A Dad without Balls

Stuff I hate      

  • Beer (ales, lagers, specialty brews, micro drinks, dark liquids, the regular stuff my father drank – all of ‘em)
  • Basketball, football, soccer, hockey, baseball, crochet (or croquet – which ever one uses balls and mallets), badminton, Frisbee, and activities involving running or dodging
  • Rollercoasters that twist around – but up and down is okay
  • Fixing things with moving parts or trying to understand how they work

Stuff I likeTwo tough guys with beer and whisky jealously looking at cute monster's fruity drink with umbrella.

  • Cocktails (at my best vodka on the rocks with a lemon peel, but occasionally something fruity with chocolate or even ice cream)
  • Talking beside the food spread with someone else who doesn’t want to watch “the game”
  • Rides with singing animatronics
  • Reading books, binge watching Netflix and cable, and talking about them for twice as long as it took to read the book or watch the damn show

Paint a picture?

As dad’s go, I’m set up for failure.

The scariest sentence my older daughter ever said to me was, “Dad, want to throw the ball around?”

She once made that darling request at my brother-in-law’s house. The home of a guy who fixed stuff, drank Old Style, and actually knew the names of the players on all his favorite sports teams. All of them. I swear. I didn’t even know the names of many of the people I worked with.

picture of Old Style beerSo, yes, I went out and played catch with this beautiful, blue-eyed ten-year-old. But we tossed the ball behind the side of the house because I’m quite certain I throw wrong. And catching? I bat around a 300 when it comes to catching objects thrown at my head. (That’s how you use the expression, right?)

Later that same month, I attended my daughter’s parent-teacher conference. This was a few years before she was diagnosed with anxiety and ADHD (if I couldn’t teach her sportsball, at least I passed on my favorite disorders). So the meetings were typically filled with glowing remarks about how nice she was, and funny, and smart, and empathetic, and what a good listener, and…

Except we had to talk to the gym teacher too. As you might expect, gym teachers are often included on lists of stuff I don’t like.

This impressively rectangular woman didn’t talk about my daughter’s empathy or listening skills. She failed to mention how my kid always looks for the student who is not being included and tries to bring them into whatever the not cool but not totally uncool kids are doing. Nor did she say how wonderful it was to meet me and lean over to tell my daughter how funny her dad is. She skipped all the things I loved about parent-teacher conferences and went straight for the kill.

“I just wish she’d move around more,” the woman said without first clarifying that we were only talking about gym and not something important like choir or creative writing. “If she would only try once and a while.”

The thing is my kid tries. She tries hard at everything or at least she did back then. She was like a freaking ant trying to move a rubber tree plant (Best Laverne and Shirley song ever). Whether it was math or reading or dealing with a friend’s broken heart in the girls’ bathroom when everyone else was playing four-square. Back before anxiety started whispering all its worries to her, my first-born was a super-charged trier. The proverbial engine-that-could even when she couldn’t.

She is still like that. She’s just really busy dealing with all that anxious whispering.

Even though I knew all this about my daughter, I left that conference feeling that I had failed.

I drove no faster than ten-miles-an-hour down my little town’s Main Street. My head hung low like I had just struck out when everyone was counting on me. Exactly like the time I tripped running after a fly ball (fly ball, right? That’s a thing), landed on my face, and lay still while the other seventh-graders roared with laughter.

I couldn’t teach her to throw a ball, and strong-looking rectangular people thought of her as a quitter. Worse, a non-trier. It’s hard to try when you don’t throw right or run fast or even run in a straight line. I thought it would be easier for girls than it was for me. (Damn you Title IX.)

Maybe it still is easier, but I couldn’t stop thinking I had passed on one of my greatest shames to my child.

It’s not just that I don’t like sports. As you can tell, I’m bad at them. I mean terrible. Okay, we’re talking the worst here. My picture is probably in a record book somewhere. The truth is I resent sports deeply for all the times I couldn’t do them. And now I had put my kid in the same shameful spot.

Then, as I slowed down to five-miles-an-hour tops, I remembered everything else I had taught her. To listen and talk to the crying kid in the bathroom. To rage about people who felt left out of everything from dodge ball to the really basics like food and housing. To love a show or a book and obsess about the characters as if they are real and ready to become your best friend.

Well, maybe her mom taught her most of that, but at least I didn’t mess it up.

I am not a complete failure. I am just a dad without balls.

I’ll say it again. I am dad without balls.

And I have not messed everything up.

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