Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fatherly Pride

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of a fuck up.

By my sophomore year in high school, I was smoking weed in the parking lot behind the school because it made Spanish class much more entertaining.

College was spent drinking, partying and…um…socializing with members of the opposite sex. Much of what I learned in college has less to do with academics than discovering the intricacies of the fairer sex. There are still many girls I smile about when I think of college. Even if I can’t for the life of me remember their names. I wasn’t a slut by any means (sex lives in the dawn of AIDS has a severely limiting effect), just having fun.

I majored in Sociology not because it was something I was interested in. I didn’t even know what it was. I signed up because there was no line and I wasn’t required to take a foreign language as a requirement.

I showed up to my college graduation so thoroughly and obnoxiously hung over that the picture of me accepting my degree never made it onto my family’s living room wall. That I was in the middle of a bet on who could go longer without getting their hair cut and that I didn’t shave or shower that morning contributed to that very wise decision.

My career path has been decided by fate. Having a clear cut vision of what I wanted to do with my professional life never even struck me as something I should have thought about. Certainly not when I stumbled my way out of school and miraculously landed a job at a video production company. A job was a job, as far as I was concerned. If it allowed me to go out and party more, than all the better.

I have never been driven to become wildly successful or famous. I’m happy enough with a decent job as long as it leaves me time for family and friends and, indeed, all the drinking and fun that go along with both. This doesn’t mean I’m not a hard worker. I can be when the situation calls for it. It’s also why my bosses have enjoyed having me around. I get shit done in time with little oversight. I just could never be a Type A+++, workaholic personality. It just isn’t me.

While I have always enjoyed playing sports, I never tried out for any organized team. Let’s just say I have always had problems with authority figures - coaches included.

I have had two serious relationships in my lifetime and, inadvertently or not, attempted to destroy both of them. One is ancient ruins while the other is still a recovery in progress.

There were others who attempted to be close who I shunned or simply dismissed because I couldn’t be bothered.

Halfway through the year 2000, everything changed. That was when son number one entered my life. A mild mannered, pudgy, delightful sack of human that just so happened to share my DNA. That same DNA that’s at least partly responsible for all of the behavior listed above.

You can see my concern.

While I have always been a useful, helpful, somewhat clumsy father, it wasn’t until a specific incident when I thought ‘Oh shit’.

I was sitting on the couch on a Saturday afternoon, watching a Red Sox game, a beer on the side table. Eldest was starting to enjoy the games himself now that he knew to cheer for the ‘Red Team’. He came up with his sippy cup, put it on the coaster next to my beer (hey, I’m not a savage!) and said ‘That’s my beer!’ while pointing to his milk.

I laughed at the time, but it was an eye opening moment. This blonde haired, blue eyed, adorably innocent little boy looked up to me.

TO ME! I was his major role model.

Again, you can see my concern.

That was it. The light went off. The wheels started turning. Whatever makes that clunking sound in my head clunked into place. I may have fucked things up before, I may have lazily wandered my way through life, but when it comes to him that all stops. I would not fuck up the one good thing I managed to help bring into this world.

I started watching what was said in his presence, which was much harder than I ever thought and would ultimately result in a stream of random expletives directed at nobody in particular once I was sure he was sound asleep upstairs. Needed to get it out of my system.

Being of limited mental capacity, I figured I should keep things simple. Teaching him that hitting people is not the proper thing to do (unless they’re really asking for it - which came later), saying please and thank you, and making sure you always say hi.

Next came the new idea of not interrupting people. This is possibly the most difficult part of training kids, who feel as though nobody else matters in this entire world. When they have something to say or need to ask a question, they’ll ask whether you’re on the phone, talking to your spouse, on the toilet or watching the flight of a final shot during a championship game. It just doesn’t matter to them.

Once the base is in place, then I found you could start working on the social nuances that still baffle most adults. Telling him that if he needs to hit another kid to protect himself, he should. That not everyone is ‘a good kid’ and he should stay away from anyone that he doesn’t feel comfortable with. Sadly, there are many in his grade that fall into that category.

It is an excruciatingly laborious process; the results of which will take years to display.

Since he’s been three, I’ve been drilling into his head that if you want something you need to speak up and ask for it. Or ask how to go about getting it. He often has used me as his agent. ‘Dad, can you ask if I could try that?’ and I’ve relented more than I should have.

Well, he’ll be nine in a few months and it’s time for him to take that next step. We have been discussing baseball a lot because he’s still learning the basics of the game. Where to throw the cutoff, how he should put his entire body into his swing, how balance and footwork are crucial.

I’ve been telling him this for years. I want him to have fun (and he does), but I want him to be good, too. Let’s face it, you have more fun when you’re good at something. It ain’t much fun when you suck. Besides, being involved in a team sport builds self esteem, confidence and friendships. He knew half the kids in his class before he even started school because they were all in instructional league together.

But this is all off point. Sort of.

There are moments when all of the lessons, all of the practice, all of the etiquette and behavior lessons come together and display themselves in one surprising run of events.

Last week eldest boy decided it was time for him to try out pitching. He mentioned it to me and asked if I would talk to his coach about it. I told him if he wanted to try it he needed to ask the coach himself and work out what needed to be done. That was the last I heard about it.

I honestly expected nothing to come of it. I figured if he were required to speak up about it, he would just quietly do his thing and let it go. I still thought this until Friday night, when his team’s starting pitcher walked (that’s right walked! Little League isn’t exactly a spectator sport) 5 runs in.

His coach goes out, calls over to my son who runs over and starts warming up. Wifey and I look at each other in disbelief while I quietly start flipping out. His first time pitching while his team is falling apart. Fucking great. Talk about being set up for failure.

Surprisingly, he looks completely in control. Simply gets up there, winds up and lets fly. He walks his first batter (forcing in yet another run) and I’m groaning to myself, 'Man alive, if he bombs here he’ll never want to pitch again'.

He gets the next kid to ground out. Another run comes in but at least there’s an out now. The next kid fucking strikes out. Again, Wifey and I look at each other and wonder why we didn’t pack hard liquor. He gets the next one to ground to first and the inning is over.

He pitches the next two innings, walks a couple in a row, the coach comes out and asks if he wants to stop. His response: ‘Not really’ then laughs as the coach shrugs and walks away. A few runs come across, but he doesn’t hit anybody (which is a considered effective in this case).

As a bonus he also ropes a double down the left field line for his first hit of the season. Considering we had to wait until the very last game of his first minor league season to witness his first hit, this is a pleasant surprise.

I know what you’re thinking. Typical male focusing on the athletic success of his son and you’re right.

And wrong.

I am proud of him for doing well, but more proud of the way he handled himself. How calm he appeared. How he waited for his second baseman to run in so he could slap gloves after a good play. How he was having fun on the field. How he was disappointed but not devastated that his team lost. How he kept deflecting his parents accolades by mentioning the good plays his team mates made behind him.

It’s more than the sports. It’s who the boy is becoming. Like the player who is suddenly ‘getting’ the game, the boy is suddenly ‘getting’ who he wants to be.

Besides, the game isn’t even what prompted this blubbering excuse of an entry.

Yesterday a note came home from school. Eldest didn’t say a word about it. I found it this morning when I was looking for his lunchbox. I will simply quote from his teacher.

‘Just wanted to let you know [your son] went out of his way to help out one of his class mates today. [student’s name] was very upset that he had forgotten his homework. [Your son] asked if he could go sit with him for a bit and managed to get him to calm down.

This is just the latest example of what a joy (joy underlined twice) [your son] is to have in my class. He is always thoughtful and kind to the other children.

Just wanted to let you know’

On our walk to school this morning I asked him about it. He told me that if you forget your homework you miss 10 minutes of recess which is why the boy was upset.

Me: ‘You friendly with this kid?’

Him: ‘No, not really. I don’t play with him as much.’

Me: ‘Why not?’

Him: ‘He’s only in my class for part of the day’

Me: ‘Part of the day? Where does he go the other part?’

Him: ‘He’s in another classroom on the bottom floor.’

Me: ‘What do you mean? Does he only come to your class for certain times?’

Him: ‘Yeah, for math and writing. He’s got something wrong with him. Begins with an A, but I can’t remember the word.’

A long pause from me.

Me: 'Autistic?’

Him: ‘YEAH! That’s it! He has that!’

Another long pause while I mull this over.

Me: ‘How did you get him to calm down?’

Him: ‘I just told him not to freak out over 10 minutes. Then we started talking about Star Wars. He knows a lot about Star Wars.’

Me: ‘So do you’

Him, laughing: ‘I know, but he knows WAY more than me’

Me: ‘What made you go over to talk to him?’

He shrugs, ‘He was crying and nobody was doing anything. I figured I could try. It wasn’t hard. And his crying was giving me a headache.’

I tell him I was very proud of him and not everyone would have done that. He says ‘if they were getting a headache they would have’, which is hard to argue.

I can’t predict how he will turn out in the long run. He may not stay this optimistic and caring; I’m sure people will attempt to take advantage of his good natured personality and some will succeed; peer pressure will probably prevent him from doing the right thing at some point.

What I do know is he’s off to a good start. As a father I just need to build on that. Everything strong begins with a solid foundation, right?

Now I just need to not fuck up the youngest one. It never ends.

Today’s distraction: Take a break and play some virtual piano. It soothes the nerves.

Money saving update: Still haven't spent a dime, however there is a major roadblock ahead. My truck's gas light is on. Stay tuned.

iPod update: On song 203 of 1953. Best surprise: Discovering Alabama 3's 'Woke Up This Morning' (theme from The Sopranos'). Love that song.


Chuckwagon said...

Great post, BB! Welcome to "fatherhood"! Reminds me of my youngest (French) growing up. Believe me, the foundation you're giving him will pay off as you watch him grow and mature into the "man" you would like him to be. All we can do is give them the blocks to build with. They have to work with those blocks without "outside" interference.

You are right to be proud! Sounds like a "masterpiece" in the making, to me.

thepowerof10 said...

Your kid isn't even nine years old and I could argue that he's already done more nice things than I have in 25 years. And yes, I know that helping his Autistic classmate is only one nice thing, but he's still probably got me beat.

Unless you count the time I called a girl and told her that I had been to the clinic and she might have gonorrhea ... that was pretty nice of me. If that counts, I've got your kid pummeled in the nice thing contest.

BeachBum said...

I'm with you, 10. If that kid were in my class we would have been throwing shit at him. Different eras, I guess. This new world of 'tolerance and acceptance' is alien to me.

Chuck, there was a moment last summer when I saw my oldest and his older cousin running down the beach. I turned to my sister (it was her son) and said 'I just had a premonition of both of them being brought home by the police in the middle of the night because they decided to go joy riding in a neighbor's car.'

She replied: 'I've had that same vision many times'.

Chuckwagon said...

As a kid, I WAS that vision! I, along with my brother and cousin, was notorious in our neighborhood. Anytime anything happened, we were always the "usual suspects"!

But we all turned out OK.

Rob said...

Enjoyable read BB. I'm on a parallel path with you. My son turns 9 in September and tomorrow he plays his first game in kid-pitch level little league. We've been practicing in the yard and I'm hoping to experience some of the feelings you had watching your son on the field.

That story of your son helping the autistic boy was touching, but humorous too. "You would too if you had a headache!" Heh, heh.

BeachBum said...

Good luck, Rob. The main problem with them facing other kids pitching is the wildness factor. Once he gets hit with a pitch it's a battle to get them to stay in the batter's box.

Let me know if he lays off the pitches over his head.