Linus finished up his baseball season about a month ago. I’m glad I made the decision to coach his team this year, as it gave me a chance to meet a lot of the kids and parents. I certainly could have met them even if I had been a spectator parent, but I generally only deal with people if I am forced to. I took the coaching role on in part for that reason, that I sometimes have to force myself to not stand on the sidelines. Plus, I enjoy teaching and baseball, and feel like I was able teach these kids some good things about how to play and practice.
Dads can get a little funny in the head when their kids are playing organized sports. There’s a fine line between supporting your kids to try something new and riding them to do something they really don’t have any interest in doing. I was lucky this year, as I think all the kids were genuinely interested in playing. I was also lucky that I didn’t have any of the absolute nightmare parents you hear about in youth sports. I suppose that might change as the kids get older, and the games have actual umpires, but for the most part I had a pretty mellow crew.
One big challenge I face as a dad is finding the proper line between pride for my kids’ accomplishments, as opposed to simply gloating over them. I don’t want to be that dad that’s always coddling his his kids, giving them high fives for even the most minor accomplishments. But I also don’t want to be that dad that screams at his kids to keep pushing themselves, who’s never satisfied or shows appreciation for the things they do accomplish.
I made a decision to try to treat Linus the same way I would all the other players. That’s probably an obvious thing to do, but it’s harder than you might think. When your kid executes something you’ve been working on, and you know how much effort they’ve put into learning how to do it, it’s hard not to get pumped up about it. And when they fail at things you know they can do and have seen them do many times, it’s hard to resist the urge to ride your kid a little bit. So all year, my reactions to Linus as a player were over-considered. I told myself not to show too much joy in his accomplishments, and to hide my frustration when he didn’t meet my standards. I just wanted him to be one of the guys on the team.
And that’s pretty much how it worked out, until late in the season Linus made the defensive play of the year by our team, a twisting, diving backhanded catch of a blooper behind second base. It was such a stunning play that instead of cheering, the first reaction of most of the parents for both teams was to simply looked confused. One of my assistant coaches actually said, “What the hell was that?”, but then everybody started screaming for Linus and patting me on the back.
I looked out to where he had caught the ball and replayed it in my head, re-processing that it had actually happened. For the briefest of moments I thought about when I played baseball, and my dad was there watching me. And now here I was watching Linus run off the field, teammates surrounding him, slapping him on the back as the parents all clapped and cheered. Dads watching sons play baseball; it had come full circle. And of course, I over-thought how I should react. Scream for joy and high-five him? Or use the detached smile? I think I ended up being that dad who just smiles and shakes his head in appreciation for being a dad. I gave him the high-five later over ice cream.
The amazing thing about being a parent is you can think you’re going to just another hot, dusty baseball game where your only goal is try to get everyone to actually watch the ball, and in the middle of all of that will suddenly appear a 10 second sequence you will remember for the rest of your life. Linus wouldn’t understand that now, but perhaps one day he will. Full circle.