Before kickoff on a recent fall Sunday, my family took to the backyard. We were excited about the football game, but more excited about the irregular warm front that came in and allowed us to get two rambunctious children out of the house to release some pent up energy. My son, as he is wont to do, ran straight to the bucket of balls in the shed and grabbed the football. He wanted to throw.
He’s a natural athlete. His baseball and golf swings are true. He’s fearless when a ball comes towards him. He kicks well, too. Moreover, he enjoys it. When he’s home with me and I ask him what he would like to do that day, more often than not his answer is “go to the golf course.” (Yeah, it took my wife a while to believe that, too. She just figured I bribed him with snacks so I could work on my short game.)
My daughter, though? Zero interest in throwing and catching. As far as athletic endeavors go, she likes to run and to swim, but presently her interests more align with something outside of my experience level altogether. I grew up in a house with all boys, so when I see my four-year-old daughter posing and blowing kisses into a mirror, I’m at a loss. I have no idea where this comes from. Blowing kisses into a mirror is something I’ve literally never even considered doing.
We daydream about things we can do together, but always slanted toward our own preferences.
We can push our kids into all sorts of directions — truly, I have tried over and over to get her to play sports with me — but in the end, they will just end up becoming who they were supposed to become. I think that’s ultimately our goal as parents: To help them develop their confidence to determine their destination on their own.
Some of these interests will — we hope — align with our own: My daughter loves to sit quietly and draw pictures while my son is happy with a pitching wedge in his hands, both like their father in these ways. And some of these interests will be completely foreign: the blowing kisses into a mirror thing, or my son’s complete and utter fascination with trucks and cars (the kid knows more about front-end loaders and excavators at three years old than I do at 37).
We all eventually learn that our children’s passions don’t have to mirror our own, and that’s a humbling discovery for parents to make. When I think about the, well, mild concern I have that my daughter doesn’t seem terribly interested in sports right now, it’s only because sports — both playing and watching them — are a huge part of life for my wife and me.
My wife was a state champion athlete in high school, competed in three sports, playing varsity all four years. A couple years ago, she entered a half marathon on a whim and won her age group; Last year, she placed 311th in the women’s division (all ages) in the Chicago Marathon. I wasn’t ever as talented as my wife still is, but I was also a varsity athlete in three sports during high school. Today, my relationship with sports is obsessive. I have no interest in movies or television shows; I’d rather watch a game. And not just my favorite baseball or basketball team. I watch everything: World Cup, Olympics, golf, college sports, pro sports, extreme sports.
I mean it with no exaggeration that sports are a major part of who I am as a person. So I sure want my kids to love athletics along with me. But, I guess maybe this isn’t even really about sports.
It’s about imagining who our children might become as they grow. Imagining what parts of us — and which of our interests — they’ll embrace and carry with them. Imagining what interests we might share as they grow. And, too, imagining how they’ll become their own people, how they’ll surprise us in ways we never could have imagined, how all of this might change us in turn.
When our children are young, it’s fun to imagine what interests they’ll have when they get older, but often these ruminations are a bit selfish in that they align with our own interests. We wonder which kid will be more likely to play golf with dad? Which one will go for a run with mom? Which kid will enjoy reading? Which kid is going to accompany dad on a day of wandering around museum like the Smithsonian (which my better half has zero interest in doing)? We daydream about things we can do together, but always slanted toward our own preferences. We can’t control any of this. We can only hope our inherent interests are passed along, somehow.
I sure hope they will. But they might not be. Maybe my son will lean heavily into his nascent interest in construction vehicles and engines, something dad knows very little about; Perhaps my daughter will find her footing in a similarly foreign (to us) world. This is probably the place where I should note that wherever they find their passions and loves, we will be beside them — or hanging behind a bit and letting them lead and teach us.
So much of the gift of having children is developing an identity outside of our selfish selves. In a perfect world, of course we’d want to share the things we love with our offspring — I sure hope that someday my son is excited to watch the Masters with me, that my daughter asks me to go play catch with her — but that’s their goal, too: To share what they love with us. As with everything we should aim to meet somewhere in the middle. So I’ll learn how to operate a forklift if necessary. Heck, I’ll even blow kisses into a mirror if that is what makes them happy. We all would.
About the author
Matt Osgood is a freelance journalist based out of Haverhill, MA, where he lives with his wife, their two kids, and dog. While life as a dad certainly provides him with the best material, he writes mostly about sports and booze, both of which provide much needed therapy.