On being an absolute ass

You know those days that are ruined by chance encounters with asses of the human variety? They appear with stunning unpredictability — at Starbucks,  a doctor’s office, your office,  your son’s soccer game. If it was the latter and you were in Charlotte, North Carolina this past Saturday around 11am at the field by 277 and Kenilworth, I was that kind of ass. If you bumped into me and I ruined your day, I’m sorry.

My nearly 5-year-old son started soccer this spring. It is his first team sport. Heck, it is his first sport. He’s never been a kid who has flocked to things involving inflatable balls. As he’s grown, he loves to build with blocks and play cars. Until recently, when you asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up, he would answer, “A racing car.” Not a driver, mind you. A car.

Those automotive interests are genuine and I like talking about them. But boys also model what they see. And Aidan has never seen me play a sport.

Brain tumor treatments — surgeries, radiation, chemo, etc. — have taken their toll. I haven’t been out there teaching him or playing with him. And I grew up loving sports — not excelling at sports, but loving sports. (Talk about distinctions with differences!)

This spring, though, Mom and I decided that a little soccer would be a good thing. His preschool buddy was on the team. Said buddy’s dad coached. Win, win.

He’s been to a few practices and has tried hard. He’s actually got some pretty good coordination — thank you, Mom, for those genes. His biggest flaw? His penchant to be a cloud watcher. A dandelion gazer. His penchant to be a dreamer and not fully engaged with his coach or the game.

I don’t have high athletic aspirations for him, but I do want him to listen. On the scale of life soccer is kind of irrelevant. Obedience, however, is kind of basic.

Fast forward to last weekend’s game.

It’s a beautiful, sunny Saturday. The little mini soccer fields are teeming with roving mobs of colorfully garbed mini-people chasing a little soccer ball. Parents are grinning and laughing.

The game starts. My boy kicks the ball into his own net — even as the coach is telling him to turn around and go the other way — and is happy. He thinks he’s just done something awesome.

I’m fuming.

Fuming.

I want to yell, “LISTEN, AIDAN! LISTEN!”

But I don’t want to be one of those dads – the insane ones at their kid’s sporting events –  so I sit in my portable seat and fume. There’s been no outward evidence of my ass-ness. It’s an inner rage.

I continue watching. My boy stands looking at the clouds as his coach yells out his name. He turns and instinctively kicks at the air. The other team runs by him. Other parents are yelling advice to the kids. The coach is out there on the field — this, apparently, is how midget soccer works, with an omnipresent coach guiding each side around the field.

The other team, the Leprechauns, appear to have been coached by Pele. They are thrashing my son’s team. But this league doesn’t keep score. Huh?

I’m still fuming at my son. I’m not mad at the goal, per se. I don’t expect a little Landon Donavan. But I’m furious that he didn’t listen.

Moments later, he runs over and asks if he did great. Kim says yes. The coach says yes. Me? I’m half way between, “Awesome!” and “You suck!” I want to go for the former, I cannot say the latter. After the tiniest of pauses, I say no.

Nanoseconds feel like hours. He looks blankly at me.

I suddenly feel bile in the back of my throat. What did I just do?

“I”m joking, buddy! I’m joking! You did great.”

“Bad joke Daddy.” He walks away. Kim walks away. An assistant coach looks at me with sad incredulity. I AM now one of those dads.  I want to vomit. But I’m too consumed with my snowballing rage – a rage now firmly directed at me too.

I HATE the coddling of America’s youth. I HATE everyone always been told that everything is terrific no matter how much it sucks. I HATE that we lead the world in self esteem and suck at math and reading. I HATE soccer games that don’t keep score. I HATE participation ribbons. Now I’m mad at our culture too.

I REALLY want to say,  “Well buddy, you’re trying and that’s AWESOME. But part of trying is listening to the coach. Why don’t you try that too?” I want to give him a hug and tell him how much I love him and how great he is actually doing at this, his first game of any sort.  I really do want to say those things. But I don’t. I just sit there with the staggering knowledge I just told him he did badly.

Kim comes back a few moments later, barely composed. “You are being an ASSHOLE!” she says through tears.

I stomp off. But I look back and there on the sidelines is my little son watching the game. I look to him and hold my thumbs up and smile. I know he’ll look back.

He does and I point to him with big thumbs up and I smile.

He looks away.

I go back to my seat.

He’s back in the game. And again he’s off with his head in the clouds when someone runs right by him.

I growl at Kim, “He’s STILL not listening.”

She says, “He’s 4, David.”

“He’s NEARLY 5.” I growl again.

“Please.”

She calls out, “Listen to the coach buddy.”

He turns around to look at her.

“KIM, STOP. Just stop. Stop making EXCUSES for him. Stop CODDLING him. He needs to listen to his coach not you!” Its not a yell, not a scream, not a roar. It’s a low, rage-filled growl. A woman next to us hears the growl and turns her head and looks with shock. I’m not only one of THOSE dads, I’m now one of THOSE husbands – the kind that humiliates his wife in public.

I stop. I’ve know those words. I know the tone. They are from my own childhood. My large and imposing and angry father with massively unresolved issues of his own always yelled, “NO EXCUSES. NO EXCUSES!”

Except I was the little boy who looked at him and didn’t really understand what was going on. I needed him to bend down on a knee and give me a hug and tell me he loved me and explain what I was to do better, do differently. I would have done it. Every little boy wants to please his father.

Kim drops her head.

I want to vomit. I want to go to Pluto. I want to cry.

We leave in silence. I stop by the woman who overheard my growls at Kim. I apologize for being an “unmitigated asshole to my wife.” The woman doesn’t have me arrested.

In the car, Aidan asks whether we are going to go somewhere special for breakfast to celebrate his first game. I just drive home and flee into the darkest corner of the house. Shoot me. Please. I’m  stuck on a skewer of my own wretchedness.

What kind of man am I? What kind of father? What kind of husband?

I know the answers. I’m a hopelessly messed up man. I am a wretched father whose son will be marred forever. I’m at least as bad a husband. I’ve turned into the worst parts of my own earthly dad.

I know the theory of grace. I know that it is sufficient. I understand that, as Bono says, “Karma is the law of the universe; except for grace.” I get it — intellectually at least — that when I sin I do not need to go away and pretty myself up and then go to God. When I am at my worst, when I have done my worst, I run to my Daddy in Heaven because that is what he wants.

I get it that Jesus bought all of my sinfulness on the cross. I get it that he purchased my sins forward. 2,000 years ago he bought my sins of this day.

I get it all. But I don’t know how to de-skewer myself.

This morning, I relayed parts of the story to a friend. This is a good man. A godly man. A good and godly man. He dismissed me. “We’re all assholes sometimes. OK, I gotta run.” He hung up.  I stared at the phone.

There wasn’t nearly enough punitiveness in that response. I needed more condemnation. I needed to have no excuses. How could this man dismiss my ass-ness that cavalierly?

But as this day has drawn on, I have begun to realize that my friend’s voice was the embodiment of my theoretical knowledge about grace. Yup, I’d been an ass. Next.

I have a different Father now. One who looks on me with far different eyes, with a far different tone of voice — a father who does not hate me for having my head in the clouds or looking at dandelions. He does not do anything but look on me with love and say that I am his kid and He is grateful.

I hope that I can have that voice penetrate my soul. If I do, perhaps my own son will one day write of his father that that he was kind and loving and never told him that there were no excuses because there are excuses. We are human.

And tonight he has soccer practice. He doesn’t know it yet, but no matter what happens, we’re going to IHOP to celebrate.

 

 

  • http://mkholmes25.wordpress.com/ Mkholmes 25

    thanks for the honesty in the article. It’s a horrible feeling when you realize you’ve just been “that ass” to someone you genuinely love.

    • dkuo

      Oh it is. And when you manage to do it to multiple people simultaneously its wretched.

  • http://truthstory.wordpress.com/ Loreli

    I’m sure you’ll hear thanks for your honesty a lot about this article because it resonates with all of us.  I was also drawn to the small exchange with your accountability partner.  I’d met with a friend who wanted to confess to me recently.  She told me in detail about the sin committed even though she knew better.  I responded much like your friend, but she was not happy about it.  Why wasn’t I angry with her?  Why didn’t I call her on it and rake her over the coals for “letting Jesus down again”?  She wanted me to make it hurt more.  But I can’t be the one that convicts her, it has to be the Spirit.  I’ve failed too many times and know the grace of God too well to tell her otherwise. 
    Sounds like the Spirit is at work in you and your friend knows God’s grace well.
    Thanks for being real!

    • dkuo

      Thank you for YOUR grace.

  • Bob Carlton

    First off, yep you were an ass – to your son, to your wife, to the asst coach.  And you were an ass publicly.  

    3 things as lessons learned from my own experience as an ass:

    1. Own it:  as a great as a guy you are – and you are a great guy – you are capable of things that are human.  Welcome – this human thing is OK.  Rather than go all meta or explain it away – just own it.  Live a lesson in being human and not running from it.

    2. I have always taken strength from the Easter story of grace – of that incarnation of love, kindness, mercy, favor; disposition to benefit or serve another.  Grace is not an accounting trick, grace is not a “get out of jail free card”, grace is not cheap and happy/clappy.  Grace is being an ass publicly – and being a beloved son of God whose ass-ness is redeemed.

    3. Stay grounded in the rhythms and practices that connect you with God and your community.  Do not pull away – do not shut down – do not turn your embarrassment into hiding out.  Show up.

    • dkuo

      Bob – wow, thanks. Yes, yes, and yes. I am continually stunned by the disciples after the crucifixion. Yes, Peter bailed badly – publicly. But the other guys weren’t exactly pillars of loyalty. And yet there they are with him. And he doesn’t condemn. Staggering.

      • Tom Fiorella

        See, for me, we are grace.  We are the ones who communicate God’s love to children and wives and neighbors.  So, to admit what we’re doing as assanine is a simple and very easy first step.

        For me, self abnegation or prostration to a higher, more [G]raceful being isn’t enough…or the right second step.  The reflection that you’re doing by writing this piece, strikes me as a wondful second step, though… Bringing up God’s grace is helpful insofar as it reminds us to be humble.  That there is a beining much greater than us, that this being offers us infinte love.  It releases us from horrible self-loathing.

        How do we be God’s grace?  Instruments of his peace?  We remember that we need to love him with our whole hearts, soul and being.  Then we need to remember that we need to love our neighbor as ourselves.

        I’m hoping that  parents can be instruments of God’s grace because God gave us brains to question, to figure things out and do what we can for children and spouses and neighbors.   To respect, perhaps, the different developmental phases each child occupies at any one point. 

        For me,  prayer is conjuring the presence of God and humbly reflecting on the insidious impact of our ‘stuff’ on our interactions and expectations of our kids IN LIGHT OF his infinte love and his compassion and what Jesus taught.  

         I hope to be God’s love and grace by reflecting on/minimizing/being aware of the impact of my parents’ stuff  on me.   And I hope I’m offering the right kind of grace to my son when I have some perspective on my own fears for him (‘being a good listener” ‘being an achiever” ‘being motivated’) in the context of our economy, the future and society’s focus on  achievment. 

        Bottom line: I’m hopful we can learn what’s developmentally appropriate for kids AND not coddle them AND LOVE them fiercely.  We can choose when they start playing soccer games (versus having fun with drills and exercises).  I’m hopful we can remind oursleves that their games look like the games that 9 year olds or 14 year olds play.

        You’re on the right track, in my humble opinion and I really respect your fierceness.

        Peace,

        Tom

  • holly

    Well, yeah…gee, and….using sexually angry words….that’s not so good for your son, either.  

    • allyHM

      I’m sorry, “sexually angry words”?  I re-read the article twice over and find nothing sexual about any of the angry words.  Am I missing something?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1026491690 Michael Vanderburgh

    There’s a great song that accompanies this post like a fine Gatorade: Pop Fly by Justin Roberts.  Check it out! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkgAKBljXfU

    • dkuo

      :-)

      • PGB

        New to your site.  Thanks for your story.  I’m a new dad too.  I have vivid memories of being a cloud watcher/daydreamer to the consternation of my coaches.  My parents didn’t get sports and weren’t there.  My mind never worked with team sports as a kid. The x’s and o’s didn’t speak to me.  A story about dragons might have.  I grew up thinking I was unathletic… until I went to college and learned to rock climb, bike race, and fly gliders.  I earned the money to fly as a bike messenger.  I wish all the coaches who said I lacked focus could have seen me follow a whisp of wind on the grass to a cloud at 15,000 feet, and on over the next mountain range, in my glider race.  I can’t blame any of my early sports failure on a my dad’s reaction.  Nothing he could have done would have made me inspired by grids on grass and balls.  I’m surprised to find myself on the other end of the spectrum because my daughter seems to ituitively understand gymnastics. I’m ashamed to fight urge to tell the teacher to give up on the ones who aren’t listening (when that was me as a kid).  Anyway I do relate to your experience of being an ass.  I often am.  It can take my wife’s tears to make me realize it. It is so hard to face when you find yourself being one.  It’s a lonely moment.  I’m with you man.  I’m trying to be better too.   Also, your son may be realy good at something that isn’t formally recognized as a sport.  I was great at riding a bigwheel down the biggest hill in my neighborhood. 

  • markdroberts

    This is a great post. A great story. A great message. It’s something just about any parent can relate to . . . at least this particular parent. Thanks for telling the truth about yourself and about your Father.

    • dkuo

      Thank you Mark. I appreciate your words enormously. 

  • Wilemccreery

    My Son..
    A couple a Things:
    Your Son WAS Listining to The Best Life COACH In The Universe….”The Still Small Voice…Maybe GMa Anna Bell who was ALWAYS Aware of the Thrilling BEAUTY of The Creators World……I can Just hear her Voice…”Oh, Billy: look at the Beauty-Full puffy Clouds! What do You SEE In Them..???? Take your Time..Look Deeply!
    And I Recall; EVERY TIME I See a Dandylion..How She Loved to Tell and Re-tell
    how she KNEW It was Spring when a little boy would unfold his 2 yo hand to Reveal a Crushed Dandilion, with the expression, “Pretty Momma, Pretty”.
    “An Asswhole????”….and i say This with Love and Compassion…”Get OVER YOUR SELF….ITZ NOT ABOUT YOU!”….EXCEPT that you CHOSE to CRUCIFY YOUR-SELF w Guilt, Self Recrimination, Shame, and Whinning about some Childhood Issues…..NOT that those arent Important…but DO Some Thing About Them.
    CRUCIFICATION: I Heard That Jesus The Christ DID THAT FOR US…..so that we could be FREE to LIVE. w/o all that Self-Indulgent..Self-Defeating…and if one keeps it up ( inspite of what Christ SAYS..Not Just SAID 2,000yrs ago)…ultimatly, Self-Destructive.

    • dkuo

      Thanks. 

  • Wilemccreery

    ……Consequences.
    Last Word…”Anger is Just FEAR dressed up. RAGE is: Same Thing + LipStick.”

    • dkuo

      Not sure I get the lipstick part but I’m with you on fear… anger is, i have heard, a secondary emotion… key is to get to the primary issue… yes?

      • Wilemccreery

        Lipstick: S Palin ref..lipstick is more Eye-Catching..but cant Hide the Truth: in this case…your Fear which Blew up in Your Face..and all over Any One within sight/ ear shot..was most likey that He was Making YOU look STUPID, and touched Other Issues In YOU! THATS why i said..”GET OVER YOUR SELF.”
        THE OTHER COMMENTS ARE TRUE ABOUT BABY SPORTS.

        But it was your Individual Response IN that setting….not the setting itself that was of concern to you and those who care, and love you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenny.johnson1 Kenny Johnson

    Amazing how much this resonates with me. My own 4 year old (5 next month) just started playing soccer for the first time. And I’ve had the same frustrations. My son doesn’t listen. He spends most of the game staring at the grass — the ball usually flies right by him without him noticing. I get frustrated because he doesn’t try, not because he’s not very good or is easily distracted, but because he barely seems to care. His last game, I threatened to not let him watch TV after he played 3 quarters without even trying once to get near the ball. When he managed to kick the ball twice in the 4th quarter, but then went back to staring at the grass for the rest of the game, he thought he did well. I told him he did, but that it wasn’t enough. 

    Maybe I’m an asshole. Well, I take that back, I certainly know I am more frequently than I’d like to admit. But, I mean in that moment. But, my thought was, do I give my son empty praise when he doesn’t deserve it? Do I teach him that it’s ok to not try? To not do his best? To not help his team mates? To not listen to his coach? Yes, he needs to know he’s unconditionally loved and accepted by me. But doesn’t he also need to grow and mature. To build good character? Where’s the balance? 

    But like you, I take some of the blame as well. Though I have not suffered from a brain tumor, I haven’t spend much time teaching my son how to play. I’m also not much of a sports fan — and never excelled or even really played many sports as a kid. So.. maybe, monkey see, monkey do. 

    • Traci

      You need to get some parenting coaching. You don’t know what you’re doing. And you’re going to cause serious damage expecting a 4 year old to act like a 14 year old. He’ll hate the game, and worse, he’ll hate you.

      Maybe other kids are somewhat more attentive — but just wait until the next game. And ask yourself what the young Shakespeare might have been like on the soccer field — probably staring at the sky.

      Learn what to expect, and when to expect it. Realize there’s a reason human childhood lasts 18 years. Did it occur to you that he might have been feeling like he “did good” because he kept it together and didn’t pee his pants or fall down and cry? That’s how a 5 year old thinks about being in new situations.

      Get help. No cheap grace when it comes to bullying kids. Learn what you can reasonably expect. The Gisselle Institute published books about each year of childhood. What to expect. You might wanna have a look.

      • dkuo

        Don’t you think it might be more helpful to extend to Kenny  the same grace you say he needs to extend to his kids?

        • MiddleMind

          Good remark.  I also think that its much more complicated than some people here are making it out to be.   There are scales of behavior and there is a difference between expecting your kid to pay a little bit of attention to a task they are involved in (whether that be playing soccer or crossing the street next to you) and expecting them to do it wholly on their own or be experts.  I think you were on one scale of this and some of the commentators are clearly on the other (i.e. expect little to nothing of your kids).  I have three little ones involved in similar activities, and I find good guidance in not pushing for something I want for myself (i.e. them to be good at soccer) but expecting something from them if its either for their safety or growth (i.e. pay attention to crossing the street, or pay attention to their teacher instead of clowing around in class.).  Soccer likely falls somewhere between the two depending on the moment.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kenny.johnson1 Kenny Johnson

        Did it occur to you that your words may be hurtful and damaging to me? I told 1 story about 1 game that my son played and now you know me and know I’m a bad parent who is damaging my son and making him hate me? Give me a break, Traci. And, I assume by your “advice” to me, that you’re a perfect parent every day. Right? 

        “Thanks”

        • gcallah

           You see, Kenny, Traci is a perfect human being, who never makes a parenting mistake. Just bow down before her and suck it up.

    • dkuo

      I think you’re doing great. No empty praise there. How many parents never even consider their actions? Parenting is HARD. And it seems to get more challenging with age. (I have three other daughters as well)

      The most interesting thing I’ve come across is the distinction between punishment and discipline. Google the terms. Its convicting and it is cool. 

      Thanks for sharing your life. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1273763631 Julie Dinkins-Borkowski

    You were a jerk.  I understand you need forgiveness, but you are a father now.  Do your best to be a selfless as possible.

    • dkuo

      Yup, I definitely was.

    • http://www.ucsense.blogspot.com UncommonSense

      Julie,

      The entire point of David’s post was acknowledging he acted like a jerk that day, and thinking out loud trying to come to terms with it.

      Even with that, he is as graceful in absorbing your little lecture as you were graceless in delivering it.

    • gcallah

       Julie gives lessons in being a jerk, so she should know.

  • http://twitter.com/JasonChatraw Jason Chatraw

    Thanks for being so honest and vulnerable. We’re all jerks at one time or another. … I know this wasn’t your point, but don’t be dismayed–the majority of 4 and 5 year olds aren’t very good at listening.

    I hope you score a huge goal tonight by redeeming yourself after practice with  your son! 

    • dkuo

      Yeah, iHop was great. The practice was great too. There was actually a different coach and he was terrific in just working with the boys and explaining basics to them. Looking forward to the game today. We’re the snack family today!

  • Dawn_rietman

    No matter how you show up, it’s the fact that you showed up at all that matters. We are human. It is in our DNA to make mistakes, this is how we grow to be the amazing beings God wants us to be. Without our trials we would have no way to get back home to our Father in Heaven. I acknowledge you for being the example and moving forward. NEXT… 

    • dkuo

      Thank you. His next game is in a couple hours. It’ll be fun. Joy. 

  • http://twitter.com/JohnUmland John Umland

    I’ve been thinking a church should name itself AA, Assaholics Anonymous, and at the end of every meeting we get asked if we love Jesus three times, then told to feed his sheep and follow him…
    God is good
    jpu

    • dkuo

      I find accepting his forgiveness and then moving forward – rather than beating myself up – the most challenging thing. 

  • Traci

    I’m struck by your wonderful son, who after all this, asked to go to breakfast to celebrate his first game. You should have gone, man — you had a chance to turn this around.

    Sure, I understand about the overpraising rampant in our culture. I don’t think kids need trophies for everything. But hear this — your kid is 4. Or 5 –whatever. You need to learn what is appropriate to expect at that age. Listening and impulse control are skills that will develop over the next 5 or 6 years. Don’t expect it to happen all at once. And realize that right now, the most important thing your kid needs to learn is you adore him. Then he’ll WANT to please you. But not if you act  . . . like this.

    Please don’t go all “cheap grace” on yourself. You’ve got some important stuff to learn about kids and the developmental  stages of their lives. And when you learn it, you’ll realize your behavior was as outrageous as yelling at your tennis ball for not bouncing right. It was seriously misplaced.

    I’m sorry to be so tough on you, but I just can’t bear stuff like this. Like people say, why do you need a license to drive a car but not to have a kid?

    • dkuo

      No need to apologize. Your insights and words are true. 

  • Charles

    This resonated with me on so many levels.  I used to be you.  Watching my girls out there “competing” in a game that doesn’t keep score and where everyone gets a medal.  Embarrassed that my daughter wouldn’t listen.  Wanting to see her be a little more competitive.

    Now, just a couple of years later, I’m coaching a mini soccer team.  I’m asking kids to dribble like a monkey. Laughing when they come over to give me a hug while someone scores on them because they walked off the field.

    It’s a beautiful time.  Enjoy it.  Embrace it.  They’ll learn to be competitive as they get older.  You only get a few years when they think scoring on their own goal is the pinnacle of an awesome day.

  • Dad

    There is nothing at all wrong with telling your child he or she isn’t doing well when in fact they aren’t.  It doesn’t have to be done in frustration or anger but I tend to think that if you want to have any credibility at all on the big issues down the road that child must know that you are a straight shooter, that your praise is real as is your criticism.

  • Michael Buckley

    David,

    You were not an ass. At least you didn’t start out that way. Your first attempts at a reasonable lesson were unfairly met with the usual disdain for honestly. I teach college. I am amazed at the reaction – from students and their parents – at the first bad grade. I give multiple choice tests to deflate the argument, which usually start like: “But I’ve never received a D before.” When every failure is treated as a success, no lessons are learned.

    • Tom Augello

      Glad you’re not teaching 4-year-olds, Mr. Buckley. You wouldn’t know what you’re doing.

      • gcallah

         Yes, we must coddle them until they are 18.

    • Ella

      Having taught college students, I share your frustration/amazement at their reactions to poor grades and sense of entitlement.  That said, those lessons are best taught with compassion, understanding, firmness and at an appropriate developmental stage.  Four year olds are still quite young and need encouragement and kindness not judgment or a hard dose of reality.

      • Steven Suranie

        I was going to say the same. There’s an ocean of difference between college kids and four year olds.

    • Wolf

      He wasn’t just being honest though.  He was unnecessarily harsh.  The child is FOUR.  The part where he wanted to say ”Well buddy, you’re trying and that’s AWESOME. But part of trying is listening to the coach. Why don’t you try that too?” would’ve been perfect, but he couldn’t calm himself down enough to speak in that type of constructive/supportive manner to his son.  That’s not coddling… it’s being constructive and respectful.  Again, this is a FOUR year old, not a young adult like your students.

  • dfk

    I am holding my sleeping baby girl in my arms and crying. I know I will have moments like thus, too. We have all hurt someone we loved at some point and we will again. I just hope that when the next moment comes, I am brave enough to own it, as you did. In admitting the need for grace, we make room for grace.

  • Julia Charles

    :) Ah, yes – it is hard. He’s four – um, nearly 5, you say? So take comfort in the fact that you have many opportunities to praise what he did well (“Way to stay on the field, kid!”) and to laugh at/with his fellow fallible humanity. Mine is 11 and “you didn’t win, but when you did X you were really working – that was great” gets us pretty far. She’s past the age of reason, though, so she hears words as well as tone.

  • r2d2

    I took a different lesson away from this story.  Lying to our kids about how great they are is the road to mediocrity, and wailing about hurting their feelings is silly–you take your lumps as a kid, and being treated like a make-belief prince is no favor to you in the long run.  So the right thing to do here would have been friendly correction, not false affirmation.  If Christians don’t stand up to false sentimentalism and nannyism, who will?

    Maybe the real issue to consider is sports more generally.  Perhaps music (etc.) would be a better fit if he’s more introverted.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SLV74O6XGVQGQRMBCPA5LGQRHI P Gustafson

      Did you not get that the boy is 4? 

    • Dwolf1231

      So you believe that disrespectful honesty is the moral equivalent of constructive honesty?  You believe that a curt “no” is the same as his internal monologue (but never communicated) ”Well buddy, you’re trying and that’s AWESOME. But part of trying is listening to the coach. Why don’t you try that too?”   Because in my opinion, the former is terrible parenting, and the latter is excellent parenting. 

  • HashVisser

    I think you’re getting a lot of flak for a small offense. You got mad when your son performed poorly on the field (scoring on your own team is as bad as it gets in soccer). You tried to give him feedback about it. You were guilted into lying. By your wife. By the other parents. By the culture you’re in.

    You didn’t hit your child. You didn’t yell at him or withhold love based on conditions. I don’t believe in negative reinforcement and you don’t seem to either. But positive reinforcement works by praising behavior you want to encourage!

    It was the kid’s first game. And it might be too early to teach your son about competition. But for everyone at the game and on this board to demand that you lie to your child about his performance feels wrong to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Cunningham/1196666762 Robert Cunningham

    All you had to do was ask if he had fun.  If he had fun, be happy.  If he’s frustrated, help.  And stop being an ass.  Right now, he wants to know what you think.    You only have about 6 more years before you’re completely rejected.  God’s grace is all well and good but means nothing if you don’t translate it into service to your family.  You’re a father for heaven’s sake.  :)

  • Vic

    Sometimes I think we push kids too hard and too fast. He scored a wrong goal. So what? The more important question for me: Was he having fun?

    The rules, etc., can come later. But parents want kids to be mini sports celebrities and excel. Is that because the kids want to excel, or because parents want to brag that their kid excels?

    At this age especially, I think it’s more important for parents to help their kids have fun.

    For the record, I never played sports at this age, that came later. Fun for me was camping with my family and hiking in the woods. I never needed to ask if I had done good. It was just fun.

  • Mike

    Yeah, I’ve been that asshole too at times.  Two daughters one 16 and one 5, hoping I’ve learned from my time with the 16 year old…but I’m sure I’ll mess them both up, just maybe in different ways!  But you are already there it seems, all the things you wanted to do and say, right on target.  You’ve got your head in the game…and your boy will too, when he’s older and if he wants too!  God bless. 

  • http://twitter.com/rcade Rogers Cadenhead

    I don’t want to pile on because I appreciate your self-flagellation, but as a father of three sons who has been a youth coach of baseball and basketball I wanted to offer an observation: You went into the first game with an enormously unrealistic impression of what an four-year-old kid can accomplish in sports at his age.

    At that age, the best to hope for is that the kids learn the rules of the game, be good sports and enjoy themselves. The rest — competitiveness, team work and physical prowess — come later.If you saddle kids with demanding expectations, either because that’s how you were parented or because you have an inflated sense of how talented you were as a pre-teen athlete, you could rob them of the joy of participating in sports.I’m coaching kids in a beginner’s baseball league who range in age from 7 to 11. There’s one player who’s been a terrific hitter in practice but would not swing the bat in a game. Ever. The more advice he got from coaches and parents, the more he seemed to tighten up. So we adults wised up and quieted down.Last weekend, he swung the bat for the first time and got a hit. The crowd went wild.Walking to his car with his dad afterwards, he said, “I can’t believe I was so STUPID not to swing!”Your kid will, in time, be setting his own expectations for what means he’s doing well at sports. Listen to those goals and help him achieve them. Don’t saddle him with your own.

    • Wolf

      Great post.

  • seniorcit

    Who says that every 4-almost-5 year old kid needs to play soccer?  Team sports aren’t for every age or everyone.  Let them grow up, for heaven’s sake!

    • http://twitter.com/rcade Rogers Cadenhead

      Soccer is a blast with kids that age. They usually form a single ball-chasing herd and the two kids who can resist this urge the strongest get to be goalies. Scoring a goal is an achievement celebrated equally by players on both teams.

  • andrew

    I grew up playing soccer year in and year out, and my father was definitely one of those fathers, yelling at me from the sideline till I was well into my teens. It was pretty awful. He got thrown out of a game by a ref once because it was so ridiculous.  Reduced me to tears on the field a few times. Really, just unreal a lot of the time. There are no excuses for that.

    (As a piece of immediate advice for next time: no matter how mortified you are, there are few things more mortifying for a little boy than to be called out in a public setting like that. When you’re fuming over his next own goal, know that your fumes can’t compare to the potential for self-loathing in being the target of those fumes.)I share this because I’m 27 now; my relationship with my father is awesome; he has grown as much as I have (obviously in very, very different ways) over the years. We needed some therapy, sure, and some distance (college), and some true-life talks (obviously there were other issues as well), but he is an irreplaceable person in my life.
    This is to say: this is a process. It’s gonna go one way one day and another the next. But the pursuit is most important, the pursuit of a “more perfect” relationship. Openness, honesty, all those buzzwords do ring true. I promise. Your son is going to figure it out as much on his own as he will with you. Grace, forgiveness–these are lifelong things, I’ve found, with little to nothing etched in stone about them. 

  • Becky_Sharp

    I think there’s a larger question here, and you touched on it briefly. When do we start telling kids the truth? That they’re terrible at something, that in the real world no one gets a “good try” medal for crappy work, that it’s okay (hell inevitable!) to fail? It’s a hard conversation to have with a kid and I think the proliferation of participation ribbons is less about making kids feel good and more about assuaging adult guilt over being too cowardly to have that conversation.

    Maybe when he’s a little older, you can talk to him about it. The middle of a soccer field may have been too stressful a setting, but I get where you’re coming from. :)

  • tuckhill

    My two cents:

    You made some serious mistakes, but not so much the criticism part.  Any parent has to balance encouragement and instruction (instruction often involving some criticism), and we don’t always get it right as our deceptively-complicated little developing human beings are challenging our parenting skills in new ways all the time.  Of course people will have all sorts of advice on this subject, some of it even useful, but a lot of good parenting is knowing yourself and your child better than other people, such that you often do know best (meaning at least better) how to handle these challenges–assuming you are a caring and attentive parent, which you obviously are.

    The serious mistakes were reacting to your inclination to criticism with a feedback spiral of shame and anger that resulted in acting poorly toward your spouse and your child (outside of just the context of the game).  Again, you are better-positioned than me to know how to avoid such mistakes in the future, but I suspect it doesn’t help to be thinking too much about yourself and your place in the universe at times like this.  Just keep thinking about your son and trying to do your best. 

  • Vic

    Glad to see in the comments that things seem to be going better, dkuo.

    Ego can be a hard thing. And when we consider kids to be extensions of ourselves it can be even harder. I’d bet your son had no ego, no self-image, invested in this.

    For me, with two teacher-parents with M.A.s in education, it was my GPA. Sometimes I just wanted to have fun.

    Aidan will get there if he wants to get there.

    Good luck and prayers.

  • doclotus

    I was that guy on 277, kidding.

    I’m not a Christian, so Grace is not something I frame things with, but karma is something I connect with. I think of karma as individual credit accounts with a rollup balance. You’ve got a ton of deposits made in your lifetime, and you made a pretty serious debit on several accounts that day. It happens, and your self reflection is as wise and sober as I think anyone could hope for.The great thing with your son is, as you’ve already alluded to, you get a ton of chances to make more deposits. Kids are incredibly forgiving and in the long term, if you continue your track record of IHOP visits and the like, this event will be forgotten by most (though wives are good at reminding us of our trips to the dark side, its great to have accountability at that level).

    I had a similar moment with some students I coach as a volunteer. I regretted what I said, but I chalked it up to simply being human and continued making deposits in those relationship accounts whenever the opportunity presented itself. Withdrawals aren’t always bad, and dishonesty is a form of account withdrawal in my humble opinion.

    Thanks for sharing this (Andrew Sullivan pointed me this way). I appreciated your candor and self-inspection/immolation. Your boy is very lucky to have a Dad like you. Keep up the good work and I think things will be just fine.

    Cheers,

    Lance

  • Peter

    He scored an own goal and that is not great man, even at that age. He came to your for affirmation and you told him the truth. I wouldn’t have been fuming because he is only 4, but I also wouldn’t tell him that he did great. Ha, I mean, seriously, an own goal? That’s brutal, but acting like a child about it is only going to damage the kid and make him worse. You should have just said, “No, you scored on your own goal little man. Now get back out there put in the other net tiger.” That way he would have known he screwed up and had some guidance for remediation. Not sure why you became testy with your wife because she was at least trying to get him on the same page as the coach. You were probably just mad because you took it as a reflection on you, but no worries, you said you haven’t had time to teach him. I’d suggest you do though because own goals are unacceptable and maybe you should also take a relaxant before the game. 

  • Jtmccoy76

    As a new father of a 6-week-old, I know that I’ll be re-reading this many times over the next several years.

  • Boring Old White Guy

    As the father of two grown sons who played kids’ sports, I can tell you that the problem isn’t you or your son or your wife or the coach — it’s kids’ sports. Why ON EARTH are five-year-olds playing organized sports? It just brings out the WORST in everyone. You had it right: he should be playing with blocks and cars. Those are age-appropriate activities; NOT organized soccer. 

    A friend of mine once told me the most intelligent thing I’ve ever heard about kids’ sports: the only way kids should be allowed to play is if the parents CAN’T watch. 

    Oh, and my kids? One went on to play Division I sports and the other never took an interest in sports at all. The moral of the story? In the grand scheme of things, kids’ sports don’t mean A THING.

    • Cathi

       I completely agree! Organized play is the dumbest thing ever invented. Play should be spontaneous and creative. No 5 year old is going to follow the rules.

      The writer isn’t as much of an ass as many of the people responding here. What kind of game has no losers? Life sure has plenty of them and it’s never too early to let kids learn that.

      • Ituyen

        I suppose you think it is dumb for a five year old to play Candyland with all those rules? (Nevermind that it is sort of a stupid game.) It’s all a learning experience. What’s wrong with running into each other and maybe a ball occasionally and then having Popsicles afterwards? What’s assinine is wanting to keep score. It’s not about the soccer at all!

    • The Lewd Ood

      Yup — this, exactly.  David wasn’t being an ass.  Organized sports for anyone younger than 7 is asinine.  In fact, I’d say the parents who shout at their kids from the stands are bigger asses than he was.

      When my kids decide they want to play sports I’ll watch from afar, by myself or with other parents who don’t hoot and holler, and explain to the kids what they did well and what they need to work on afterwards.  And if my kids don’t want to be out there to begin with, then I’ll ask them if there’s something else they’d rather be doing and that’s how we’ll spend our weekends.

      • Wolf

        WTF are you talking about?  He damn sure was being an ass.  There is nothing wrong with little kids playing sports.  The “league” that he described was organized chaos with parents watching.  It wasn’t a sport.  I doubt that handballs were called or anything like that.  They weren’t even keeping score for crying out loud.

        The dude has some serious rage issues and let it out in a totally unhealthy manner.  Don’t make excuses for him.

  • guest

    I wish, truely wish the men (dads and grandpas) of this world would listen when the mothers of these young children say ” he/she is only ___ yrs old”  I have said those words like a broken record… let them be little, dont expect too much, that doesnt mean dont teach them the right way, do, say it till your blue in the face, but say it with a smile, and DONT expect them to get it…listening, following instructions, doing what they are “supposed to”, that comes with maturity and time… as a parent of 3 (oldest is 14) they dont REALLY get all of that till around 7-8yrs old, thats when I have found that they BEGIN to be accountable, that if you tell them something they remember it, practical application is NOT 100% but at least they “get it”…everything before that maturity is preparation, your laying the foundation…you will both be happier if you accept that they arent ready yet… and as far as how you feel about what happened, we all make mistakes, one thing I found is when you become a parent you realize that most of the things you faulted your parents for…you forgive, realizing that we are all human, and make mistakes, and we are all just trying to do the best we can…

  • Bill

    Dude,

    Been there.  I have to say, though, that all I want is for my children to be happy.  If they are happy, then I am happy.  I don’t care who they don’t listen to, or how much praise they get that they don’t deserve, or how many goals they do or don’t score.  Every day that there is a smile on their faces is a good day.   

    In my family, my father viewed any flaw or failure of mine to reflect poorly on him, and he reacted accordingly.  I won’t let it happen.  It still hurts.

    I read it.   And I believe that you mean it.  

    He is watching you to see if you DO it.

    B

  • guest

    another hopefully helpful tip…at the next sporting event pick 5 kids, NOT your kid, NOT the best player on the team, just 5 random kids, and spend about 10-15min pretending each one is your own kid, watch that one kid for 10-15 min, when your done watching these 5 other kids, watch your own kid for 10-15 min, and see if there is a significant difference in behavior, or if that is how ALL kids that age act…ps my when my 14yr old was 6yr old and played organized baseball , he spent plenty of time checking out the grass, kicking the dirt, looking for sticks…it comes with the territory

  • MoZeu

    It’s the rage that is the problem not the wish to be honest with your child.  Don’t conflate the two.  It is not only OK, but IMO good parenting to say – even to a 4 year old – “hey good first game!  Next time we’ll work on trying to listen to coach a little more and you can do even better” instead of the ubiquitous, dishonest and useless “good job!”

    Your rage is another issue, and that’s the one you’ll have to figure out how to deal with, I guess,  Grace doesn’t really resonate with me, as I am Buddhist, not Christian, but I hope that the grace you believe your God gives you unconditionally can help you keep your seat in peace and acceptance of who you are.

    • Toesinsand

      You’ve got it right…”hey good first game!  Next time we’ll work on trying to listen to coach a little more and you can do even better” instead of the ubiquitous, dishonest and useless “good job!””

  • http://ximagin.co/ The CW

    You know what’s great about this story? It’s really such a great story, its chock full of great bits but the best bit is how you were able to recognize the truly important thing in this story. Someone else might have seen it as a story about your kids first soccer game and provide detail about how lovable your kid was just being himself even if he wasn’t the best player on the field. Someone else might have been able to see how your kid can be a complete human being just being his goofy self. But you were able to see the truly important part of your son’s first soccer game… How it was really all about you.

    Well, really, how it was all about you and Jeebus.

    • Maggie

      Wow. Talk about being an absolute ass.

      • Wolf

        Yet the author isn’t four, so he can handle it.

      • http://ximagin.co/ The CW

        Is it a) unreasonable to tell an unreasonable person that they are being unreasonable or b) reasonable to tell an unreasonable person they are being unreasonable?

        I think you and I would disagree on the answer to that question.

        So STFU.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ed-Stamm-Miller/1409651217 Ed Stamm Miller

    You made a mistake. You thought about. You learned your lesson. You resolve to do better.  That’s a win. The biggest win a parent can have is helping their children grow into the best people they can be  with the knowledge that they are loved  unconditionally for who they are and not for what they accomplish.  Anybody who pretends they have the perfect solution for achieving this can safely be ignored.   

  • Brennan Dog

    Please don’t get a dog.   You are a giant asshole who can’t think of anything from anyone else’s point of view and you’ll end up hitting or kicking it for being 2 months old and peeing in the house.  

    • anotherDad

      For some reason “whoever is without sin” and “first stone” come to mind…

  • anotherDad

    As a father of a 5-year-old, I feel David’s pain.  I’ve been there.  I’ve lost my temper plenty of times, also for a kid doing the opposite of what they’re supposed to do, and felt terrible about it.   I’ve learned to avoid these, but it isn’t easy.

     But I don’t think David deserves the criticism he’s been getting here.  Telling your kid “no, that wasn’t a good job” is NOT going to crush them, if you do it in a loving way.   Telling a kid that they’re worthless IS terrible, but that’s not what he did.  Part of being  a good parent is to correct and provide feedback, lovingly.  These days, that means pushing back against the “every kid gets a prize” mentality.  I’m a college professor, and the disconnect between self esteem (great!) and performance (terrible!) of the current generation is astounding.   These kids have been praised right into total inability.  Any maybe it’s because I was never an athletic kid, but I really don’t see the point of soccer for 5-year-olds.  Mine is brilliant, but she would be totally hopeless on a soccer field, for the exact same reason.  Better to have them home drawing pictures or outside digging in the dirt than thrust into a bewildering chaos of yelling adults, after which everyone gets a prize?I also doubt that the commenters who are judging David and pushing parenting classes on him are parents themselves.

    • tuckhill

      Soccer for young kids can be a lot of fun for them and also good exercise.  And one of the reasons it is popular for young kids is it takes very little natural athleticism or practice to participate–if you can run and kick a ball you can play.

      Of course if they don’t enjoy it you shouldn’t force it.

    • Toesinsand

      I can’t push the like button enough times for this and many of the other comments. David, I hope you pay attention to what anotherDad is saying as well as the other very intelligent, experienced commenters and take their the points to heart. You sound like an awesome, intelligent, loving, introspective, honest,and imperfect Dad/Human! 

      Thanks for sharing your experience and for starting this wonderful discussion. Be careful that in your humility you don’t demolish yourself. Develop and display healthy self esteem, as that is one of the BEST things you can model for your son and bring honor to Jesus, too.

    • Wolf

      “Telling your kid “no, that wasn’t a good job” is NOT going to crush them, if you do it in a loving way.”  But that’s the point… he didn’t do it in a loving way.  He did it with a curt “no” and no explanation.  To a four-year-old, that’s more than enough to hurt.  The author claims to have wanted to say ”Well buddy, you’re trying and that’s AWESOME. But part of trying is listening to the coach. Why don’t you try that too?” which would have been awesome.  But he didn’t… because he couldn’t get past his own issues. 

      Part of being a parent is putting aside your own bullshit and remaining a calm, supportive–but objective and fair–observer of your child’s behavior.  At this, the author failed miserably this time.  Hopefully he learned a lesson from this incident, but I’m pretty skeptical based upon the conclusion of this blog.

  • flora

    Wow, stop beating yourself up!!  Welcome to the world of parenthood, where our resilient kids get through in spite of us. This won’t be your last mistake ( and believe me , in the scheme of things, this one is small).  When our kids are compared to others in any way, there often emerges a strange competitive creature that lurks in our souls, that we sometimes don’t recognize, or understand.  Take that baby in your arms, tell him how proud you  are for learning to play a very hard game and go have a late 1st game celebration.  We do the best we can, learn from our failures and move on— and hope that we teach our children the same. 
    Your son is lucky to have such a sensitive and introspective dad.

  • Grace Veach

    Something others haven’t pointed out yet in this bevy of comments. Our kids know our voices the way Jesus said “My sheep know my voice.” Or better. He looked up and listened to Kim because she is HIS MOM and that’s the voice he hears. He probably doesn’t even hear the coach at this age– I know that for years, I had to repeat everything said to my son by another adult. He just somehow understood me and didn’t get them at all. Learning to hear other voices than yours takes time.

    On the playground, if there are 50 kids, and ours starts to cry or call for us, we’re immediately alert. He’s the same way with you & Kim. So if you want him to really hear something, you say it. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jfschwartz Jason Schwartz

    Thanks for sharing. I look back with crippling embarrassment at some of my expectations of my son at that age. In hindsight, I can’t understand what I was thinking. I coached his soccer team at that age and he didn’t want to play, he wanted to hang out on the bench with the other kids. I was pissed, self-pitying (I’m doing this for you!) and embarrassed.

    A couple of internet things come to mind:

    1) I’ve been thinking about this a lot when I’m intolerant of people who are younger than me or newer to my particular spiritual path. He’s playing his role. http://www.teacherchildrenwell.com/blog/2012/2/15/what-i-taught-myself-thirteen-years-later.html
    This made me realize that my son is often just playing his role, which often causes significant frustration to me. My role is to be the Dad, often feeling frustrated, but trying to be better than my impulses and to question the reliability of feelings for accurately assessing the facts of a situation and their importance. It helps me to slow down, be firm when necessary but try to always be patient and loving.

    2) Me too. See 18:59 of this video to see what I’m talking about. (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/brene_brown_listening_to_shame.html)

    3)  Ernie Kurtz’s concept of not-God-ness shakes my certitude about these situations and helps keep me closer to a humble not-knowing and learning position. (http://books.google.com/books?id=aivGVUp4mKUC&lpg=PA206&ots=AaVY9Y2tn8&dq=not-god-ness&pg=PA208#v=onepage&q=not-god-ness&f=false)

    I doubt myself nearly every day. I often wish I knew what the heck I’m doing. At least we can talk about it and try to do a little better today, right?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MLR3INNU42KMDUQHYR7U4SZ3LE alexh

    There kind of is a lot of piling on in these comments.  Don’t get your head down too much.  You are responsible for this child becoming a productive adult at some point, and that won’t happen if you always validate him because, frankly, he’s gonna make legitimate mistakes, too.  Just realign your expectations of him as a soccer playing 4 (nearly 5) year old and move on.

  • upsidedownpoint

    You know what you should have said, you wrote it up above. You can be supportive without being gratuitously positive.

  • Slaughter

    Sure, you could have said he was awesome, then suggested listening to the coach. Better yet, you should have asked this: “Did you have fun?” That’s what it’s all about at this age.  When my daughter did T-ball at age 6, one or two kids knew how to play baseball.  Most kids just tapped the ball back to the pitcher, but every throw was missed by the first baseman. The solution? The pitcher rolled the ball to first base, and the kid put his foot out to stop it, then picked it up. An out! It was fun watching them figure things out on their own.

  • Fishgirl26

    I am a single parent of a nerdy 15 year old kid. I put him in team sports and he HATED it and so did I and let me explain why. I was an athlete. I ran track, played baseball, basketball, golf, volleyball and was just a all around jock. It took my son until he was 5 to learn how to ride a bike. My sister ( also a superior athlete) went through the same frustrating process of realizing that he’s not like us HOWEVER, I never let him use excuses. His dad died when he was 8. I thought him playing basketball would be a good idea. It was not. He was a 6 th grader and was teased mercilessly but he had to fave that he wasn’t good and would never be good. He then found his niche…. Computers. He can fix anything and hopes to go to college for computer science . He lead himself there… Not me screaming ” DO BETTER or PAY ATTENTION!!” often kids sports are more about the parents and their success than the kid. How date we as parentss let our kids fail!!well, they need to fail eventually. The world is a mean place and coddled kids are the worst. I offer this, tell kids what you expect fr them and expect them to live up to it. If they don’t it means that they don’t care and you need to guide them through it or stop it. You aten’t the only parent who thinks its important for reality in kids lives… Women feel it too.

  • Javelin

    “We’re all assholes sometimes. OK, I gotta run” — that’s exactly the right response, and that’s all you get. Your longing for punishment and making this into a big deal about yourself and your relationship with God seems kind of selfish. Stop obsessing about your precious self — and obsessing about how bad you are counts as obsessing — think instead about your son.

  • Tomrosshirt

    this is a precious, precious story.   Aidan is the best thing ever to happen to his demanding daddy.   If his dad can learn to forgive himself for being a jerky dad, he can learn to forgive Aidan for being a cloud-gazing 4-year old.   It’s the same.   Without the wrenching self-judgment created by his own rejection of his son, he’d never look at the   standards that stand in the way of him loving his son.   If  his boy had been the new Pele, he’d never think he has to change.  I hope Aidan counted every cloud at practice and got whipped cream on his waffles at IHOP.    

  • ch24

    Have to agree with MoZeu. This is an inappropriate conflation of two separate issues. The “criticisms” you could certainly communicate with your son. I have a son and teach young children for a living and one universal theme – which you referenced in your fantasy of what your own father could have done – is that they all want to understand the things they are involved in but there are not clear routes, so it can be easy, in the misunderstanding, to get distracted by clouds or some other thing. There is a way, always a way, to show them what they are not perceiving about the activity. This might include (and is actually common) a conviction or sternness that they aren’t paying attention to the appropriate guides, in this case a ball and/or a coach. Not only will they not resent it, these can be the fodder of their “useful distractions.” My students love chanting rules and advice. I can’t even tell them to “get a pencil” without their incessant repetition of the quasi-song I use in their first week. “eyes on the ball” is a classic for sports. But all this is irrelevant to the rage. That you would feel compelled to encourage attentiveness in a 4 year old is not the crime. That it is equivalent to hostility is a slight to any good preschool teacher.

  • John Gaffney

    Dan, thanks for your honesty.  I have read many of the comments in response to your post and, while people have been critical of your behavior because of your son’s age, I think I would have had the same expectations of my own daughter (almost 6) when she became involved in organized soccer last fall.  However, the league issued specific guidance for parents that has allowed me to have a really positive sideline experience and for my daughter (no great soccer player!) to have a really positive on-field experience.

    The guidelines were distributed to all parents from the league (it’s sponsored by the American Youth Soccer Organization — AYSO) and, as far as I know, these guidelines apply for kids until they are at least 7.  If you don’t have similar rules or guidelines for your son’s league, you may want to suggest them.  They make the experience of watching the games *SO* much more enjoyable!  Here they are:

    Spectators are not to instruct the players. Even coaches are encouraged to keep their instructions to a minimum. The league reinforces this guideline several times each season with a “Silent Weekend” in which adults are asked to observe and enjoy, rather than shout and instruct. 
    Children at this age do not learn by hypothesis or lots of verbal instructions. They learn by being active and figuring things out through a process of trial and error. As parents, we typically cannot stand to see our kids fail or miss opportunities on the field. We tend to feel responsible for their success and try to prevent problems from happening by shouting out our answers. However, for a 5-year-old, making mistakes is how they learn. All we have to do is make sure we don’t transmit our frustration or make the game all about ourselves and our feelings. 
    A good spectator notices how players adapt to their opponent and change the way they play, given the limits of their physical and perceptual abilities. Then you will see much to cheer about. A good guideline is to think or say what has already happened, not what you want to happen next. “Nice move. Good thinking” rather than “Move! Shoot! Kick the Ball!
    I hope the remainder of the season brings a lot of happy memories of spending time with your wife and son.

  • Becky_Sharp

    This is what it would look like if Andrew Sullivan’s blog allowed comments. Lotsa frustrated Dish-heads here. :)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SLV74O6XGVQGQRMBCPA5LGQRHI P Gustafson

    I must say as a lapsed Catholic, that one of the things I find distasteful about Christianity is the use of it as a crutch. You offended your son and wife, and you are able to console yourself that God forgives you, but it’s not God who felt the brunt of your momentary slip into being an ass. Grace is an easy out, in my opinion. Not that I think you’re a bad father or husband or an ass for that matter. I’ve read enough of your stuff to think that you seem like a Christian who does his best to live Christ’s precepts. 

  • WilyArmadilla

    So much for ‘thou shalt not lie’.    Social pressure trumps the 10 Commandments yet again….

    the weird part it is that David is viewed as ‘a good father’ when he ignores God’s Commandments but as an asshole when he obeys them!   Either honesty is a virtue or it’s not.  Either lying is a sin, or it’s not.   Did I not know better, were I just going by the comments on this thread,  it’d be my guess that LYING is the virtue and HONESTY the sin.

  • AubreyMaturin

    Just a little observation.  Don’t be so hard on yourself and maybe you won’t be so hard on your son.

    David, when you were a child, you say about your dad:  

    My large and imposing and angry father with massively unresolved issues of his own always yelled, “NO EXCUSES. NO EXCUSES!”

    And now, after a friend tells you not to worry about your rage-filled episode at a kids’ soccer game, and that basically these things happen, you say:

    There wasn’t nearly enough punitiveness in that response. I needed more condemnation. I needed to have no excuses.  

    You’re still kinda listening to your dad’s commands here. Interesting.

  • Jackie

    Sports is a ridiculous, but more  or less universal, arena in which to discuss the problems of overblown praise of children.  It is not a parent’s job to demand success or disparage failure.  It is our job to give our children perspective–healthy, constructive, potentially  beneficial insights into their performance.  Fourteen years ago I sent my younger daughter off  to college, thus ending a ten-year period of homeschooling both daughters.  This last week I was called upon to edit my older daughter’s chapters of a book that will be published by the American Bar Assn.  This same daughter whose writing I critiqued at age ten still wants my input as she submits her second book for publication.  Criticism : if you do it right, they learn and grow from it. If you do it wrong, they might shut down.  I do believe that children want to know exactly where they stand, and we harm them greatly when we withhold the truth. 

  • Kathy

    My son 11 year old son plays lacrosse.  His coach, who is really good guy sent all of the parents this link:
    http://www.thepostgame.com/blog/more-family-fun/201202/what-makes-nightmare-sports-parent.  Don’t beat yourself up, but this has some great ways to relate to your child and to not become “that Dad.”  If you remember nothing else tell your son, “I love watching you play.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/pammylala Pamela Pletz

    Thank you for your honesty.  It is appreciated and you know what?  We’ve all been there.  No one is harder on us than we are.  Try a little self-forgiveness and don’t do it again!  ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1092420684 Nina Irene Yardley

    Good for you Dad. I have watched a video on grief in which one man explains how to correct without smashing the child. He said we should do it just like God treats us: Tell them that you are there to take care of them and you love them, educate them on the issue (ie explain the consequences to his friends and his team when he is not doing what is expected, explain what you would like them to do in a similar situation in the future and conclude with a hug or other loving indicator.) You’ve figured most of this out on your own. Go, Dad!

  • frightwig

    I think every parent must occasionally get irrationally angry with their children, and I know that I can get especially frustrated with my kids (now at 5 and 2) when they disobey, don’t listen, and repeat mistakes when I feel like they should have learned better already, either by their own experience or because I’ve told them “don’t do that, do this” a thousand times. I’ve certainly yelled and said hurtful things in anger, and deeply regretted it later, or even immediately. It’s not just a Dad thing, either. I’ve seen my wife and other mothers lose their sense of grace, compassion, and wisdom when their kids have pushed their buttons, too. What parent has not been in your shoes?

    I’ll just say this about youth soccer: some kids are grass-pickers, who may wish they were elsewhere or may feel happiest on the sidelines and in down-time when they can just talk to their friends. Some already know by age 5 that the point of the game is to score, and they want to be the ones to do it, again and again.

    My daughter, who was “4, almost 5″ when she played in a school program last spring, liked the running and kicking the ball, up to a point, but she didn’t like physical contact with an opponent at all, and she’d tend to wander off the field, along with a few other kids, when she had enough of the game. I couldn’t help but wish that she was a little tougher, more focused, more driven to excel at the game. I didn’t say so, because she was only 4 and it was just instructional soccer, but I couldn’t help but feel it a little. When you see your kids in any kind of group, who doesn’t hope that your own kids will be a star, or at least will try their best towards higher achievement?

    But, you know something about those little kids who are always after the ball and score at least a couple times every game–they’re usually lousy teammates. They rarely look for an open teammate and share the ball; they may even steal the ball from kids on their own side. They tend to openly express frustration with teammates, even insulting and ostracizing them, when others make mistakes or just generally are not all that skilled. And, if they are not winning, and particularly getting their bunches of goals in route to victory, some of them can be awfully poor sports about it. They’re not so happy, unless they’re dominating, they’re not having fun.

    Ultimately, who’s better off, then? We all have our own lessons to learn, don’t we?

  • http://www.privilegeofparenting.com/ Privilege of Parenting

    I love the compassion in this.  The flooding into consciousness of past pain, felt as anger, and then sorrow (even if laced with self-contempt, but then that is the tone of the previously unresolved trauma).  As you moved from anger (even at yourself) up into sorrow, pathos, compassion and repair you moved from your limbic brain to your attaching brain.  Next comes the pre-frontal cortex (the Christ/Buddha/Cloud brain).

    There’s no need to lack awe and wonder that we have hearts and minds, that we can ask questions that we cannot answer.  But our love for our kids has an amazing way of transporting us like nobody’s business, if only we’re willing to feel our angst and allow it to heal.

    Whatever’s going on in the realm of grace, I root for you human-to-human.

  • middleagemom

    Okay, now your obsession with your assholeness is both annoying and similarly reflective of a culture where it’s all about “me, me, me” and obsessing over the littlest things.  Guess what — over the next ten years, from time to time, you’ll say some stupid, hurtful things to both your son and your wife.  And guess what — if, for the most part, you show and tell them how much you love them, and for the most part, treat them well, those few times when you said something that you wish immediately you could take back shouldn’t matter — no one is perfect.  And guess what — if your wife (or your child, once he gets older) chooses to focus on those few hurtful things you said rather than the lifetime of love and support you gave them, then they’re the ones who are ungrateful — they’re the ones who need to grow up, get over it, and start focusing on what’s really important in life.     

  • maxdi

    Boy are you going to be a dramatic failure when something important happens within your family. Get professional help now, dude.

  • Elizabeth Echandi

    Youth sports are a complete sham. There are  no techniques, no score keeping, and everyone (even the most awful players) get to play. The critiques are wiser saved for when children play club or travel sports. Now that is when it gets ugly!

  • Imarinespino

    Hello. I know you have gotten a lot of feedback. But I just want to say that most people have been really unfair to you.
    1) This culture coddles kids way too much. If we expected more of our kids they would live up to that. Queen Elizabeth I knew at least 4 languages by the time she was 7 and how to read and write them. She would certainly have listened to any coach. She listened patiently to sermons and tutors. Our kids respond to our expectations. Good for you for telling the truth! Your son will appreciate it.
    2. You beat yourself up too much. Repent and then trust that God forgives you. Both steps are necessary. You can’t just expect forgiveness, but you also can’t wallow in self hatred. Either one denies Christ’s death and resurrection. But the same goes for your son. He will need to learn both to repent and accept that he is forgiven. If you just forgive all the time without teaching him that he has sinned, you are being a bad dad. If you simply punish without extending redemption you are denying him Gods love. So don’t resolve to just never get upset again! Love means correction and forgiveness. Embrace your role as a male role model to your son. Expect excellence and extend tenderness. They are two sides of the same coin.

  • GM52246

    Here via Andrew Sullivan. I think you deserve a lot of credit for wrestling with and acknowledging your feelings, and I think a lot of the posters are being too harsh on you; you’ve already beaten yourself up enough. For what it’s worth, I credit my current independence, responsibility, and ability to hustle as a freelancer to the fact that my parents didn’t pull punches and didn’t coddle me–they were able to praise me for a good effort while still holding me accountable (when I totally slacked off on a project in fourth grade, my mom suggested I call the teacher and ask for an extension, but then made sure I actually did it; likewise, when I double-booked an event in 9th grade without properly checking dates, I was called out for it). And as someone who’s had to teach college students while in grad school–OY, the entitlement. So yes, you’re right to be concerned about that.

    The stuff you wrote about the anger does concern me (as the son of a periodically angry father who worked very, very hard to overcome it); I don’t think the proper solution is to beat yourself up and flagellate yourself for it. I think self-forgiveness is important, but I think you have to recognize that, while God forgives you for your anger, He can’t provide you the tools you need to manage and work through it.I would STRONGLY encourage you to get therapy. One of the things that’s healed my father’s and my relationship from a potentially fraught teenage period is my recognition of how hard he worked to manage his anger, which he was only able to get to through therapy with a professional. That will break the cycle. Otherwise, you’re just going to do this again, and then you *will* need to flagellate yourself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/willhinton Will Hinton

    David,

    Fantastic article. Thanks so much for your willingness to share your heart, your failures, and how God’s grace grabs you. I had to chuckle reading so many of the comments here. THIS isn’t really about youth sports or a culture of mediocrity or anything else. It’s about the ongoing process of learning how to be a good parent that puts his children’s needs first. Easier said than done. It’s pretty tough learning to eat that humble pie when we do something stupid. Eventually a good dad learns to acquire a taste for that pie. God loves us in our failures. 

    Thanks for continuing to inspire me David.

  • Steven Suranie

    As a father of 3 boys and 1 girl and a coach of youth lacrosse and soccer I have to question why you are worrying about this shit at age 5. Relax dude, the kid is two years out of diapers and your sitting on the sidelines fuming because he’s not Beckham? You are an ass. And you are one of those dads…here’s my coaching/father rule from age 5-9, you praise the effort, you correct the mistakes. 

    And that makes it easy for the parent, you don’t have to lie to your kid when he asks if  he did good, you tell him that he tried hard and that was awesome. And don’t worry about missing the ball, we’ll work on that together during the week. I just love seeing you out there having fun. Is that so fucking hard to do? 

    I tell all my under 10 players, give me 110%, at practice, at a game and I will never get angry at you making mistakes. Because, if they are giving the effort eventually the skill will get there. Will they be the best player on the team? Maybe, probably not though, but you know what, 99% of them won’t be the best player, 99% of them won’t be going pro in whatever sports, so stop ruining it for them because you’re projecting the failings of your youth on them. 

    At 10, they’re old enough now to handle some harsh realities. I rarely yell though, because first of all, it’s just a kids game, there’s no money on the line, no life or death situation, just some rec league sport. But when they have a bad game I tell them, you had a bad game, you didn’t move when you didn’t have the ball, you let your guy beat you, whatever. And then we talk about what they could of done to avoid the mistakes they made. Even with my older players and kids the only time I really get angry at them is when they are not putting forth the effort. I’ve benched kids for walking on the field while their team mate is getting pummeled by two defenders going for the ball. 

    Give me effort and I’ve got your back, no matter how you played. Don’t try, let your team mates down and I will call you out in front of the whole team.

  • David Berberian

    Wow…banging on organized sports seems a bit presumptious of your readers. They may not be for everyone but I have coached my son’s soccer teams for 4 seasons and we have a great time

  • http://twitter.com/kalepost kalepost

    “to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

    Committed a horrible sin? No problem! you either have (the flawed, self-interested, humanisticly-interpreted) “confession” or “grace” to tell you it’s all ok, feel free to sin again, it’s all good. After all, Jesus loved everyone, right? (oh wait, no he didn’t!) And God will save everyone who says they’re a christian, right? (oh wait, no he won’t! “Lord, Lord!”)

  • Via Sullivan.

    Got here via Andrew Sullivan. I never did organized sports as a kid and was also a bit like Ferdinand the Bull and wanted to look at the grass.

    Shouldn’t sports be fun for four-year olds? Do we really need to treat them like they are being built for the major leagues? Something that even the most talented atheletes will never reach?

    This isn’t about coddling. It is about reasonable expectations. In the first day of a traditional Jewish education, the Torah is covered with candy and other sweets. This is done to bring a positive association to learning. As much as everyone decries it, this should be the same for sports. There is no reason why a soccer match between 4-year olds can’t end with Pizza for all. 

  • Dolgre

    David, just to add to the consensus here: with four athletically talented kids now ranging in age from 15 to 27 who have played a variety of organized sports, I promise you, you are not any more of an ass than anyone else. I’ve heard my own husband-ordinarily an outstandingly loving and encouraging father-be unable to stifle some of the most horrible comments ever from the sidelines of a playing field. When he coached our youngest it was worse. No, never verbally abusive or blaming. Just horribly out of character negative comments fueled by that deeply embedded need most men have to win a game. 

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com/ Rebecca Trotter

    If I may, I have 5 kids and the oldest is now 17. If we could turn back the clock and do anything differently, it would be to be gentler with our oldest. 4 year olds don’t listen. 5 year olds don’t listen. some 10 year olds are just getting the hang of it. We saw flaw and failure everywhere for perfectly normal childish imperfections. When we’d try to tell the other to go easier – “he’s only 4″ – we’d do just what you did – “he’s nearly 5! Stop coddling!” If we could do it over, we’d coddle. At least a little. To this day he doesn’t get how wonderful he is. But, just like we taught him, he’s really good at spotting his every error and not making any excuses for it. What he gets wrong is enormously outweighed by what he gets right. But he can’t see it. And I know that we did that.

    We didn’t become a nation of coddlers on accident; we became a nation of coddlers because we had missed out on understanding and grace. We’d been held up to standards and found wanting and our reasons were swept away as excuses. Like all pendulum swings, we wound up too far one way because first we had gone too far the other. Now our job is to stop the pendulum closer to the middle.

    I’m glad this was a lesson in grace for you. But please, don’t wait until your son is almost grown to realize that you were too hard on him. It’s only marginally better than the coddling you hate. And that’s reality, not an excuse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ptomwebster Paul Thomas Webster

    Play to win or don’t play. 

  • http://www.towardfatherhood.com/ j.oliver

    Wow, from the number of comments, it looks like you’ve really tapped into something! The angst of the sideline parent. I’m hoping to avoid this scene entirely, but we live in the soccer capitol of Kansas (Motto: “Bigger and richer than the regular capitol”), so I’m guessing that will be an uphill swim. Luckily my eldest son is not yet two, so we’ve got some time. 

    I love that you are escaping the condemnation cocoon. All thinking men know the feeling of slipping into the dark side of our strength – into the bully, dictator, or feudal lord. We know all too well the vast gulf that separates “what I want to say,” from “what I am saying.” We all struggle through the pain of wounds and handicaps. If CS Lewis has anything to say about it, though, this “standing up and dusting off and trying again” is often the very virtue that Papa is working on with us. 

    The virtue of standing up and trying again. How life-affirming. It’s one of my favorites. 

    “…perhaps my own son will one day write of his father that that he was kind and loving and never told him that there were no excuses because there are excuses. We are human.” – I’m going to go think about this now.

    j.oliver

    • dkuo

      Wow, thank you.

  • Barbaraj12

    Wow! Thank you for your honesty.

  • Daniela

    Dear God…please get some help…your kid is not even 5. Give him a freaking break…you are going to make him a nervous wreck.


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