A valuable Father's Day lesson   

Updated: June 16, 2008, 1:07 PM ET

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Even if I'm not able to play in a game or attend one, not a day goes by that I don't consume sports -- be it an old tennis match I TiVo'ed at home, a magazine article I saved for a plane ride or simply checking scores online in the hotel before bed.

Sports are a big part of my life.

Consequently, my 11-year-old son has been participating in organized sports since he was 3 -- soccer and hockey mostly. Over the years, I've seen him go from being a spastic ball of energy racing all over the place to a deft passer with a sharp eye and spatial intelligence. His soccer team won its division this past season, and he collected another trophy to go along with the others in his room.

He's becoming a pretty good athlete. But on Father's Day, he told me he doesn't care about being a pretty good athlete. He wants to quit the soccer team to focus on photography. He wants to use that good eye of his to take pictures.

Now, I've heard this song before. Each time the season ends disappointingly, he wants to quit. This year, his team got shellacked in the final game of a weekend tournament, so I was expecting him to say he was "done."

What I wasn't expecting was the maturity behind his decision. He said he has been playing soccer for a long time and he is ready to try something new. He told me he has learned the importance of being a good teammate and discipline. He told me he knows he doesn't want to go pro in soccer, so he wants to try something he would like to go pro in.

Sunday, he told me who he is, at least at this point in his life. And a sports junkie -- like his old man -- ain't it.

It was a tough message for me to hear.

I'm sure it was a tough message for him to deliver.

But the fact that he could talk honestly about it -- and didn't just go along with things to please his dad -- showed me he's learned a great deal from sports.

When Barack Obama spoke Sunday of men needing the "courage" to be fathers, I knew exactly what he meant. It's about living in those crossroad moments, when you're reminded that the decisions you make could affect your child's life for many, many years. I know it sounds a bit dramatic, but you have to remember, every road we take leads somewhere, and you can't always turn around when you find yourself on a less desirable one. If I let my son quit soccer now, he's going to have a much harder time making his high school team if he changes his mind in a couple of years.

I'm still second-guessing day care decisions I made five years ago, so I can only imagine what the next five years are going to look like. Sacrifices are easy for me -- the hardest part about parenting is accepting that sometimes I'm just going to get it wrong. It's all a complex web of uncertainties that paralyzes me when I think about it too much -- which I obviously do from time to time. But to paraphrase a section from Tim Russert's book "Big Russ and Me," when I'm gone, I will be judged mostly by how good a father I was. With that hanging over your head, how can you not continually ask yourself questions?

Is this really the age when I should allow him to take more control of his free time? Or should I wait a day or two and insist he stick it out? And if I make him play this summer, is it really for his benefit, or mine? And why the heck did I buy him that camera?

So many voices in my head, all fighting to be heard. But it was on the drive back home from the tournament that I took a deep breath and listened to the one voice that mattered most. His.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at l_granderson@yahoo.com.


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