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May 20, 2022

Strong father-son bonds can create rituals that get passed down for generations

A trip to see the NFL Draft in Las Vegas highlighted the long-term implications of my relationship with my adult children

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
NFL Draft Las Vegas fans Courtesy/Louis Bezich

Louis Bezich stands with his two sons, Anthony, left, and Stephen, right, at the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas.

Consistency. Repetition. Reliability. They are among the rudiments of successful behaviors that anchor our lives and, in my world, secure healthy lifestyles. Whether it's diet, exercise or the social relationships that motivate our behavior, positive outcomes are tied to a conscious discipline that keeps us focused. It's what I've referred to as habits, routines and rituals. One and done thinking has no place in this space.

Last fall, I shared the story of a father-son trip to Las Vegas, a case study on the use of sports-oriented rituals for relationship building. My oldest son, Anthony, and I watched the Eagles lose to the Raiders, but despite the on-field disappointment, the experience strengthened our bond, and provided a terrific installment to our portfolio of father-son customs. Like any great adventure, we were left with an appetite for more, and it didn't take long for the next opportunity to arrive.

Just a few weeks ago, it was back to Vegas again. This time with both my sons, Anthony and Stephen, for the NFL Draft. A repeat junket that didn't take much arm-twisting. We were originally scheduled to attend the draft in 2020, but COVID-19 sidetracked those plans. With COVID clearance and personal schedules aligned, we were off to Sin City along with a number of Eagles' fans seeking a weekend of football fandom and fun. The fall expedition provided great perspective for our planning – almost as much fun as the trip itself.

The rundown

A pre-trip dinner at our favorite restaurant, Giumarello's in Haddon Township, marked the official start of the festivities. We finalized plans, discussed dinner venues and, of course, the potential draft picks. Then, with plans honed to the precision of a Swiss watch, our foray started with an early-morning Uber to Philadelphia International Airport, where the three of us grabbed breakfast before an 8:30 a.m. flight. With the time difference, this got us to Vegas by 10:30 a.m., giving us almost a full day to get settled and connect with my brother Chris from Southern California, who was able to join us for the draft's first round Thursday night.

From the minute we got off the plane, it was clear that the town was rockin'. People in NFL jerseys from every city were on display like a rainbow. No matter where we went, we were constantly greeted by shouts of "Go Birds" as we proudly sported our Eagles garb.

Headquarters was the Cosmopolitan Hotel with a room and balcony overlooking the Bellagio, where a number of draft events were happening. We could see the main stage in the distance. Strategically, we chose to watch the draft from the hotel where we ordered a game-day worthy spread. The more personal setting was much more comfortable, but no less energized.

Like all Eagles' fans, we were on the edge of our seats and rode the emotional roller coaster through the Birds' initial pick of defensive tackle Jordan Davis, and then the trade for wide receiver A.J. Brown. What a night. Events like the draft, particularly given where the Eagles landed and how they got there, have a way of pulling people together. Sharing the moment with the boys and my brother made it super special.

True to my commitment, I hit the gym the next day, keeping pace with the local spin on Howie Roseman's performance by listening to WIP on the app. On Friday, we walked over to the amazing NFL Draft Experience, did some shopping, watched Round 2, and enjoyed a great dinner.

On Saturday, we kept an eye on the final rounds as we hit the pool and soaked-up the local sights. For dinner, we hit another favorite of ours, further contributing to the rhythm of our stay. On Sunday, it was time to head home, but not before breakfast at the hotel, yet another practice we had adopted. All in all, another fantastic chapter in my evolving storybook of fatherhood.

The lesson for fathers

On the flight home I reflected on how well these jaunts to Vegas seem to strike a chord with the boys, and how the experience reconciles with the commonly held beliefs about father-son relationships. Clearly, the trips create a platform for extensive communication, the sharing of values, and building a level of honesty and trust. Really good stuff. I find that these "heavier" contributions mix well with the fun and playfulness that was a big part of the outing. The uproar and high-fiving prompted by the draft picks and trades was an incredible dynamic.

When the dust settled, sharing the draft together, in that room, and in that city, created a common bond that strengthened our relationships across the board. Finally, in what some may think a bit strange, I thought it was good that the boys saw me texting and then step out for a work call at one point Thursday night. Call me old fashioned, but I want them to see that there is a level of effort that goes into having the wherewithal to take the trip in the first place.

The big picture

Yes, trips like these go far in strengthening my father-son relationships. They create a reliable means to bring us together and are worth repeating, but there's more.

Stephen Rodgers, a Denver-based therapist for men points out the significant long-term implications of the relationship between a father and adult sons, reminding us that the bond established "extends not only through the son's adult life, but is also transferred to the generations to come, as the boy will become a father himself."

My hope is that my boys – in their own ways – will build off of our model and create the bonds that we enjoy with their children. I hope that my grandson, and perhaps future grandsons –and granddaughters – will feel a similar level of closeness with their dads, and develop their own habits, routines and rituals, whether through sports or some other vehicle.

For me, this intergenerational legacy is one of the strongest motivators to live healthy, so that maybe, just maybe, this grandfather will be on a trip with not only his sons, but his grandsons and granddaughters one day. May we all be so lucky.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website. 

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