Wednesday, October 16, 2013

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My son: soccer champion! (Why is my husband pushing my son so hard to be an athlete?) Part II

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If you have not read My son: soccer champion! (Why is my husband pushing my son so hard to be an athlete?) Part I, you can do so be clicking here.

I know very little about soccer. I have played it a few times. I was even on a team in elementary school for about three practices, and then I quit. I did the same thing with baseball. But I was determined to teach Tristan how to play. I watched a few informative videos on YouTube, and I felt I knew enough to get Tristan ready to show the kids on his team how shit was done.  And part of me was thinking that this was what I’d always wanted from my father. He left when I was young, and I suppose part of my hatred for sports is actually jealousy. I wanted the dewy-eyed memories. I wanted to think about sports and my father and smile, longingly. And now I was determined to force that connection down Tristan’s throat.
We went to the park, and he told me that he couldn’t kick the ball very hard and dribbling was stupid. “Stop getting in my way, Dad,” he said as I tried to teach him how to get around an opponent. “You’re being mean.”
Eventually, he sat down on the ball, placed his hands on his chin, and cried. So I kicked the ball out from under him. He fell to the ground, curled up in a ball, and cried long and hard. He called me a butt head, stinky, a fart face, and a mean Dad. And all I could think about was that day playing basketball when all the kids beat me up. I wondered if I was doing more damage than good. I’d never been this rough with Tristan. And as he called me a mean dad, I wondered if he was right. And like a mean dad, I pressed forward. I told him to get up. To get moving. To take this seriously. And eventually he did. I remember wondering if this is how it was with other fathers. Was it tough love that got kids to perform? Was this what other men were longing to relive again?

At the first practices, I realized that Tristan was the shortest kid on the team. Not by a little, but by an inch or more. The coach’s son, an athletic Vietnamese boy with black hair and long muscular legs, had over a foot on Tristan. The first time I saw him I assumed he was a sandbagger, some older kid placed on the team to give the Centaurs a competitive edge. Once I found out he was actually seven, I wondered what they’d been feeding him.
Centaurs: Team mascot. 

When lined up with the other players, Tristan looked like a little buzzed head Keebler Elf playing soccer with a group of grown men, but all of these boys were his same age. He is usually the shortest kid in the class. This hasn’t ever really bothered me until I saw him on a sports team. It made him look small and weak, and I felt that he was going to need to be twice as good to make up for his height.
Tristan took things seriously the first few practices and I began to think that my tough love had paid off. But after the third practice, the drills started getting more complicated, and Tristan started not to care.  On the fifth practice he took a hard kick to the crotch from a kid that couldn’t seem to keep his kicks low. Tristan went down hard, real hard, hands cupped between his legs. The assistant coach approached him and asked, “Tristan, you ok?”
“Not really,” Tristan said.
I went up to him, rubbed his back for a moment, and then said what I’d heard a million fathers and coaches say, “Walk it off, son.”
Tristan looked up at me with a pale face, eyes a little watery, and said, “I can’t.”
He sat there for a few more minutes. Teammates stared at him, a few snickered, and all I could think about was when I fell on the basketball court as a child.
I told him to get up again. He stood, hobbled across the field, and started playing. But he didn’t seem to have the same vigor that he once hand, and he kept his distance from the high kicking kid. 

Something changed after that. At the next practice, Tristan hooked the corners of his mouth, pulled out his cheeks, and stuck out his tongue. He pinched his nose, puckered his lips, and blew out his cheeks. None of his faces were directed at any one person, they were just being made randomly for attention. He made spazzy movements with his body, arms flopping this way and that. He was much more interested in getting his friends to laugh at him than the game. And when his teammates were not paying attention to him because they were focused on the game, he picked his nose, his butt, his ears, and the grass.

This infuriated me because I wanted him to be like the other boys. I wanted him to get pissed when a shot didn’t go in the net. I wanted him to yell, “I’m open! I’m open!” as he ran across the field, athletically, gracefully, with confidence and intimidation. I wanted him to be something that I never was. And I think what bothered me so much was that he was acting just like I did as a boy. I knew I wasn’t good with a ball, so I didn’t try. Instead of getting attention from playing sports, I tried to get attention for being a dumbass. It was my way of saying, “Hey, I’m not much value on the team, but at least I’m good for a laugh.” It was all about compensation. And I could see that in everything Tristan did. And I hated it. I wanted him to be more than me. I wanted him to be better than I was. When I look back on my childhood, I see a clown. I didn’t want that for him, but I didn’t know how to tell him that. I didn’t know how to make him understand my own fears for his future. So I yelled at him from the sidelines.
“Stop picking your nose!”
“Stop picking your butt!”
“Get serious!”

Stop Picking Your Nose bumper sticker
And every time I did, Tristan gave me a look of longing mixed with anger, like I was taking something away from him. And I knew exactly what that was. It was the attention he craved. And like most things go with Tristan, with parenting, with fathering, I find that my anger and frustration is more a reflection of myself.
That night, after practice, I lectured Tristan in the car about the importance of taking the game seriously. I used cliché sporting terms such as, “team player”, “hard work”, and  “no pain, no gain” as if I’d ever taken a game seriously. Tristan looked out the window, gazed at the passing storefronts, his eyes glossy and cold, hands nervously at his sides. I felt vindicated in what I was doing. Like he needed this. Like I was saving him from the pain that I felt as a kid. I so badly wanted him to fit in that I was building a rift between father and son.

My son: soccer champion! (Why is my husband pushing my son so hard to be an athlete?) Part III

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University. 


Joan said...

Because I am Tristan's Grandma, this installment broke my heart. Some people just march to the beat of a different drum. Tristan is only a little boy and childhood should be full of happy memories.