“Dada, I don’t wanna play baseball. I stink.”
An otherwise pleasant morning ground to a sudden halt when Will uttered that aforementioned sentence. It literally stopped me in my tracks and sent me reeling, like a gunshot. I asked him to repeat what he said, thinking maybe he was saying something different. But he wasn’t.
After some coaxing, he told me he felt sad after we played baseball a few days ago because he didn’t hit the ball much. After a few swings and misses, he grew discouraged and got down on himself. And then, in a roundabout way, he told me he didn’t want me to be mad at him when he strikes out.
I was just about to launch into a “What are you talking about? I’m always proud of you. How could you think that?” speech, when a slew of images all popped into my head simultaneously.
I pictured Will watching me watch Red Sox games. Seeing dad get visibly upset at the television, all the while screaming at the under-performing players. How many times have I lambasted Carl Crawford after his unsuccessful trips to the plate? How often have I verbally eviscerated Jacoby Ellsbury for striking out like my Great Aunt Mabel? One time after Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out, I’m pretty sure I openly questioned whether or not he actually possessed male genitalia.
Even though I obviously have never and would never say such things to Will, I do say things like that in front of him about others. So it goes without saying he’d pick up on that negativity and apply it to himself. As simple and obvious as that sounds, it really didn’t dawn on me until now.
But even more than that, I’m worried because self-doubt and having a negative opinion of yourself is my Achilles’ heel. And I was hoping Will would skip that awful trait of mine and harness his mother’s self-confidence instead.
I was a neurotic mess of a kid. I showed athletic promise very early, and when I was nine years old I made the baseball all-star team. I made it the next four years as well. During that time, I put so much pressure on myself I’d make myself sick before, during and after games. If I struck out I cried like I had just let everyone in my life down. If I hit the ball but still didn’t get on base, I cried. Hell, one time I remember hitting what I thought was a homerun but ended up hitting the top of the fence for a double. While standing on second base, I cried because it wasn’t a homer.
I played the piano, clarinet and saxophone as a kid too. My grandmother was a piano teacher and a member of the Boston Pops and Tanglewood. She was incredible. But because she was so skilled, I felt the need to match her even as a little kid. That’s why I could nearly get through an entire piece on the piano, but if I made a mistake right at the end I’d throw a HUGE fit. Then I’d start over from the beginning. I wouldn’t stop until I had played the entire piece without a mistake. I never enjoyed the times I did play it right because I spent the whole time crying and engaging in relentless self-flagellation.
Although I no longer burst into tears at the slightest miscue, I’m plagued by a lack of confidence to this day.
Ask MJ what she hates most about me, and she’ll tell you it’s my failure to give myself any credit whatsoever. I’m convinced I have no talent. Every day I run on the assumption that I’m truly a dime a dozen. I think I’m a mediocre husband, father, writer…you name it. Any time MJ gives me the slightest compliment, I tell her it’s not true. I always thought it was just me remembering the importance of remaining humble, but MJ claims I lack even the most basic levels of self-confidence and self-love.
I don’t want that for my son.
Will is amazing. He’s smart and handsome and—up until this unfortunate incident—has attacked life with vigor and zeal. I love that about him. Hell, I’m jealous of him. He’s only 3, but even at this young age he possesses the elusive knack of being comfortable in his own skin. Of being at ease with himself.
I won’t see him torture himself with self-doubt like I’ve done my whole life.
So I told him he does not stink. I reminded him about the time he hit a ball so hard and so far it hit the side of our neighbor’s house about 15 feet high. I told him he’s the best 3-year-old ballplayer I’ve ever seen, and no matter how many times he swings and misses he’s still going to be great. Trying hard, practicing and having fun are the truly important things, I told him, and he does all of them.
“Hmmm. So Dada, we play baseball later?”
Absolutely buddy. And maybe while Dada is teaching you how to hit better, you can teach him a little something too.