Oh my god, this tastes like love!
I am also not a rabid fan of sports. I watch football on Sunday, but only because it provides a ready-made excuse to sit on the couch and demand food be brought to me. But I don't schedule my weekends around games and when my team loses (and they ineveitably do because nothing I associate myself with can succeed), I don't lose any sleep over it.
What I'm saying is that sports and I are like distant cousins--sure, we share some blood, but not enough that we couldn't bone in the coat closet during an uncle's wedding and feel weird about it. Which is why it came as a total shock to me that when my son first started playing a sport and I suddenly became this guy:
Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy. Now go win the PumpKin Fun Run or you sleep outside tonight.
The first thing my son ever competed in was a 100-yard dash on a track. He didn't want to do it, but I pushed him into it because 1) My parents are runners, 2) I used to run, and 3) the other kids looked soft and weak and I was sure we could beat them. And yes, I'm aware that I said 'we' here as if I was somehow competing as well, but in this case it's also true.
In order to convince my son Alex to run, I said I would run with him. And I didn't care who I had to knock over to win.
Above: Police artist rendition of how I appeared to the children.
But for some strange reason, the coaches did not want a lumbering late 30-something year old bald man running alongside a bunch of preschoolers. So instead I ran on the opposite side of the fence, in front of the bleachers during the race.
Hurdling over the wheelchair bound and small pets alike.
And from the moment the gun went off for the start, I yelled encouragement to my son who was getting overtaken by everyone on the field. Including an old lady power-walking on the outside row.
I screamed like a freaking madman, "C'mon, you can do it," in a delirious and fevered bout of competition-itis, barely managing the clarity not to add "Wussy" to my shouts.
And by the time he crossed the finish line, nearly in tears mind you, I realized what a horrible monster I had become. Or rather I realized what a horrible monster I had inside me all along, just waiting for a competition I actually cared about to unleash itself (seemingly one in which someone sharing my genes did all the work, while I sat idly by and took the credit for any success).
This is what's known as a defining moment. I could have rushed out to the store and bought Alex a $100 pair of track shoes and made him train for twelve months straight so we could avenge the Wasserman name the following year (I mention this idea because it came to me almost immediately). Or I could just realize that my role as a father is not to mentally scar my children, but to encourage them at every step. To acknowledge that the only losing is not trying.
I went home, watched Rocky I, II and III and vowed never to be that guy again. I encourage Alex to play sports, but I always let him pick which one. I take him to every practice but I let the coach do the coaching. I'm at every game on the sideline, clapping and yelling in what I hope is just the approrpriate amount. I'm sure it is because I doubt my wife would let my craziness go unchecked without at least a little kick to the groin.
That is not to say that I don't have the emotional equivalent of an orgasm when he scores or does something spectacular, but a win and a loss don't matter anymore. He's out there, in the game, and that's all that counts.
For his part, he seems to have escaped my initial foray into nightmare parenting. He shrugs off losses the moment the ref blows the whistle. He has fun with the kids on his team. He enjoys sports. He is, in short, a normal, healthy kid.
And for my part, I won't point out that his current soccer team is undefeated and he's leading the team in goals. Because that just doesn't matter. I won't think about scholarships or him turning pro or thanking me during a post-World Cup Celebration. Because none of that would ever cross my mind. Yesirree. My victory is not ruining him completely and that's better than any endorsement deal. Even if it was Wheaties and they wanted to picture both of us on the box.