When my 6-year-old told me he wanted to play soccer, I felt overwhelmed. I assumed this day was coming. All of his friends were involved in sports, and so were their fathers. I was usually the odd man out. I had no idea what was going on with major sports teams, and I had no intentions of pushing my son into sports of any kind.
There are multiple reasons for my dislike of sports. I don’t have good hand-eye coordination, is one example. But I think the main reason was because my father left when I was young. Most boys at school talked about their fathers and how they showed them this or that on the court or the field, and I remember listening to them recount these moments and feeling left out. Sports always reminded me of what I didn’t have… a father to play ball with.
And yet, I understand how important sports are to most men, and I can say honestly that because I don’t get sports, I’ve had a difficult time making male friends. So when Tristan asked if he could play soccer, I had to push my own feelings aside and realize that I didn’t want him to feel like an outsider when it came to chatting with other men, like I often did. I wanted him to fit in. And as long as the activity is healthy, I want to be supportive. I signed him up for soccer, all the while secretly hoping that he would hate it and never play sports again.
I was wrong.
Not only did he love playing soccer, he wanted me to play with him. I work at a university. This allowed me to take the summer of 2013 off. Tristan and I spent a lot of time on a grassy patch of grass next to our apartment kicking a ball around that summer. I didn’t know anything about playing soccer other than I couldn’t use my hands, Luckily, though, neither did he. In so many ways it felt like we were learning together, and for the first time I didn’t think about my absent father when playing sports. I just thought about my son. I thought about the two of us being together, learning something new.
I made it a point to attend all of his practices and games for two reasons. I wanted to be supportive. I also wanted to try and learn a few things so I could be more engaged when playing with Tristan. This was the most I’d ever invested in sports.
One evening Tristan and I were at a park down the street from our home. We were passing the ball back and forth. Tristan was short and stocky with a buzzed head. He looked a lot like I did at his age. I noticed that before he kicked, he always stopped the ball, took two steps back, and then ran forward to kick it. I told him not to, but rather run at the ball and kick it mid-stride. This wasn’t something I knew from playing soccer for years or anything. It just seemed obvious to me. We worked on it for an hour or so until he got it, and once he did, he looked up at me like I was a genius. Like I must know everything about soccer. During his next game he used the kicking strategy we worked on to score his first goal. I will admit, I swelled with pride. The first thing Tristan did after scoring that first goal was look at me and smile as he ran across the field, and it felt like he was saying, “See dad! I did it.”
Tristan is now seven, nearly eight. He has played two seasons of soccer, and is currently playing basketball. I’ve had to learn how to dribble. And I’ve had to learn how to take a shot. I haven’t been able to make it to as many of his basketball games this season because they usually take place while I am still at work. But what I can say is that most Sundays we are in my front yard, playing basketball. Just the two of us, laughing and shooting, and having the time of our lives. And in those moments, I get the opportunity to have those father-son moments I always longed for as a child.
It feels like a second chance.
I doubt that Tristan knows any of this. I’ve never told him how much I hated sports growing up. And I know that it’s just a matter of time before he will be much better than me at playing ball. But right now, he seems to think I am the greatest player ever. He never says it. He looks up to me as I stumble around our driveway. And in so many ways, I look up to him for giving me the opportunity to feel a connection I never had.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.