I was standing on the soccer field Saturday morning, enjoying the opening game of my fall season. The air was warming, leading away from the mid 50s into the mid 60s. My team was in a good mood, we were having fun and playing well. All should have been right in the world, except it wasn’t.
At the skate park next to the field a young boy and his father had shown up early to take advantage of the lack of other skaters. The little guy, somewhere between 7-9, was astride his bike at the lip of a swooping drop. His father was on the far side of the bowl, calling out encouragement. Except it wasn’t encouragement. Dad was ragging on the boy, “Come on! Just do it, you’re right there. Why are you just sitting there? Do something! This is why we came here. What is your problem?”
My heart sank and my stomach churned. Such a familiar and disheartening scene.
The boy wasn’t saying much, but he also wasn’t moving. I imagined he’d been asking his dad to take him to the skate park and I’m sure he had been visualizing himself dropping into the bowl, going fast, maybe pulling some minor stunts. The whole thing thrilled and scared him, he wanted to do it, but was having trouble pushing himself over the lip. It didn’t help that dad was impatient and belittling. He walked around until he was screaming into the kids ear.
“You’re being a sissy! Just do it, do it, now! Come one, you’re wasting my time here! What’s your problem, you’re such a sissy!”
My anger flared but I was too far away from the scene to say anything and wasn’t sure what I would say. A guy like that isn’t likely to take parenting advice from anyone, much less a woman. Eventually, however, one of my players did run up the hillside between her part of the field and the skate park fence and shout something to the kid, rather than the man. Something like, “Hey, kid, no matter what he says, you’re not a sissy.” Something to that effect. I was proud of her and ashamed of myself. As a parent, I know how ready strangers are to offer advice, usually unsolicited and unwanted. The man was being an asshole, but he wasn’t beating the kid, that would have brought both teams of soccer playing women up into his face. No, he was just being an asshole.
They were there for an hour, through our most of our first half and into the second. The boy did eventually push through his fear and ride down into the bowl and back up the other side, several times. The sound of his excited voice made me smile. It also made me a bit sad. I was sad for him and his father. His dad probably didn’t realize that he was ruining an excellent opportunity to build a better relationship with his son. He could have been encouraging, positive, offered ways to help the boy face his fear without belittling and shaming him. The boy so clearly wanted to prove himself, he wanted praise, he wanted to impress his father and make him proud. His shout of triumph was glorious and he babbled happily at his dad about how easy it was to do and how much fun. His dad retorted that he’d known that the whole time. He was dismissive, he was seeing the whole situation in terms of how it reflected on him, rather than what the experience meant to the boy.
I know he probably wouldn’t have welcomed my thoughts on the matter, but I wish I could get him to see what a precious gift that Saturday morning hour was for him and his son. The two of them spending time together, the chance to help his son face his fears, the chance to show his son that he was there for him, to support and encourage him. I imagined the years to come. The boy growing more and more resentful of his father, pulling away and not wanting to share anything important with him, or maybe going overboard and doing more and more outrageous things to impress him.
My team won and we had a good time but I ended up with mixed feelings. Being witness to someone else’s not so great parenting moment was unpleasant, to say the least. Should I have done something, could I have? Confronting him isn’t likely to have led to an open or positive conversation. I guess my take away from this experience is to be mindful of situations I’m in where I can be supportive and positive, rather than judgemental and impatient. I have my own kids, giving me plenty of opportunities to practice what I preach. I know from my own experience that it’s not always easy to be mindful in the moment. Hopefully, the next time I about to raise my voice in impatience, I’ll be able to catch myself before I become an echo of that unpleasant morning.
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