My son played year round “club” baseball from the time he was six until he was eleven or twelve. I helped coach. Eli had all the basic physical skills common to solid athletes, a great head coach, and talented teammates.  All the ingredients for major success were in place. (If you’ve spent much time around youth sports, you may hear some faintly ominous background music. Try to ignore it.)

Eli had all the opportunity, resources, and support anyone could ask for. All he had to do was commit himself and work hard. Now, sometimes bad parenting will mess this kind of idyllic situation up, but my dad had warned me about that. Bad parents demand quantifiable success from their kids – RBIs, strike outs, etc. Not me. I knew better. I focused on effort and dedication rather than results. I was not going to be one of those ridiculous parents trying to live out their sports fantasies through their kids. (Again, ignore that mildly ominous music. It is not getting louder.)

When Eli gave it his best, he played well – pretty darn well really. But, sometimes he lost focus. He needed a little help to stay disciplined and contribute.  Knowing how much was at stake for him and the team, I stepped in.

Sometimes I yelled. It helped. Eli’s focus and performance would improve…for a while.

A truly great parent would have recognized this as a trap and artfully balanced patience, accountability, direction, and support. I worked hard to be that great parent. Much of the time I succeeded. But, sometimes I didn’t just yell. I embarrassed, threatened, and belittled my son. Realizing that my inability to stay in control put far more than a baseball game at risk. I faced an incredibly tough decision: stay engaged and risk screwing things up, or remove myself from the process.  I agonized, debated, talked to friends, and struggled…hard. What should I have done? What would you do?

I chose to stay involved. 

I got better, but I still lost my temper.  I really struggled to let mistakes go. I just could not choose my battles wisely. I apologized and told Eli I loved him at least three times for every time I acted like an idiot, but I did some damage to my son, our relationship, and my reputation. I may have cost him the opportunity to play and enjoy a wonderful game, but, we learned some incredibly valuable things about life and each other.

Eli came to understand the worth of effort, attitude, and persistence. I figured out that sometimes I need to shut my mouth even when he is wrong and I am right.  Most importantly, Eli knows that his dad is not perfect, loves him unconditionally, and will never step away no matter how messy things get.

Effectively loving others involves risk. It demands vulnerability.  Getting down and dirty with the people we love exposes our imperfections. Sometimes this even happens in the harsh light of the public’s view. Take the risk of engagement. Give up on managing your near perfect image. Trust the people you love with your authentic and broken self. Impact the people around you. Brave the path to true relationship. It is worth it.

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