I was on the phone with my wife. We were discussing whether or not we wanted to sign our 10-year-old son up for another season of soccer.
“I’m getting pretty tired of taking him to practice twice a week and having all of our Saturdays shot,” Mel said.
I groaned along with her, reminding her of the weekend before when Tristan had two games on Saturday, both in different towns, and so I basically spent all day packing snacks for him and his team (it was our turn), driving him to pregame practice, to the first game, to practice, then to another game. Once all was said and done, I was left with this sweaty little boy in muddy cleats, and we were both exhausted.
I was at work as we spoke, while Mel was trapped in our hot cramped van with our 7-year-old little girl working on homework, anxious to get outside and play on the playground, as our toddler tore something apart in the back seat, Tristan outside playing soccer at the park.
Part of the problem is that Mel and I were never sports people. I played half a season of soccer as a child. I played a little baseball, but none of it was under my own free will. I was told to play by my parents, and I hated every moment of it. I was a short kid, with poor hand-eye coordination and very little athletic motivation.
When I think back on those moments playing sports, I’m reminded of being mocked for missing this catch, or that kick, and feeling really poorly about myself. Youth sports remind me of standing in deep, deep, right field, next to the freeway, kicking grass, and praying that the ball wouldn’t come my way because I’d surely end up missing the catch. I couldn’t wait for the games to be over.
I’m not sure exactly what Mel’s reasoning for not getting involved in sports was, but what I do know is that when we started dating, Mel asked me if I was a sports guy, and when I told her flat and cold, “No,” she couldn’t stop smiling.
I assumed that sports were not going to be a big part of our lives. And I labored under that assumption until Tristan, around age 7, said he wanted to play soccer. He had a few friends who were already playing. Mel and I discussed it then, too, and I think we both anticipated that it would be a passing thing. “He’s our child,” Mel said. “I doubt he will be all that into sports.”
Obviously, that was a poor assumption because there we were, three years later, bitching about how much we hated taking our son to practice and games, and trying to decide if we wanted to keep it up and if it was even feasible for our busy family.
Mel kept having to pause our conversation to help Norah with her homework, and as she did, I thought back on how Mel and I assumed that Tristan would be like the two of us and realized how naïve we were. I think most new parents assume that their children will be an even mix of both parents, picking up this trait or that, but ultimately reflecting the fact that they are your child. And surely, all of our children look like us. Tristan is almost the exact short height that I was at his age. Same stocky body. Same short slender fingers and flat feet. He has his mother’s smile and hair. But the fact is, he’s his own person, with his own motivations, and sometimes it seems like anything I enjoy now, or enjoyed as a child, he rejects with a cold, hard clarity that makes my head spin.
But if I take a step back and really look at how much soccer has done for him, I cannot help but realize that although I disliked sports as a child and am pretty tired of them as a father, they have been wonderful for my son. He wasn’t getting his homework done, so Mel told him he’d have to quit soccer to keep up with school, and he quickly straightened up. Each season he makes new friends, and I can watch his coordination growing, his skills developing, his confidence building. When we first started soccer, he looked like this short little boy chasing a ball, but now he looks like this committed, athletic, young man with determination in his eyes. If it weren’t for soccer, I have no doubt that he’d default to his other interests — YouTube and video games.
I have seen my son charge at boys much larger then he, lean into them with an audacity I never had at his age, and take the ball. I’ve seen him dive into a storm of kicking feet while playing goalie to nab the ball without a moment’s thought. He has shown determination and confidence that is undeniable. It makes me proud.
For the sake of full transparency, I will admit that although I have only missed a handful of Tristan’s games in the past three years, I still don’t know all the rules to soccer. I can’t speak the language, and I don’t know the names of any professional players. But what I can see, without a doubt, is that playing soccer is making a beneficial contribution to my young son’s life, and even though I’m not a fan of the sport, or the act of getting him to the sport, or cleaning out the van after the sport (I could go on), Mel and I eventually agreed to sign him up for another season.
Well, I suppose that’s obvious. Because we are parents, and that’s what parents do. They put aside their own feelings about this or that and how much they dislike something because they can see that their child is benefiting from it.
Being a parent looks standing on the sidelines, clapping and cheering for your child even though you are not 100% sure what happened. It looks like blowing all your Saturdays for months, or even years, because although you’d rather be doing something, anything, other than driving your child around from one game to another, you cannot help but see how much your kid is thoroughly enjoying themslves. So while it’s draining and irritating, you know that it’s for the betterment of your child, and you suck it up and forge ahead.