Suddenly, there was more afoot than a football game.

I dreamed I was in our Winter Park church, walking my daughter Rebecca down the aisle. I released her with a kiss and stepped aside as Xavier, her groom, replaced me at the altar. At that moment, love overwhelmed me and guests leapt from their seats, roaring approval.

The roar woke me. I was not at an altar, but in a daze at a Bank of America Stadium food court. The Carolina Panthers had scored a go-ahead touchdown against the New Orleans Saints.

Fans stomped and screamed, and I realized I was saying good-bye to Rebecca and Xavier as they prepared to leave Charlotte, N.C., for a long drive home.

Xavier looked relieved — even contented. He wanted to marry Becca, and just before the game, had asked my wife, Beth, and me for our blessing. It proved a moment of truth for him and for me.

That Sunday morning, Beth and I — along with Becca, Xavier and our son Jack — had caravanned in two cars to the game. I thought we had cut short a vacation weekend in Tennessee simply to see a football game where the league championship was on the line for both teams.

Arriving moments before kickoff, however, I sat in the stadium parking lot with Beth, Xavier and an unforeseen problem on my hands — Xavier’s surprise request.

Nearby, it seemed that virtually everyone in this championship-starved city had arrived at the stadium for a feast. Beth and I had secured McGuireWoods box seats, where preppy lawyers, smart doctors and celebrity businesspeople would hobnob.

The children scored nosebleed seats, one-row from the stadium rim behind an end zone. First, let me scotch a rumor inferring that the celestial location of these seats was my doing, that, oh, yes, Jim DeSimone knew his three young guests wanted to attend the event long before game day and bought tickets on the cheap.

In fact, the children’s decision to attend was last-minute, resulting in a scramble to find tickets, any tickets. The location was no problem for Jack, who loves watching football, even sitting with his head brushing the underbelly of Sunday rain clouds. However, Xavier and Rebecca’s sudden interest in the NFL should have triggered alarm bells.

Xavier, born in Ecuador and raised in West Palm Beach, prefers football of the soccer variety. He passionately follows World Cup qualifying rounds and plays club soccer, sometimes four evenings a week. But his passion for the Panthers? Not so much.

Something even more curious was Becca and Xavier’s travel plans. Without any vacation time left, they needed to drive back to Northern Virginia on Sunday for work the next day. The 2½-hour side trip to the Queen City, plus the football game, seemed a tad ambitious on top of the seven-hour drive north.

Later, I realized the third giveaway was Xavier’s out-of-character car-seating request for the journey to Charlotte. However, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Game day arrived, and I launched into the kitchen for breakfast. Xavier took me aside and asked to join Beth and me on the drive, abandoning his car to Jack and Becca. He uttered something about the two siblings “talking too much” and his need to escape the frippery.

During previous family visits, Xavier had rarely left Becca’s side. The two had been dating since college. He had left for Jacksonville to work for a brokerage firm, she had moved to Washington to work for the feds. He had transferred to D.C. to be with her and now she had applied to graduate school.

What would this new move mean? Xavier’s request seemed a bad omen.

Turned out, however, to be a cleverly orchestrated conspiracy. After several hours on the road and two rest stops — where the boy fortified his resolve with his co-conspirator — Xavier finally spoke up in the stadium parking garage. And, there was the problem.

What is a father’s duty here? I remembered my father-in-law — a Dutch Brahman whom I later came to understand and love deeply — delivered a laundry list of conditions I would be required to meet before marrying his daughter.

After I conceded every point, he fell silent. I remember aging, say several years, during this awkward pause. Finally, my future mother-in-law kicked his shin under the tablecloth.

On the other hand, my Irish grandfather took Dad out for a drink, where he wove a verbal tapestry of approval and camaraderie that both welcomed Dad into the family and expressed his expectations of how a husband should behave.

For my part, I began like the Dutchman. Eyeing Xavier through the rear-view mirror and struggling to catch my balance, I yammered at the windshield about respect and caring. Shifting in the cockpit for the added power that eye contact could give me, we mapped together those lines Xavier would never cross if he valued my enthusiastic support.

Soon, however, I had talked myself out, betrayed by a growing sense of inner bliss. I walked into the stadium to enjoy a football game with my future son-in-law, savoring celestial seats and good company that would last a lifetime.


Jim DeSimone is a principal at Orlando-based Knob Hill Companies and is a founding partner of Winter Park Magazine. He was previously vice-president of corporate affairs for Darden Restaurants, director of com-
munication for the City of Orlando and a reporter and communications counsel for the
Orlando Sentinel. He has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Florida, a masters degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Maryland College Park and a J.D. from the College of William and Mary.