Posts Tagged ‘fathering’

Boy Over Boys, Part I: Fudge

November 29, 2016


It was a little Texas Leaguer over the third baseman’s head.

It was perfect.

My younger son doesn’t quite have the brawn of my big boy.  Okay, that’s an understatement.

You remember what Steve Rogers looked like with his shirt off before he became Captain America?  That guy looks like a body-builder compared to my twiggy little fella.

But like that pre-serum Steve, Gunnar has a competitive fire that outstrips his two-dimensional frame.  He’s become an accomplished bunter, and we’ve worked together to compliment his blips with bloops; drawing the 3rd baseman in with the bunt attempt and then slapping one by him.

I was watching from my perch as 3rd base coach, already thinking that with a good bounce he might get a double out of the dunk.  And, out of nowhere, the shortstop hurtled in the air and made a spectacular catch; his little body sprawled right on the cutout between the infield dirt and outfield grass.

Shortly thereafter, a single word hurtled in the air from down the first base line:


Only he didn’t say “Fudge.” He said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word.

It was the 3rd out of the inning, which was about the only thing that saved Gunnar’s bacon.  For the mix of players changing sides allowed a bit of distraction from his latest episode.

“Did you hear what he said?” The young base umpire, a college kid collecting a summer paycheck, seemed a bit bewildered by the language he likely heard about every 0.25 seconds in his dorm.  But timing is, of course, everything, be it comedy, tragedy, or in this case, an inextricably intertwined combination.

“Yep.  Hard to miss,” chuckled Dave, the burly veteran I’ve had behind the plate since my older one was hitting off a tee.

Dave flashed me a look as I jogged toward my flailing first-baseman, now flinging his helmet to the ground.

“Do what you need to do, Dave,” I replied.

“I think you’ve got this, Coach,” Dave said with a bemused grin.

He knew that this was my kid in full meltdown.  And he thought that it was a kindness that he pulled back on what should have been done—namely throwing my son out of the game.

It was not.  Because now we had to do the dance.

Over the past few seasons, I’ve needed to cha-cha between gentle support and tough love as Gunnar battled his competitive demons.  I myself toggled between an empathy borne from my own boyhood tennis temper tantrums and full-body rage over stolen home runs, to a frustration bred from repetition and the aforementioned familiarity with my own failings.

Of course, Gunnar was benched for the rest of the game.  Of course, he eventually felt terribly about what he did.  He told Coach Steve that he felt that there was a monster inside him that he couldn’t control.  He tearfully apologized to the entire team during our postgame talk.

It was heartbreaking.


As we prepared for the next day’s games, I knew that this time, he had crossed a line that needed to be addressed.  For the moment, I needed to put Dad aside, and put my coach’s hat on.  And so I consulted with Coaches Steve, Bill, Kevin, and of course Coach Nolet’s Dry Gin on the matter.  All were supportive and understanding (or at least helped calm me down a bit with intensely floral drinkability).  And everyone agreed—this time there needed to be consequences.

We settled on a one game suspension.  My first instinct was to bar him from the rest of the tournament, but my coaches talked me down off that ledge, reminding me how hard it’s been on Gunnar to be the “Coaches Kid.”  For while being in that role can lead to preening primadonnas when the kid is the best on the team, the role can also create intense pressure on the player who has had to work his tail off just to be middle-of-the-pack.

Gunnar had gotten that most reviled of sports taunts – “You’re only on the team because your Dad is the coach!” – on several occasions at school.  In his earnest desire to prove himself, he made each pitch, each swing, and each play in every single game into an unending death-spiral of a tryout.  Every failure reinforced the bullies’ jab, and, because this is baseball, by its very nature he failed more often than he succeeded.  The Monster, a creature he came by honestly (indeed, genetically) grew into something he could no longer control.

This Monster, however, had to be put in a cage.  And so my son…my player…my son…and I talked.  I let him know I was proud of the fact the apologized to the team after the game, and I understood this was a part of him he didn’t like.  But he had crossed a line, and both he and the team needed to know there were consequences to these actions.

And so father-and-son, player-and-coach stared at each other—eyes welling and voices cracking with guilt, love, and remorse—embraced, and accepted each other for who we were.

I then loaded the trunk and headed down to the field.


Only now do I realize that that was the beginning of the end.

Start Hitting Your Brother? The Argument for Roughhousing

April 26, 2012

“Me and my brother had an…interesting…relationship.  He did teach me how to take a beating.”

–My brother Dan’s toast at my wedding

Yep, Mr. Peace, Love, and Understanding over here was a serial roughhouser.  My little brother’s friends regale me to this day with stories about how I used to pick them up and throw them around like rag dolls when they came over to play.

Now, when I was a kid, I was more uptight than I am now (which is saying something, let me tell you) and when my little brother, an expert at getting under my skin, would goad me, I would often return the favor in a manner perhaps a bit…beyond the realm of quid-pro-quo.

Flotation devices recommended for pool roughhousing

Now one might think now that I’m Mr. conflict resolution, I have forsaken roughhousing for hugging and long talks about our feelings.  But while the boys and I do plenty of the latter, roughhousing is an absolutely constant part of our relationship.  Whether it’s sitting on their lap and pretending that they are Santa, to being a third-generation belly-button eater (I prefer the blowing raspberries technique), the fellas and I are always going at it.  Indeed, when Gus has friends over, I’ll be downstairs writing and then he and his friends come downstairs and he says, “We’ve decided it’s time for you to come and get us now, Dad.”  One Mel Blanc-inspired Tasmanian Devil cry later, and I’m off to be whatever monster they’ve dreamed up that moment.

Given my proclivity toward nonviolence, however, roughhousing has always felt like a bit of a guilty pleasure.  It was a great way to connect with my boys and his friends, but, certainly, it didn’t seem to be helping to teach any particularly valuable conflict partnership skills.

Well, the good people over at 8 Bit Dad have reviewed a new book titled The Art of Roughhousing which, to this Dad, is something of a revelation.  Written by two doctor Dads, Anthony T. DeBenedet, M.D., Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D. the book shows how rough-and-tumble play can nurture close connections, solve behavior problems, boost confidence, and more.  Though it feels a bit counter-intuitive when thinking about it intellectually, there is something in my experience tossing my kids onto the bed or sofa that makes that conclusion feel right.

Other than the validation, the other interesting thing about this book is the fact that they put together a whole guide to roughhousing, giving examples and safety tips because, as the authors say, “roughhousing is great fun because it’s a little dangerous.”

I’m definitely going to buy the book as if for nothing else I’m curious about the social skills they feel their examples can help kids learn.  The review goes into more detail on how the book is laid out and gives a couple of specific examples as well.  Well worth checking out.

Now, where did I put that tickle monster puppet?