A Y Chromosome Runs Through It

Me and balls have never gotten along.

In little league, I made contact with the bat once. And what a beautiful foul ball it was! In youth soccer, I scored one goal. In practice. In middle school, my illustrious basketball career was cut short when a rebound hit my pinky at juuust the right angle to break it. Into a perfect right angle. And football? I must seem like the biggest jerk because I never pick up an errant football that has rolled my way at the park. But really it's because I don't want the 11 year-olds to laugh at me when I try to throw it back. 

Luckily for me, I can throw a lightning jab-cross-hook combo and swing a shin through your neck. I found martial arts close to 20 years ago, and knowing how to throw down has saved me from the embarrassment of not knowing how to throw spirals. I thought the whole ball thing was behind me.

But I have a kid.

My dad told me long ago that the one responsibility of every parent is to make sure the next generation does better than its predecessor. Being a connoisseur of low-hanging fruit, the first mission I set for myself when Fury was born was to make sure that he embraced his balls, in every sense of the word. Especially the sports one.

So ever since Fury could pick up an object and run with it, we enrolled him in a mixed sports program. And because I never fancied myself one of those "sports dads" who gets into brawls at their kids' hockey games, I kind of prided myself in my humanistic approach to children's sports. Let them be kids, let them have fun.

And over the years he did have fun. However, we recently felt it was time to take it one step further. It was time to introduce him to organized team sports. To help him make the transition into something a little more structured than he was used to, I helped him choose a sport that seemed the most fun. We settled on lacrosse. You've got the constant hustle of soccer, the hand-eye coordination of baseball, the rough-and-tumble aspect of hockey or football, and you look like a Bionicle in full battle gear. A no brainer.

Two weekends ago we took him to his first practice. And it went well. He picked up the basics fairly easily and seemed engrossed in the game. Awesome. Visions of high school lacrosse team captain danced in my head (hey, I did bike racing in high school, before Lance Armstrong made it un-dorky. Let a guy dream.).

Last weekend, I went with Fury to his second practice. When they issued his pads and uniform, and he got all suited up, I was welling with pride. That's my boy right there! In his badass uniform, ready to kick ass and dominate the field.

They started by lining up for drills. Well, all of them except for Fury, who was busy playing Rock Band on his lacrosse stick. Then they did passing drills, which Fury could have easily picked up on -- had he not been wandering off to chase a flying bug.

"I'm not that dad."

He missed a pass that his coach tossed his way. He meandered his way like a Family Circus cartoon to fetch the ball.

"I'm not that dad."

When it was his turn to do a shooting drill, he was swordfighting.

"Fury!! Hustle!! What did your coach just tell you?"

Oh no I di'nt. I did not just say that out loud, did I?

I started pacing the sidelines, watching his every giggle, every misstep, every unfocused, fooling around, wasting-my-exorbitant-registration-fee moment. I was turning into every crazy sports dad who micro manages his kid's athletic life, and I hated it. I hated it even more that every other parent watching me seethe was a mom. Way to promote a stereotype, Jim. And how painfully ironic. Me, of all people.

Scariest thing? I saw what I was doing. And I could not stop. Once practice was over, I pulled Fury aside and said "I did not sign you up for lacrosse so you could fool around. If I don't see you listening to the coach when he's talking and focusing on what you're supposed to be doing, I'm pulling you out and returning all this stuff, you hear me?"

I seldom have moments where I really dislike myself. Call it arrogance, call it ignorance, call it confidence, call it what you will. But it hardly ever happens. I despised myself. But part of me felt justified in doing it. The kid is a couple months from turning 7. He can focus. He can pay attention. I know it. But sports is fun. And wielding a stick does lend itself to pretending it's a guitar...

When we got home, I was still feeling way unsettled. Lisa has a knack for pulling it together when I lose it. We sat down and had a talk with Fury. We made beyond a shadow of a doubt clear to him that this was not about performance. This was about focus. This was about effort. We want Fury to have heart. To give it his all. And then Lisa drove it all home with a Rocky-esque male heartstring-tugging example, bringing up my last kickboxing match (yay wife!) where I lost (ok, I see where you're going with this), and was completely dominated (um, I think Fury gets it), and owned (*sigh*) by a kid who was 16 years younger than I was (please get to the heart part before I run and hide) yet I kept moving forward (probably stupidity and punch-drunkenness, but for the sake of the example let's call it heart), and never gave up (coach would have killed me himself if I gave up, but no one has to know). Then we did our hugs and both of us felt a lot better.

I wish I had a conclusion to this post. I don't. We have practice tomorrow morning and I'm going to jog around the track while Fury practices so I don't watch him. I'm going to trust him, trust myself, trust the coach and let fate do its thing.

Damn balls.

(You know I can't leave anything on a serious note, so I present you a lighthearted highlight reel from Fury's first 2 practices.)