Jewish World Review June 21, 2004 / 2 Tamuz, 5764
Coaching isn't a substitute for parenting
When I was a boy, my father dropped me off at Little League games. Afterward, I'd ride back with another family.
When I got home, my father would always ask, "How'd it go?" I would say it went "good." He would say, "Did you get a hit?" I would usually say, "No." He would say, "Maybe next time." And I would say, "Yeah."
On the last game of my first year, I managed to squeak out a dribbling single. When I got home, my father was cutting the lawn. He did this every weekend. I followed around behind him, still in my uniform.
Finally, I lost my patience. "Aren't you going to ask me what you usually ask me?" I said.
"What's that?" he said.
"Did I get a hit?"
"Oh. OK. Did you get a hit?"
"That's great," he said. He rubbed my head. And he went on mowing the lawn. I trailed around behind him until I got bored and went inside.
Today, that might be seen as a lack of interest. The Parent Police - people who brag about what deeply involved parents they are, while ragging on others - might scold my father for not taking a more passionate approach to my baseball career.
I think he was just right.
Yesterday was Father's Day, it is worth a look at how men measure their fathering skills through sports. Because too many fathers think 100 hours a week of coaching, training or pounding in fundamentals makes them a quality dad.
Often - not always - these same men are seriously devoid of similar interest in other matters, such as really talking to their children, or setting a good example around the house or with their wives. Instead, they look at fathering as a time-punch: As long as you put in X number of hours, you're fine.
So sports becomes their thing. They drive their kids hundreds of miles for weekend tournaments. They schedule training through the summer and winter. Within this fanatic subculture, they sometimes get in verbal confrontations with other dads, shoving matches, even fistfights.
There are fathers who berate referees for picking on "my kid." Fathers who threaten unpaid coaches for "not playing my kid more." Fathers who insist that a high school "treat my kid better" or he'll transfer to the school across town.
You'll notice the constant in all those examples: "my kid." These are men to whom children are firstly a reflection of themselves, a mini-me, and when they argue they are really arguing for their own egos.
By the way, these same people will tell you "it's what my kid wants to do," even as the kid is bent over in exhaustion.
I have news for them. What a kid wants to do is please his parents. Especially boys and their fathers. And if the subliminal message is "Daddy is happy when I do this," the kid will do it. He'll even say "it's what I want to do," if that's what Pop wants to hear.
I admit, when I was a boy, I wanted my father to take a larger interest in my baseball. But I never felt unloved. I knew where he was. I knew I would see him soon.
As I got older and got away from baseball like most kids - even the ones whose fathers drilled them daily - I realized my dad was doing something important, albeit more subtle. He was teaching me about responsibility. I remember his hard work around our house. I remember our lawn always looking presentable. I remember that he was there at home, waiting with my mom, which gave me a sense of security.
I didn't need him arguing with umpires to prove he loved me.
I sometimes hear kids say, "If not for sports, I wouldn't have a relationship with my dad." Some see that as nostalgic. But it's also sad.
A salute to all the dads who don't substitute parenting with trying to develop the next LeBron James.
After all, a father's love isn't something you pitch or catch.
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