When he was 10 my son started saving for the World Cup in Germany the following year. His professed ambition was an encounter with Ronaldinho, who by almost universal consensus is the most creative soccer player on the planet. Henry spent the months prior studying Portuguese.
Somehow Henry's life list became mine. I say somehow, but really, who doesn't want to go to bat for someone who practices samba steps in preparation for a goal-scoring celebration with Ronaldinho? After some budgetary reprioritization, Henry flew alone to Frankfurt, where I met him on the way back from a business trip in Israel. In 12 hours' travel he'd had the time to chart out the logistics of intra-German train routes as they concerned the whereabouts of the Brazilian team.
We never did meet Ronaldinho – in fact, we couldn't even score any tickets – but it didn't seem to matter. All Henry really wanted was to be in the mix, with Brazilians – and all those who loved the Brazilians – nearby. He played a rousing two-on-two with a few Italian kids on a cobblestone plaza in Bad Homburg. They couldn't speak each other's language, but they were "speaking" Brazilian. During the semis he teased away a cafe cook and a Turkish convenience store owner for juggling exhibitions. "He's an American, really?" said the Turk incredulously.
In those moments the craziness of indulging my son's Brazilian obsession really didn't seem crazy at all. Passion makes things happen, and the passion of an 11-year-old makes extraordinary things happen. I wanted Henry to know that, and I wanted to also. Anything is possible – anytime, anywhere. Which is to say, the quadrennial date on the calendar is already circled: June 11, 2010, in South Africa. Who knows? This time we might even get tickets to a game.