I got a new job this semester. In addition to my office assistant position with Notre Dame Upward Bound, I am now a tour guide for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Normally, I give admissions tours to groups of prospective students and their parents, but last weekend, I gave a tour to a rather non-traditional crowd.
My dad and 11 of his friends came to Notre Dame for the game against Michigan. The football game was the highlight of their “Boys Bash” weekend, a celebratory gathering of a dozen guys who all happened to have been born in 1960. Since they all celebrate(d) their 50th birthdays in 2010, they decided to plan a weekend of doing manly things. The debauchery kicked off with a Friday night of drinking and gambling at a casino in Michigan. On Saturday, they chartered a van, rode down to Notre Dame for the game, and shared dinner afterwards. They christened the weekend “The Semi-Centennial.”
The group arrived on campus a little before 1pm, and I hurried back from a tailgate to meet up with all of the birthday boys. After pacing up and down Notre Dame Avenue, I finally saw my dad and ran up to give him a big hug. That little gesture of affection completely endeared me to all of the other guys in the group—most of them have kids about my age, and many of them later mentioned to me that their kids wouldn’t be caught dead giving hugs to parents on a football game day.
Daddy and Tony introduced me to everyone. I shook 10 hands and remembered about 5 names. Tony has known me since before I knew me—he and my dad have been friends they worked together at their first jobs out of college. Tony organized the weekend, got the guys together, and arranged for the commemorative buttons. He handed me a button, which I promptly pinned onto my hat. Well, not really my hat. Maybe Dad’s old hat that I stole. Probably the hat that he was wearing in the pictures with Baby Amy laying on a blanket in a Notre Dame onesie. Definitely a hat that is older than I am.
We had just a few hours until kickoff, so I started the tour right away. The trickiest thing about the tours isn’t memorizing the bound booklet of facts, dates, statistics, and other material that the Admissions Office gives us. It’s learning to walk backwards that is the hardest. For a regular tour on a regular day, there aren’t a whole lot of obstacles for backwards-traveling tour guides. During class changes, students tend to get out of the way and give the tour groups a clear path. But on a football Saturday? Good luck. On a rainy football Saturday? Yeah right. Novice tour guide that I am, the reverse trajectory is a challenge, but on Saturday, the game day traffic and puddle prevalence proved to be the greater obstacles.
The combination of limited time, crummy weather, and football crowds made for a more abbreviated tour. Despite all that, I still managed to interject little bits and pieces of tour guide lore along the way. We made our way past the Bookstore (which has over a million dollars in transactions on each day of a football weekend!) and Ryan Hall (the newest residence hall on campus!). We stopped in Welsh Fam for a potty break (“Half of us are on FloMax!”) and grabbed steak sandwiches at the Knights of Columbus (the first KofC on a college campus in the United States!) on South Quad (which is a whole mile in circumference!). We took pictures by Sorin College (Dad’s old dorm, which tried to secede from the university in the 1970s!) and by the Dome (Mary weighs 4,000 pounds!). After everyone saw the player walk from Mass, we made a quick pass through the Basilica (which holds the world’s largest collection of 18th century French stained glass because all of the stained glass in France was destroyed in World War II!) and looped down to the Grotto (a 1/7th size replica of the Grotto at Lourdes, France!). As we wandered past the Climbing Tree, I told the group about how some of the producers of “Shrek” were Notre Dame grads who inserted little Notre Dame cues into the series. Over on Bond Quad, my dad told the story of his father’s tree there. We heard the band concert on the steps, sang the fight song, and watched the Irish Guard inspection. After another pit stop in Dillon Hall (largest men’s dorm on campus, home to over 300 men whose motto is “the toughest, the smartest, the humblest!”), we made our way to the stadium.
Tony had an extra ticket, so I was able to sit with my dad for the game. The seats were really good—better than my student section seats—and I didn’t have to stand the whole time! I know, I know. I’m supposed to love the standing and the cheering and the chanting and the Irish jigging. I do. But I have a bad back, and standing on a 2×4 for the duration of a football game aggravates it. It was such a cool experience to be able to watch the student section. I knew exactly what they were doing and what they were saying, even though the sound was a little delayed in traveling across the stadium. It felt like I was in on some secret code that nobody around me could recognize.
It wasn’t a traditional tour group, but the guys certainly were eager to learn about Notre Dame. My dad was the only ND grad in the group, and one of the guys was a Michigan alum. Most of the men were visiting Notre Dame for the first time, and many of them are Jewish. In addition to giving them the regular spiel about study abroad and class sizes, I absolutely loved being able to teach them about Notre Dame’s unique dorm life and inimitable Catholic community. Whatever stereotypes or preconceptions they had about Notre Dame as a place, as a university, as a football school completely melted away.
Dad said I was the second person toasted at dinner on Saturday night.
I don’t think I’ll ever have the chance to give a tour to a dozen dads again. More likely, my future tour groups will consist of nervous high school seniors and their even-more-nervous parents. That’s fine. That’s what I signed up to do. But if any groups of dads ever need a game day tour in the future, I’d be happy to oblige.