Dear Angry Sports Dad,
As a rule, I try to stay in my lane as a father; to not tell other fathers how to do their jobs, because I know how difficult and draining a job it is.
But I also know that we all have our blind spots. We all have trouble seeing ourselves clearly at times. I’m looking at you tonight and I’m wondering if this is one of those times.
You were unhappy with your 9-year old son tonight at football practice, that much was clear.
It was clear to his teammates as you stepped onto the field several times to chastise him.
It was clear to his coaches, as you shouted over their instruction to give your own.
It was clear to the other parents, who squirmed a little each time you did.
And it was clear to your son, whose obvious embarrassment and dropped head you might have missed.
I know it’s been a while since you’ve been 9, and you may have forgotten how difficult that can be, especially when you’re the youngest or the smallest or a little overweight, as your son is. When you are those things, you don’t need any help feeling like an outcast—it’s as natural as breathing. I wonder if you can remember that.
I also wonder if you remember how big a shadow a 9-year old boy’s father can cast over him, how loudly his father’s voice can resonate in his tiny ears, how much 9-year old boys just want to make their daddies proud.
I don’t know you or your son very well, but I lived long enough and been a father long enough to know that this anger of yours—it’s not about your son.
It’s not about the fact that he’s slow or that he seems hesitant to take a hit or that he missed a few tackles tonight. None of those things really merit that kind of outrage or disgust. As with much of our anger, it’s not about what it’s about.
This is probably a you problem.
Maybe things are really crazy at work or your marriage is strained or money is tight or you’re not happy in the shoes you’re in or with the way things are going.
Or maybe you do remember what it’s like to be the youngest and the smallest and a little overweight. Maybe you remember all too well how easy it was to feel like an outcast. Maybe you remember that hurt distinctly, and the 38-year old version of you feels more comfortable letting it out on the field now than you ever did when you were 9.
But whatever this anger is about, you should know that even with his oversized pads on—your son’s shoulders aren’t made to carry it. They’re made to carry 9-year old things: dropped balls and missed tackles, failed tests and messy rooms, forgotten homework and lost socks. Those things are heavy enough.
9-year old boys should only have to carry 9-year old boy stuff, not 38-year old man stuff.
They shouldn’t have to shoulder the frustrations of their fathers.
You might feel your exasperated sighs and loud outbursts and sideline tirades are toughening him up, teaching him how to deal with adversity, pushing him to be the best player he can be—and maybe they are. But I’m not sure that’s what’s happening here, at least not if his body language means what it seems to mean. I might be completely missing it—but I don’t think I am.
When I was a 9-year old boy, my father was my hero. He was tall enough to touch God. He was a massive, towering presence in my life that could eclipse the sun, and all I wanted was for him to be proud of me.
Knowing that he was, steadied my legs when the earth would shake.
Knowing it, made me fearless in the darkest times.
Knowing it, gave me peace in the loudest storms.
Knowing it, made me unafraid to fall—and certain I could fly.
I bet that’s all the 9-year old you wanted from your father, and I imagine that’s all your son wants from you right now on this field. Remember, he won’t be 9 for very long. In the blink of an eye he’ll be 38—and he might be standing on the sidelines too.
Again, this is probably none of my business and I’m off-base and out of line here, but in those times when I can’t see clearly as a father, I hope someone helps me notice my blind spots so that I don’t miss the chance to be the daddy my kids need.
Be loudest with your love, Sports Dad.
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