the son’s dad

March­ing 14th, 2011 9:24pm

I sup­pose like any oth­er kid­die-sports league, watch­ing what appears to be vast tracts of psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age and trau­ma, roots of neu­roses and seeds of life­long behav­ioral dis­or­ders being ruth­less­ly ground into the tykes is going to gen­er­ate a cer­tain amount of appre­hen­sion in any par­ent who actu­al­ly cares about their kid.

Watch­ing the look of heart-felt fail­ure on the face of a dad as their lit­tle 34 yr old breaks out cry­ing because some kid just kicked the ball from them, leav­ing them rolling in the dust, unable to score a goal yet again, is with­er­ing to a father’s psy­che. I know this because I was exact­ly that dad last year1 when Mac had his first sea­son of orga­nized-sports prac­tice.2 Watch­ing the com­plex and uncon­trol­lable mael­strom of emotions—anger, con­fu­sion, out­rage, angst and despair—arise out of the lit­tle bod­ies of these boys is heart-wrench­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing, but I sense also espe­cial­ly self-immo­lat­ing to the amer­i­cana dad.3 We’ve all been through these incred­i­bly strong/​damaging emo­tions and we want to pro­tect our kids from it, yet we are told sports teach chil­dren how to func­tion in a com­pet­i­tive soci­ety; it’s a giv­en sports are healthy and good and devel­op mod­el cit­i­zens, encour­ag­ing both team-sac­ri­fice and the taste for the pur­suit for excel­lence that qua­dren­ni­al­ly cul­mi­nate as the Olympics.

I think the worst part is watch­ing the con­fu­sion on the boy’s face as their sup­posed team-mate, the one they have been prac­tic­ing with for last 45 min­utes is placed on the oppos­ing-side for scrim­mage and what was all prac­tice and team­work and fun is now very much a 15-minute encap­su­la­tion of The Lord of the Flies: the soc­cer ball, the conch. Then he, the lost one, will stop run­ning and stand there alone, cry­ing in the body-wrack­ing way lit­tle kids will cry, inno­cence lost and all that cal. The fathers will run up, at first smil­ing and calm­ly cajol­ing, while the inevitably large set of rel­a­tives watch from the side­lines hav­ing shown up to see lit­tle junior play, and so the cajol­ing will quick­ly turn into qui­et plead­ing and even­tu­al­ly out­right order­ing or so help me… Soon frus­tra­tion sets in as the lit­tle boy con­tin­ues to stand in the mid­dle of field shame­less­ly cry­ing, while the rest of the kids run back and forth, com­plete­ly ignor­ing the poor kid, no more an object in their aware­ness than a tuft of grass to be stepped on, while dad is bent over, arms out­stretched on either side of the boy, ges­tic­u­lat­ing wild­ly, try­ing to push the boy toward the field of play with­out actu­al­ly touch­ing him. Any sort of phys­i­cal con­tact now would be an admis­sion of com­plete and absolute fail­ure. Inevitably, you will see—it will hap­pen to every dad out there at one point4—you will see fail­ure wash­ing over the dad’s face like the tears wash­ing their son’s.

The mom’s get this. I’m not sure what all they know as they patient­ly calm their son that dad has made incon­solable. I do not know all that Jenn or the rest of the moms’ know but at least I know they already know that these are their lit­tle boys and not men, not ready for the testos­terone-fueled com­pet­i­tive­ness that is preva­lent for much of man’s life. Scar­lett of course, has been blow­ing any and every belief or myth or gen­er­al sense of knowl­edge about girls, espe­cial­ly lit­tle girls, not only out of the water but vapor­iz­ing pre-con­cep­tions a pri­ori. Scar­lett at this stage in the game, could lit­er­al­ly run cir­cles around the boys on the field, leav­ing them chok­ing on her dust.5


This year, it turns out that your kid actu­al­ly does OK.6 No jags of cry­ing that lock them up. This year it’s not you out there but anoth­er dad going through the same feel­ings of failed father­hood, but now you know that being able feel this already dis­proves7 the fear. You want to go up to them and say my son did exact­ly same thing and that almost exact­ly one year ago8 on this same spot, I felt exact­ly what you are feel­ing right now, think­ing it’s only your kid who stands apart from every­one else, tears stream­ing, over­whelmed with ter­ror that roots them the ground, unable to think, act or walk, let alone kick a ball in any mean­ing­ful man­ner. You want to pat them on the back and say, “It’s OK. we’ve all been through exact­ly what you feel­ing and it will get bet­ter. And you’ll learn not to take the entire clan to watch lit­tle john­ny play and score the win­ning goal. Next time it will be just you and him, one on one and it will be a whole lot better.”

  1. And to some extent this year. []
  2. we are in our 2nd year now. []
  3. those toss-the-foot­ball and play-catch myths are them­selves demon­strat­ed to be myths when I dri­ve around the neigh­bor­hood and see what the oth­er dads are doing with their kids. []
  4. each every kid hav­ing their own unique break­ing point []
  5. And it’s a very wet soc­cer field. []
  6. Mac up until very recent­ly had been doing a very sub­tle par­o­dy of Char­lie Sheen. Mac has only one speed: SLOW! even when he has the ball and every­one is beg­ging him to run, nay walk just a bit faster, he obsti­nate­ly plods along. He has great ball-han­dling skills but molasses pass­es him. So this year, he actu­al­ly has start­ed run­ning! This is a much big­ger accom­plish­ment to see than I can describe on paper. []
  7. I hope []
  8. Jenn reminds its only been 6 months []