I’m afraid of everything. I don’t know how it started, I’ve had some real bad stuff happen with my family this year and it’s made me scared all the time. I’m so embarrassed about all this anxiety and I’m going to therapy about it.
You’re talking to the 1987 and 1988 welterweight division champion of the Olympic men’s fraidy-cat finals.
I am not qualified to offer advice on any subject—such as topics concerning the opposite sex. Take, for instance, a recent column I wrote about lifting the toilet seat. I received several letters from irate females who threatened to baptize me in their own personal toilet bowls. But when it comes to being scared, I’m a certified veteran.
When I was a kid, my home life was pretty crummy. Childhood was unpredictable. We were bouncing around between different houses, my parents were arguing a lot, our lives were a mess.
One morning, I woke up puking. This vomiting problem lasted for weeks. I lost weight. At first, my mother thought it was a virus so she gave me castor oil. Her answer for every ailment was castor oil. I am grateful that many brave Americans have since broken the silence associated with the nationwide problem of castor-oil-related child abuse.
NOTE TO YOUNG READERS: Castor oil is a unique medicine that turns the human body into a military-grade projectile weapon.
Anyway, the doctor discovered that I had stomach ulcers caused by severe anxiety. To help my ulcers he recommended a strict regimen of treatment known as—cue theme music from “Psycho”—suppositories.
Let me pause for a moment. Do you remember what I said about castor oil being bad? Well, suppositories make castor oil seem like pure joy. I won’t go into details because this is a family column. I will simply say that suppositories are little wax objects shaped like tiny surface-to-air missiles.
My mother deserves a Medal of Honor for administering them into a well-known orifice of my body.
This marked the beginning of my lifelong afraidness. I was worried my parents might get divorced. I was worried they might stay together. I was scared of everything. Especially clowns. I have never understood the practical purpose of clowns.
My worries have sort of ebbed and flowed over the years. Sometimes I’d be fine, other times my aunt would hire Pickles the Clown for my cousin’s tenth birthday party.
Even in adulthood sudden irrational fears appear out of nowhere. Like my fear of propane.
I developed this particular fear when we lived in a twenty-eight-foot trailer. One night, our dog jumped on the stove and accidentally turned the gas on. When I awoke the next morning our home was filled with propane. Thank God we were okay and didn’t sustain anny seerius brane demmage 2he 739;/!’ H.
But after this incident I was checking stove knobs twenty times per hour. I was even checking the stoves in OTHER PEOPLE’S HOMES. And worse, I could actually smell natural gas wherever I went. Even at college football games where large shirtless sports fans often paint their bare torsos and dress up as—I can hardly bring myself to say it—clowns.
But enough about that. I want to tell you about one summer when I was helping my cousin coach Little League.
I remember the sunny day we were teaching five-year-olds how catch a baseball. And if you’ve never seen five-year-olds playing catch, it will bless your heart.
But something was wrong. These boys were terrified of the ball, they flinched whenever it came near them. At first I didn’t think a thing about it. But then I got to wondering:
“Wait a second. How come I’m not afraid of the baseball?” Especially considering my documented fear of clowns.
The answer was simple. Because baseball is one of those things that your father, or some other male, passes down to you as a boy. It’s the same with hunting, fishing, working on cars, or belching popular American melodies.
My father started playing catch with me when I was a three-year-old, underhanding baseballs. Throughout my childhood we played catch. Even during the driving rain or in the dark.
My father was our Little League coach. At practices he would pitch to us, Coach Danny would be the catcher. My father would throw violent fastballs and try to scare us from the plate.
I know this seems cruel, but if you’ve ever played organized baseball you’re nodding right now because your coach probably did this to you.
At first, we boys leapt away from the dish and dropped our bats, and in the case of Jon Jon Williams, peed our pants in public. But after only one summer, our ragtag team of messy-haired boys was able to face eighty-mile-an-hour four-seamers that could split the air and break a catcher’s wrist. We were fearless.
During games when pitchers would threaten us with high-inside pitches, we would just glare at them with icy eyes and, in one solitary act of defiance, we would adjust our jockstraps.
Do you realize what this means? It means that the only reason I am not afraid of baseballs is because I’ve faced millions of them.
So I am not saying that you’re going to ever completely get rid of your fear. And I’m not saying that you can get rid of life’s hardballs, either. Wild pitches will scream at you from every angle. Many will hit you.
You are going to be anxious. You will get hurt. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t stand at the plate, even if you’re trembling, and swing like the Dickens. Just know that I’m sitting in the stands cheering for you right now.
Let me leave you with the monumental words of Franklin D. Roosevelt who, in his famous 1933 inaugural address, said:
“We have nothing to fear, but suppositories.”
And of course clowns.