“Dad, I don’t think I like baseball and I don’t want to play anymore.”
Except for Will saying he doesn’t love me or that he’s become a New York sports fan, nothing uttered from my 6-year-old’s lips stings as much as my boy — my oldest son — telling me he doesn’t want to partake in America’s pastime. My father’s pastime. My pastime.
And the first thing that ran through my head was “How can I raise a kid who doesn’t like baseball?”
It’s really no surprise, especially when you watch him play. Will actually has a good arm and he can hit, but he’s never had the same interest in baseball that he has with soccer and basketball. The game is too slow for him. Too boring. He doesn’t see the point in any of it, and he’s much happier as the proverbial daisy picker in the outfield, or using a stick to do a Pablo Picasso impression in the infield dirt.
I almost had to pull him off the practice field last week because he refused to pay attention and was almost hit by the ball a few times.
But I don’t care that he’s not good at baseball. I wasn’t very good at baseball either, and I harbor no delusions of grandeur that Will is going to be the next Dustin Pedroia. But I did LOVE it as a kid, mainly because my dad preached the gospel of Red Sox baseball early and often and I was transfixed. So I played tee ball, instructional league, all stars, and up to jv in high school.
But even when I wasn’t playing I was watching with my dad and going to games. No matter how angsty my teen years got, my dad and I still had baseball. And even last year, when we fulfilled a dream by attending a World Series game together, it was magical. Baseball is a bond — and an important one at that.
It scares me to think I won’t have that with Will. And it hurts that he hates something I love so much.
My oldest son perplexes me, probably because he’s so much like his mother. He clearly favors individual endeavors while I loved team sports. He often prefers solitude while I’m gregarious by nature. He can take or leave sports, and I live and breathe them. And while I know all parents struggle at times to find common ground with their kids, I always thought I’d have baseball (and sports) as a safety net.
I tried to keep my cool and refrain from judgment when I talked to him. We talked about how he thinks the game is boring, how it’s not as fun for him as swimming and cooking. And how he just doesn’t have fun when he’s playing.
So then I asked him why he wanted to sign up if he didn’t really like it, and that’s when he dropped the hammer.
“Because I wanted to make you happy, dad.”
Will is smart. And kind. And beautiful. I don’t really understand him and so far I don’t share many of his interests, but that’s OK. I don’t have to. Because HE is my interest, and it’s my job to support him any way I can.
I told him he’s finishing this season, because quitting is never a good idea. After that, we’re putting him back in swim lessons and signing him up for cooking classes. We’re also fostering his love of animals this summer with a few weeks of camp at the zoo. Because while I do believe parents should intervene and make kids try lots of different things, at a certain point you can’t force them to like it just because you do. And I think we hit that point with baseball.
Our kids will not follow in our footsteps or be what we thought they’d be. The universe laughs at the paths we imagine for our children, and then watches as they pave their own way. Freshly cut grass under the summer sun and dirt-stained uniforms were the essence of my youth. But my youth is (long) gone. Now it’s time to let Will start choosing his own paths, and enjoying the places they lead.
And I realized baseball isn’t really the bond that holds fathers and sons together. Love, patience, and unwavering support is what matters. I can’t hit the ball out of Fenway, but I can let my kid know I’ll be there rooting him on at every turn no matter what he’s doing.
Plus, he’s still young. There’s still time for baseball to work its magic… 😉