Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I've come to realize that my 6 year old son Ethan is a sports jock.
This didn't come as a total shock to me as athletes run in my family. My father was a jock, so were my sisters. The jock gene bypassed me altogether. Like many 'flamboyant' young lads, as a youth I was interested in dramatic arts, cooking, and interior design. Not exactly the interests a young boy growing up in the 60's and 70's is encouraged to follow. My parents observed me at an early age playing with my sister's Barbies - my 10 year old sister having long abandoned the world of Barbie for its shallow, sexist, and materialistic sensibilities. The EXACT reasons I worshiped Barbie. Alarmed, my parents immediately devised a sports-intensive routine of little league baseball, military-style sports camp, and ceaseless criticism. Needless to say - their efforts to make me a star third baseman failed.
After years of trying, my parents grew frustrated and bored and decided to write me off as some kind of bizarre genetic anomaly. They resolved to hedge their bets with my gorgeous and talented sisters. Why waste any more effort on their 'artistic' son - when greener pastures abounded? One might argue that such treatment would have been cruel or in my case even sadistic. Nothing could be further from the truth. My parents were absolutely Darwinian in their thinking - favor the strong - abandon the weak. After all, in their minds I was a lost cause and their other offspring offered limitless possibilities.
As a teenager I was left to my own devices and settled into a world of suburban mediocrity. My parents no longer tried to mold me into a baseball or football player - they eventually tired of such pursuits and settled into their own world of unmitigated narcissism. I left for college at 18 and watched as my mother had my bed, dresser, desk and all personal affects removed from my bedroom. She and my father had plans to turn the room into an in-home gym. Out with the kid, in with the treadmill and free weights. 'You know,' my mother announced as I was leaving, 'Norman Mailer was right, you REALLY can't go home again.'
After living with my family for 18 years, you can understand why competitive sports makes me uneasy. Imagine my shock when my six year old announced he would like to become a professional tennis player. My husband and I glanced at each other in total shock. WHAT?! Professional tennis player - it can't be! We're grooming you for a career as a world famous concert pianist. I have my seats picked out at Carnegie Hall and everything! If not a concert pianist then George and I were prepared to settle for Ethan to become a famous artist, film director, author, or politician. A TENNIS PLAYER?! WTF?
My worst fears were confirmed by an evening call from Rod, Ethan's perky tennis instructor who informed me that my son had the natural ability and heart to go far in the world of tennis. He had 'it,' that elusive thing that I never had. Most dads would have been thrilled. I felt oddly depressed and terribly conflicted. What do I know about being a tennis dad? Sure, I can play decently - but I have no passion for the game. I'll play tennis because I like the white shorts, warm-up suits, and visors. In addition, the instructors are always young and cute (a prerequisite I assume) and you are assured the requisite vodka tonic post game. A tennis dad? This was so depressing!
I telephoned my father seeking advice - I elaborated on my conflicted feelings about competitive sports, my lack of passion or interest for the game, and even my inability to locate a decent pair of tennis sneakers in my closet. He ignored me completely and got incredibly excited and cried, 'Hey man that's great, finally a REAL BOY in the family! If you want that kid to be a professional, you better get cracking. You've got to let that pony run, or he's going to resent you for the rest of your life! He's not like you - he's meant for greater things. He's a thoroughbred.'
I thanked my dad, hung up and in that moment realized I was doing to Ethan EXACTLY what had been done to me. Instead of supporting his ambition, I was trying to mold him into something that more closely resembled George and I. No matter how hard I tried, he was NEVER going to get excited about the original cast recording of Pippin, never really care about the fabulous vintage dining room fixture, or play Carnegie Hall. He was going to be himself whether I liked it or not.
I have attacked the part of tennis dad with gusto. As part of my duties, I must throw a ball to my son for an hour each day to develop his hand/eye coordination. My son has the energy and determination of a golden retriever and can play this game endlessly. I on the other hand require a large glass of Cote Du Rhone. I have never seen him so happy - not only to play this small game of catch but to have my undivided attention.
Hmmmm...what should I, the well-dressed tennis dad wear when my son wins Wimbledon? So much pressure....!