who likes to study the relationship between sports and culture -- when I think about my own relationship with my daughter in the context of playing soccer.
Have all these years of consciously trying to subdue the influence of my inevitably machista upbringing actually had an impact? Am I any less sexist or misogynist than the other guy, here or in my home country? I don't know. Would I have felt any differently that autumn afternoon, or any of the other times Jordan has made awesome plays on the field, if she were my son instead? I honestly can’t answer that. Do I wish Jordan or Kathryn were boys? Certainly not. But I do wonder -- still do after 13 years of being a dad -- what it would feel like to have a son, what my father felt when he had me, his firstborn.